Napa Varietal Series + SIP
Mount Veeder

Utterly Unique

At 25,000 acres, Mount Veeder is the largest in area of Napa Valley’s 16 AVAs, yet this unforgiving terrain features the fewest vineyard acres, about 1,000 total, and accounts for only 1.3 percent of Napa Valley’s total wine production. It’s also the highest of Napa’s AVAs, reaching 2,400 feet. The area’s steep mountains and rugged slopes create challenges for vintners, but it is these harsh conditions that serve to produce unique wines coveted for their pronounced depth, complexity, and intensity.

Located on the  western  side  of  the Valley in the Mayacamas Mountains, Mount Veeder adjoins the Carneros district, where a long growing season and late harvest often stretch into November. Eighty-five percent of the land remains dense, natural forest featuring mist-loving ferns and redwoods. The natural vegetation ranges from lush redwood forest to dry chaparral. Mountain lions, bears, hawks, and coyotes all live within the boundaries of the AVA.

Sun and soil exposure vary greatly. Due to millions of years of erosion, topsoils are shallow, meaning water-hold- ing capacity and nutrient content  are low. The severe setting dictates significantly higher farming costs and mandates considerable hand labor. Vintners and growers here sacrifice all for their craft, and for heartbreakingly low yields, about 2 tons per acre, half of the average within the Valley.

“Mount Veeder vintners welcome these challenges,” said Karen Crouse, pro- prietor of Mount Veeder Magic Vineyards, where winemaker Jeff Fontanella crafts authentic Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon for a discerning membership. “Planting and farming rugged hillside vineyards necessitate ingenuity, prob- lem-solving, and guts. We are a very close community that works together in an ‘All for One and One for All’ spirit.”

“The ownership  of   vineyards   here  is diverse,” said Carole Meredith, co-owner since 1986 of Lagier Meredith Vineyard, and retired professor, UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. “Proprietors range from families who have been  here  for  three   generations to large companies that have bought-in fairly recently, having recognized the proven potential of the appellation for extraordinary wines.”

The characteristics of these extraordinary wines include abundant, fine tannins and complexity. “A long, silky finish is a Mount Veeder hallmark, along with exceptional weight and concentration,” said Carole Meredith of Lagier Meredith Vineyard.

The characteristics of these extraordinary wines include abundant, fine tannins and complexity. “A long, silky finish is a Mount Veeder hallmark, along with exceptional weight  and concentration,”  said Meredith. “The  complexity   is   the   result of both high  elevation   and  cool,  marine air that flows through the San Pablo Bay. Cooler temperatures  extend  the ripening period, allowing for the extensive flavor development before the sugar content gets too high. The concentration is the result of the shallow soils. In shallow  soils,  there  is not  a lot of available water so the berries stay small, packing a lot of flavor into a small volume. No other Napa appellation has this combination of proximity  to the cooling influence of the ocean and shallow soils.”

And no other Napa AVA sits on an ancient sea bed. The only Napa Valley appellation that claims this unique geologic phenomenon, Mount  Veeder  and its marine soils reveal a complex tapestry of shale, sandstone, overlain at the higher reaches by volcanic deposits, and though the soil varies greatly from vineyard to vineyard, Mount Veeder wine flavors are distinct. “The ancient seafloor bedrock and shallow topsoil are an ideal combination for grapevines to produce small yields and tiny berries with tremendous flavor and color intensity,” said  Elton  Slone,  president  and  CEO  of Robert Craig Winery. “Naturally low pH values (meaning high acidity in the finished wines) in the soil help to provide an excellent structural backbone for the red and white wines that are grown here. Additionally, Mount Veeder vineyards’ different aspects and slopes provide the opportunity to find the right sites for different varieties here.”

hess collection quote

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes predominate, with Chardonnay and Syrah close behind. Yet 18 varieties in total are grown amongst vineyards that are carved into small sections of the mountain. Reds are noted for spice, floral and berry notes,  and whites exhibit stone fruit minerality with a hint of citrus. “The AVA  is unique  in its diversity of what grows well,” said Slone, who emphasized his winery’s special relationship with Mount Veeder; Bob Craig helped to create  the  AVA in  the early years of his wine career. “In the southern portion, vintners have success with Merlot, Zinfandel, and Rhone varieties that do well with slightly cooler temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon typically enjoys. At the northern end, producers such as Robert Craig Winery, O’Shaughnessy, Thomas Hsi, Lokoya, Mayacamas, and Pym Rae make some of the most stunning Cabernet Sauvignon- based wines in all of the Napa Valley.”

“We are proud of our mountain, our wines, and each other,” said Crouse. “Mount Veeder Vintners are extremely welcoming. We love talking about, sharing, and drinking our wines.”

Sam Peters,  executive   director   of the Mount Veeder Appellation Council, asserts, “The Mount Veeder AVA terrain certainly makes it difficult to grow grapes, but the wines this mountain fashions make it worth the struggle.” Peters suggests that finding an opportunity to taste these limited-production gems can be a different kind of struggle. Of the 50 plus Mount Veeder member wineries, only a handful feature tasting rooms on the valley floor, and only four offer tasting rooms on the mountain itself, “Mayacamas, Hess, Progeny, and Fontanella – these are off  the  beaten path wineries, focused on small production wines and intimate wine tasting experiences, more so than many of the larger Napa wineries. Therefore, we move mountains to offer folks the rare opportunity to taste our wines,” said Peters. “Thus far, we’ve held Mount Veeder wine tasting events in San Francisco, the Desert, Southern California and Arizona, and we look forward to bringing the mountain to all parts of the country in the near future.”

Slone asserts that Mount Veeder has had a lower profile than some of the other Napa AVAs. But the last fifteen years have been marked by a  growing  recognition  of the district’s wine quality and significant investment by some of the most highly regarded producers and farming concerns in the Valley. “Nevertheless, because Mount Veeder Wines are so rare and limited in comparison to other Napa AVA’s in exposure and reputation, they are typically well-priced,” said Slone.

“We are proud of our mountain, our wines, and each other,” said Crouse. “Mount Veeder Vintners are extremely welcoming. We love talking about, sharing, and drinking our wines.”


mount veeder map

Article By: Fran Miller