Reflections of Harvest 2022
It was a record-fast harvest for Seven Apart. Blink, and you may have missed it!
Of course, our vineyard and cellar team didn’t, keeping an experienced eye on things. Starting on August 23rd, all the grapes were in the cellar by October 4th, with the red varieties taking only two weeks. The total yield was 45 tons, with 9.67 tons coming from Stags Ridge. As the team finally has a moment to catch their breath, here’s a recap of the many memorable moments that made harvest 2022 a fruitful experience.
At the Mercy of Mother Nature
Forget predictions or crystal balls. Each year, harvest offers something new, and winemakers need to play the cards they’re dealt. According to Seven Apart General Manager Yannick Girardo, Mother Nature served several challenges in the lead-up to this harvest. This included late frost at the end of April, followed by a heat wave and lashes of rain and hailstorms.
“There is no denying it. If this year wasn’t a sign of climate change, I don’t know what else could be. Did I mention the earth rattled twice in the area this year? Nothing major, 3.3 and 4.4 shakes, but we really experienced it all!” shares Yannick.
Add to this the 700 acres of land opposite Seven Apart that burned down at the end of May, and there would be a definite cause for concern about this year’s vintage.
Doubling Down & Leveling Up
Instead, the Seven Apart team doubled down their efforts, working together to mitigate the adverse conditions. For our Winemaker Andy Erickson (now leading his 5th harvest at Seven Apart), there is a constantly renewed sense of puzzle-solving and focus that brings him back year after year:
“In terms of weather, 2022 had it all. What really changed the course of action was the extreme heat we endured from September 4th – 9th. We had record temperatures ranging from 112°F to 118°F in the Valley. The vines were irrigated and monitored daily. This is why we harvested sooner and faster than expected, as the sugar levels peaked quickly.”
This time around, Andy explains that Seven Apart saw a significant decline in yield due to the frost and ongoing Californian drought. The yield per acre was 1.17 tons. In comparison, in 2021, we harvested 3 tons per acre. In 2020, there was no harvest due to the smoke taint from the devastating Glass Fire.
“While over the next few years we will be working with other growers to offset the Base Camp vineyard replant, our production for the 2022 harvest will stand at around 2,300 cases. If we look at the first five vintages of 2018 – 2022, our yearly production stands at about 2,500 cases,” explains Andy.
What This Year Will Yield
With all our wine in, the smell of crushed grapes fermenting fills the cellar air. Despite this year’s challenges, Seven Apart wine lovers have plenty to look forward to:
“The quality of this year’s harvest is excellent and a true relief after the crisis of Covid and wildfires of 2020. We’re also very excited about the 2021 vintage that has been in barrel since last year. We will be working on doing the final blend in the new year for the Expedition,” says Yannick.
Outside of the harvest, this year was full of activities and milestones for Seven Apart. 2022 marks the first year as a fully operational hospitality facility, with the team welcoming visitors to the tasting room since October 2021. Seven Apart is also farming organically and working towards a certification. The first harvest for the newly replanted 8 acres of the Base Camp vineyard is planned for 2025, with the ultimate goal being to offer 100% estate-grown wine.
“I think that we’ll be entering another new and exciting phase by the time we have completed our long list of goals and wish lists. Watch this space as Seven Apart grows from strength to strength.”
As we all prepare to turn the page onto a fresh new year, Seven Apart wishes our wonderful community a peaceful festive season. May only exceptional wine fill your glasses and remarkable moments fill your days.
The Rise of Atlas Peak AVA
Atlas Peak wines are the pinnacle of Napa Valley winemaking. Quite literally.
At 2,663ft above sea level, these vineyards are some of the highest in the region.
The Atlas Peak appellation is located within the Soda Canyon and Foss Valley areas. The AVA is northeast of the town of Napa, east of Yountville, and above the foothills of the Stags Leap District. Vineyards were first planted on Atlas Peak in 1870, with the terrain growing steadily between 1880 and 1901. The first winery was established in the early 1980s, and the appellation was given official AVA status in 1992. Today, Atlas Peak is the proud home of Seven Apart. But what is it that makes this area so special?
A Solid Bedrock
The answer is simple: location, location, location. Millions of years ago, Mount Saint Helena erupted spewing lava and ash across what today is Napa Valley. Since then, much of the land has been cultivated, but certain hard-to-reach areas still remain covered in huge boulders of volcanic rock.
Volcanic rock is one of the rarest types of soil in the world, accounting for less than two percent of the soil cover in the United States. The basaltic red-colored soil is incredibly fertile because it is derived from volcanic lava and ash, both of which are filled with nutrients such as iron, calcium, and magnesium. This rich combination acts as a stimulant for growing plants – such as vines. Another factor that makes volcanic soil ideal for growing grapes is that it is porous with limited water retention, which permits the vine to cool down quickly on warm, sunny days.
The volcanic soils and topography are also closer to the sun’s nurturing rays. The westward orientation of most vineyards on the Vaca Mountains extends the amount of direct sunlight on the grapes, which is key for ripening. The Atlas Peak appellation sits on a higher elevation than most of Napa’s wine region which enjoys the cleansing breezes off San Francisco Bay and limits the effects of the cool fog coming in from the Pacific Ocean. The area has a significant diurnal temperature variation upwards of 30 °F between daytime and night. This contributes to the balance of acidity in the grapes. Together, all these factors create a unique microclimate for which Atlas Peak is celebrated.
Historically, the region grew many grape varieties, but today, Atlas Peak is best known for its expressive mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals. These varieties thrive in the cool climate conditions that produce wines known for their intense flavors and delicate, balanced tannins. These wines are also considerably different from those made on the valley floor.
Ask any Atlas Peak grape grower, and they will attest to the difficulty in cultivating fruit within this highly elevated, rugged, and striking landscape. Mountain grown vineyards are far more difficult to farm and the growing season tends to be considerably longer. Higher elevations also have greater diurnal temperature swings and these features can create noticeable differences in the styles of wine they produce. It’s much more difficult to plant and establish the vines, and the vines tend to produce far lower yields. Mountain fruit shares the dark color and full body as Valley-floor wines, but tends to have a rustic edge with more structure.
In fact, it was as recent as 1999 that one brave vintner decided to excavate the top of Atlas Peak, approximately 1,475ft above the valley floor. At that point, the volcanic rocks were the size of small cars! But determination paid off, and the land was finally cleared and planted with grapevines. The vineyard was named Stags Ridge, and in 2013, it produced the elusive unicorn that is the 100-point winning wine. In August 2018, founder Don Dady purchased the Stags Ridge vineyard, which today is home to Seven Apart’s prized Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
Our winemaker Andy Erickson reflects on setting up the Stags Ridge vineyard for production in late 2019:
“Wines grown in volcanic soils tend to be produced in small quantities as the land is difficult to plant and farm. Stags Ridge was no different. The soil was more like a cobblestone street, with giant rocks everywhere making trellising a near-impossible task! ”
While excellence does not come easy, Andy and the Seven Apart team persevered.
Today, the resulting Seven Apart wines grown in our Atlas Peak mountain vineyard are impressively bold with greater red fruit characteristics. Andy explains that the wine can take a bit more time to age before revealing true complexity and depth:
“Patience is always a virtue when it comes to wine. Atlas Peak truly produces some of the greatest fruit Napa has to offer,” he muses.
Seven Apart Cabernet Sauvignon grown in our Atlas Peak Stag’s Ridge vineyard is complex, balanced, and has big tannins that soften with time. Each parcel has so much variation that we craft three different expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon from the same vineyard, namely Shale, Basalt, and Summit.
“There is so much to discover within this vineyard. Perched above the fog line, Atlas Peak provides perfect conditions for longer hang times and the gradual development of phenolic ripeness – the components that make these wines some of the most intense and balanced in Napa Valley. Those seeking savouriness, complexity, and structured tannins will appreciate the beauty found with wines made up on the mountains,” ends Andy.
As Atlas Peak AVA gains more and more recognition as an outstanding terroir, many are starting to understand the power behind these wines. It’s certainly a steep climb to the top: but the results are worth it.
The Inner Workings of Our Wine Allocation
Wine is simply something special – and we are not just saying this as wine lovers. When it comes to the best wines, specifically those suitable for investment and production, supply can rarely be increased to meet the demand. Every seasoned wine-lover knows how hard it can be to get your hands on a coveted bottle of your favorite wine! Small-lot wineries in particular often only produce select quantities of their bottles due to limited fruit. While this certainly creates a scarcity factor, it can make for some fierce competition to secure a limited release. This is where wine allocations come in.
The World of Wine Allocations
Unlike a wine club, which offers members a recurring shipment throughout the year, a wine allocation is the amount of wine a buyer is able to purchase from a winery’s current selection. Before being sold to the general public, allocation members are first invited to purchase a set number of bottles. The best, most exclusive wines are often available only on allocation.
Wine allocations have their roots in the French tradition of ‘En Primeur.’ With evidence of En Primeur-like wine-buying systems dating back thousands of years, En Primeur or ‘wine futures’ is a widely-established feature of France’s wine landscape. The chateaux that take part offer retail and private customers the opportunity to invest in a vintage before the wine is bottled, thus giving guaranteed access to limited vintages and a timely investment.
Based on this concept, wine allocations are typically offered by fine wine producers to ensure that limited-availability wines are made accessible to the most loyal supporters. With Napa Valley home to one of the highest concentrations of cult wines in the world, it’s not surprising that the allocation model is particularly popular amongst boutique wineries.
How Seven Apart’s Wine Allocation Works
At Seven Apart, our strict standards for only working with top-quality fruit means our wines are produced in limited quantities. As a result, we have adopted an allocation model to, quite literally, allocate bottles to our members. Our Estate Manager Yannick Girardo shares his insight into how exactly wine allocations works:
“Our starting point is to be as fair as possible. When we have really limited availability, we consider a few things: firstly, the customer’s past purchases – we prioritize customers who have supported us in previous vintages. We also consider how loyal customers are to Seven Apart, including visitations and engaging with our offers throughout the year. In doing so, we are able to build a more personalized relationship with the people who love our wine the most.”
Ultimately, we want to spread our high-demand wines as widely as we can. We absolutely recognize customers’ frustrations when it comes to allocations, but being part of the process is also part of the excitement of collecting and the allure of the wine world.
Keep in mind that being on our allocation list is not always a guarantee that all wine will be made available to you. While, of course, there is no obligation to keep purchasing, as our wines are produced in such small quantities, priority is afforded to members who are consistent throughout the years.
“Should you not want to acquire your allocation, that’s completely understandable. However, as someone else might really want access to our wine, by forgoing your allocation, you hand over your access to this wine to the next person in line. It’s a fair system when quantity is scarce. That’s why the best way to secure your allocation is to remain committed and acquire it upon each release,” adds Yannick.
A Close-Knit Cabernet Community
The ultimate goal of our Seven Apart allocation is to cultivate a close-knit community of wine lovers to the winemaking team and wine they trust. Wineries rely on the support of their members. In return, members retain premium access to exceptional wine that is not available in retail.
“It’s definitely a two-way street,” Yannick notes. “When people are committed to our wine, we want to make sure they have as much unfettered access as possible.”
The wines at Seven Apart are released seasonally and as they reach optimal maturation. Typically, Shale is released in February, Basalt in May, Expedition in September, and Summit in November. However, the upcoming release schedule for 2023 will be much quieter.
Two years ago, on September 27, 2020, a wildfire broke out from an undetermined cause in Northern California and continued its path of devastation for 23 days. Titled the ‘Glass Fire’ due to its origin near Glass Mountain Road in Napa County, the wildfire fell in the middle of the harvest season. Here at Seven Apart, we were fortunate to have sustained no physical damage to our winery. However, our prized Stags Ridge Vineyard certainly felt the impact of smoke taint, rendering the fruit unusable to create our Shale, Basalt, and Summit 2020 vintage. You can read more about the impact of the wildfires on our harvest in this journal here.
While these wines were available in seasonal cycles throughout previous years, their quantity is severely limited after the Glass Fires. We are hopeful that this will not be the case for long, with the 2022 harvest looking promising.
The good news is that one very special wine could be made in 2020, using exceptional fruit from our unharmed Base Camp vineyard: Expedition. This September, the 2020 Expedition is being released to our allocation members.
Traditionally, Expedition is a Cabernet Sauvignon blended from grapes harvested from both our Base Camp and Stags Ridge vineyards. As the fruit from Stags Ridge was rendered unusable, this means that only the fruit from Base Camp could be used – halving the quantity of wine produced.
“We were only able to produce around 825 cases of the Expedition vintage. That’s 50% less than what we’ve done in previous years”, confirms Yannick. “This is to ensure that only the finest grapes are used while minimizing the impact on the land itself that has already seen so much turbulence.”
Our 2020 Expedition was released on the 20 September 2022. With the 2019 Expedition receiving 98+ points from the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker, we have high hopes that the 2020 vintage will once again show Napa at its peak.
Our New Expedition Label Revealed
Seven Apart is proud to reveal our new Expedition label, designed by the team at Offset Partners and here to take our wine to the next level.
If change is the only constant, then for the Seven Apart team, change is also an opportunity to improve constantly. In August 2019, Seven Apart acquired a neighboring property called Orange Grove with the view to extending the Base Camp vineyard. Here, the team set about planting young white wine vines. In anticipation of the first vintage from this vineyard, Seven Apart approached the team at Offset Partners for a new label design.
Since Seven Apart’s inception, the team at Offset has been responsible for bringing each wine label to life. After evaluating the current range, it was a natural choice to use a white background label for the white wine. To avoid confusion, we decided to redesign the label for our flagship Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon which had been white in previous vintages. As specialists in brand design, Offset’s Lindsay Regan, VP of Brand Strategy, shares the thought process behind the new label for our Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon:
What is the motivation for updating the Expedition label?
LR: It all began with the request to add a white wine to the portfolio and how a label for this new wine could potentially look. After conversations with the Seven Apart team and considering the collection as a whole, we quickly realized that there was an opportunity to also reevaluate the Expedition as the flagship wine from Seven Apart. With this in mind, we agreed that this was the perfect time to create a new iteration of the Expedition label to best reflect the wine’s gravitas within the portfolio.
How did you go about conceptualizing the new label?
LR: We already had a strong Seven Apart brand system in place that we could lean into, so we returned to these elements to ensure uniformity and balance among the entire collection. The logo for Seven Apart is bold, modern, and iconic – marrying a “7” and an “A” into a mountain peak as a reference to the prized vineyard perched seven miles from their winery home on the valley floor. Shale, Basalt, and Summit each have their own unique background textures centered around the soil type. We wanted to maintain the portfolio hierarchy all the while elevating the Expedition label. The new Expedition (and upcoming white wine) label both feature a topographic map texture.
Can you explain the new label’s look and feel?
LR: The latest iteration took on a new color scheme to cement its status in the range – from a black logo on a white background to a gold logo on a black background. The label features the same Kurz gold foil used across the brand, and multiple hits of black with varnish treatments for different elements on the paper.
How does your creative process work?
LR: For this project, the key contributors were Emilio Domingo, our Senior Brand Designer, Courtney Paddock, our Production Designer and Coordinator, and myself. Of course, we worked very closely with the Seven Apart team. Don, the founder, always has a vision of what he wants and strives for impeccable execution. When we first discussed the new Expedition label, we spoke about what would and wouldn’t work and the value of leveraging the existing brand system. After that, we looked at different kinds of color cues and combinations to ensure the label would fit into the brand hierarchy. Don and Seven Apart’s amazing General Manager, Yannick, know the value of what has already been established and wanted to lean into this.
Are you happy with the final result?
LR: Absolutely! This project was about finessing. I think the new Expedition label fits in effortlessly with the Seven Apart collection, and we’re confident that the outside of the bottle is as good as what’s inside it!
What makes the 2020 Expedition extra special?
LR: The ‘Glass Fire’ of 2020 wreaked havoc across Northern California. While luckily Seven Apart’s vineyards were spared, smoke taint damaged the majority of grapes in the precious Stags Ridge vineyard. For this reason, the Seven Apart team decided not to release any 2020 Vintage wines from the Stags Ridge Vineyard this year. This includes the Shale, Basalt, and Summit Cabernet Sauvignon. Traditionally, Expedition is a Cabernet Sauvignon blended from grapes harvested from both the Base Camp and Stags Ridge vineyards, but the 2020 vintage used only Base Camp fruit, halving the quantity produced to 825 cases of the Expedition vintage. A true phoenix from the ashes, the limited-release 2020 Expedition will undoubtedly be a vintage that will go down in Seven Apart’s history books.
The latest 2020 Expedition vintage will be released this September to members of our allocation list.
Meet Mike Wolf, our New Vineyard Manager
Titled 2015 Napa Valley Grower of the Year, Seven Apart proudly welcomes Mike Wolf as our new Vineyard Manager.
Mike Wolf’s path to wine growing was not exactly straightforward. In fact, in his own words, he came to wine in quite a “convoluted, roundabout way”. Yet almost five decades later, Mike is one of Napa Valley’s most celebrated viticulturists. In 2015, he received the honorary title of ‘Napa Valley Grower’ of the Year by Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG). With a reputation for elevating great sites into iconic vineyards, we are thrilled to welcome Mike as our new Seven Apart Vineyard Manager. From studying in a liberal arts college in upstate New York to spending countless days pruning vines in the blazing sun, this is the story of Mike Wolf
From History to Horticulture
Mike grew up outside New York City and earned his B.A. in History from Alfred University in 1971. At that stage, wine growing was not exactly on his mind.
“One of my primary focuses in college was avoiding any classes related to math or science. It just was not what I was interested in at that point in my life,” he confesses.
Instead, Mike wanted to go remote. Not the way we know it today, with a laptop in a coffee shop. Rather, he wanted to live off the land, far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. After graduating and saving for a year, Michael and two college friends made their way west, settling on 40 remote acres in Mendocino County.
“40 acres for $12,500! It wouldn’t be possible today. At that time, there was nothing there. The biggest take-home lesson for me was that if you didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to happen,” says Mike.
Not too long after, he met a farmer named Adrian in the nearby town of Ukiah, who offered him a ranch job on his small 60-acre fruit farm. Over the next four years, Mike worked sporadically on Adrian’s farm, planting pears, prunes, and grapes. With time, Mike wanted to swap out his subsistence lifestyle for his next great adventure. When he decided to try his hand at ranching, Adrian helped him get his first official position as a laborer at Mendocino Vineyard Co. in Ukiah.
“It was sort of a ‘right place, right time’ situation. This was Andy Beckstoffer’s first venture in Mendocino County, and Adrian recommended me to the General Manager. Despite my lack of education or expertise, he took a chance on me,” explains Mike.
It was at Mendocino Vineyard Co. that Mike became serious about pursuing a career in viticulture: “The work just made immediate sense to me. As I couldn’t afford to go back to school, I made it my mission to learn everything I could learn. You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know how to find out.”
Mike recalls that one of the biggest challenges was learning how to prune. Luckily, his fellow team members were supportive and taught him how to do it:
“It was hard. You go to sleep at night, and your hands are numb from holding the secateurs all day. And then you wake up in the morning and do it all over again. Another key learning that has served me until today was understanding what the field workers were all about. And what it felt to be out in the sun for 10 hours in a row for six days a week,” he reflects.
After spending three years at Mendocino Vineyard Co. in Ukiah, Michael was up for a new challenge. Again, his lack of a viticulture degree meant a job didn’t come easy. After several years of rejected applications, he finally got his lucky break.
“One day I met another Andy. Andy was a General Manager of a big project in the eastern part of Napa County that was owned by a small gas and oil company. It was a huge project. The land itself was 4300 acres. Imagine 4300 acres in Napa County!” smiles Mike. According to Andy, their goal was to plant about 1000 acres under vine, of which only 300 acres had been planted. Unlike so many of his previous prospects, Mike stood out to Andy thanks to his experience. “It’s like we were made for each other,” laughs Mike.
After a six-month probationary period to prove his skill set, Mike was officially signed on as a Vineyard Supervisor at Pope Valley Vineyards. During his twelve years there, he was charged with transforming wooded grazing land into productive vineyards and garnered extensive experience in all facets of vineyard development and management. Over a decade later and some 900 acres planted to vine, Mike received a call out of the blue from his old friend Mr. Beckstoffer. Beckstoffer was starting a new project and Mike was the man for the job.
In the following three-year stint as Vineyard Manager for Beckstoffer Vineyards in Napa, Mike oversaw the planning and implementation of all viticultural operations on 700 acres of vineyard – including the replanting of To Kalon.
“Andy Beckstoffer and I knew it would never be a long-term job for me as there was a ceiling to it. But it was great work and I got to meet literally dozens of winemakers that I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise,” explains Mike.
In January of 1997, Michael became President of the start-up vineyard management and business services company Emmolo Vineyard Management. “This was a great job but required managing about 125 acres. After years of working on much larger scale projects such as Pope Valley, I was ready for something more, so I launched Michael Wolf Vineyard Services in September of that same year.”
Through his full-service vineyard management company, Mike farms approximately 700 acres of Napa Valley vineyards for quality-oriented clients, including large and small growers and several wineries – such as Seven Apart.
Enter The Wolf
In June 2021, Mike joined as Vineyard Manager for Seven Apart. One of his first key projects has been replanting the Base Camp vineyard. For Mike, this opportunity to start from scratch is what excited him most about working with us: “Both the vineyards and the winery are being redeveloped, so that’ll be neat to watch this come along and see it grow up.”
Seven Apart also meant Mike and our winemaker Andy Erickson could work together:
“Andy and I knew each other before and work very well together. While some winemakers tend to talk in vague terms, Andy is not like that. He’s got a good understanding of what goes on in the vineyard and a largely hands-off approach to how we get there. I think he’s developed enough confidence in us to know that the work will get done correctly and in a timely way,” shares Mike.
At the moment, one of the biggest challenges that Mike has to mitigate is the ongoing threat of wildfires. Just this June, there was yet another fire along Atlas Peak:
“My whole mindset has switched from focusing on slow late-ripening to encouraging the fruit to ripen earlier so we can avoid the higher fire risk that comes later in the season. The challenge is to do this without compromising quality. Inevitably, Mother Nature is 100% in control. All of the things you do should cooperate with her rather than trying to outsmart her,” ends Mike.
Today, Mike is on the board of trustees for the California Grower Foundation, a past president, vice president, and director of the Napa County Farm Bureau, and a member of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture and the Napa Valley Viticultural Technical Group. He also serves on the board of directors for the Napa Valley Farm Workers Foundation. With almost 50 years of viticulture to his name, Mike is one of the foremost wine growers in Napa Valley – and he certainly doesn’t need a piece of paper to prove it.
The Journey to the Summit of Everest
By Meghan Buchanan – Rocket Scientist, Adventure Athlete, Motivational Speaker
Check out more of her story on her instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ggrit/
It is difficult to describe my Mt Everest summit so quickly after happening. The gravity of this achievement is just starting to hit me, and I will be absorbing it in layers over the next couple months. Climbing Everest doesn’t just happen. It is a lifetime of passion and pain to even get to the point of considering such a seemingly unattainable goal. But once it becomes plausible, then the real work begins. It’s said, “Don’t be in the BEST shape of your life… be in Everest shape.” Meaning when you think you’re emotionally/physically/mentally ready, you’re not. Do more. Be it just one of the milestones in the bigger picture of completing the Explorers/Adventurers Grand Slam for me, Everest is a large percentage of that journey and has consumed my life for the past 3 years.
Climbing my way through the Seven Summits (tallest peak on each continent), I summited Denali in the summer of 2019. I knew then I was ready to take on Everest and kept training right through for the 2020 season. I was eager, focused and fit. However, 2 weeks before I was to fly to Nepal, the entire mountain was shut down for this “crazy little flu” called Covid. Much like Napa Valley harvest, there is a small window, a perfect day or so, to harvest a grape. The same goes for summiting Everest. If you miss the window (typically within the last 2 weeks of May), you have to wait an entire year and start from the very beginning. So, I trained another year and made it to Nepal late March 2021. I was able to get vaccinated prior to leaving, but the majority of others, especially the Nepalese, were not. It was a challenge just to get into the country. It was a challenge to dodge pandemic and illness around every corner. It was a challenge to endure unprecedented weather, 2 cyclones, through the Khumbu. It was one thing after another telling us “This is not the year! Turn back”. But after 2 years training and sacrificing, we all just wanted it so badly, so we pushed to keep going. Living at 17,500+ ft. is extremely hard on your body and mind. I had been climbing and waiting for 7 weeks when a weather window finally opened. My team was packed and went to bed early, set to leave for the summit bid at 1 am from Base Camp. My nervous excitement kept me awake when there was a rattle on my tent. “Meghan, emergency team meeting in the dining tent at 10”. Camp 2 had radioed down. ALL our climbing sherpa were ill with Covid (and I mean “on oxygen” ill). Sherpa are elite athletes with a tolerance for discomfort like I’ve never seen. When a Sherpa says they “can’t”, you take them seriously). And, just like that, our expedition was canceled. My shot at the summit was gone.
Through life’s experiences, I have learned to let go of what I cannot control and focus on what I can. Don’t get me wrong, it took a minute to swallow that Everest sized pill, but I refuse to waste energy on what cannot be changed. So, I quickly reset my mind to train for a 3rd year. Next, I had to figure out how I was going to pay for it AGAIN and get another 2 months off from work! Not an easy task, but there was no “thinking about” it for me. I knew in every fiber of my being I needed to return the following year. I returned home June 7th, gave myself 1 week’s rest, and went right back to “life as usual,” training for Everest another year.
I returned to the Khumbu Valley 10 months later to finish what I started. I wondered if I could claim Nepalese residency at this point (Ha). I applied lessons learned. I was stronger. I was calmer and knew what to expect. I was truly in “Everest Shape.” I also had a delightful travel buddy this time. I was accompanied by a very special 375 ml little bottle of Seven Apart Summit, knowing every ounce in the death zone is like a boulder to carry. I take a bottle of wine to each summit. I suppose it is to symbolize the work and reward that goes into a climb. This little bottle and I were about to embark on a great adventure to the top of the world.
I began my hike in Lukla (9,500 ft.). The energy was 180° from last year. Sagarmatha (Nepalese name for Everest meaning “The Head of the Earth touching the Heaven”) seemed to say “Yes girl! You got this and I grant you safe passage.” The weather was incredible (actually too warm through the Khumbu Icefall). I maintained my health and strength and had no issues with altitude. Incredibly, I was able to hit an extremely early summit window. Summit bid was a marathon of tough, and worth every single step to reach the top of the world. My amazing guides and I left the South Col around 9 pm. So did everyone else. It was a long night of waiting in line, but that little bottle of wine and I submitted at sunrise on May 12, 2022. The summit was surreal, chaotic and short lived. I wish I had a bit more room and time to marinate in 29,031 ft., but we had to stay focused and present. It was very crowded, and we still had a deadly ridge to descend. Back past the Hilary step and the balcony, we eventually took a quick rest at Camp 4. Then kept moving past Camp 3, eventually arriving at Camp 2. Braving the spectrum of extreme cold to heat, the wine and I made it down out of the “Death Zone”. I barely made it into my sleeping bag before a well-deserved pass out. I returned to Everest Base Camp the following day and Kathmandu the day after that. Several of us decided to enjoy a few luxurious days of bathing, eating, spa and celebration. And did I mention showering? What about showering? Ha! I think I took 3 showers in a row just for the water pressure. Glorious! But the biggest celebration and the moment I waited 2 months for, was to sip the BEST GLASS OF WINE of my life… the little bottle of Summit that had accompanied me through the entire journey. Oh, and believe me, it WAS that good!
I often compare my goals with that of starting a vineyard. I think about everything it takes to make just one bottle of world-renowned Cabernet Sauvignon. First, the terroir must be chosen. Then vines are planted, and it can take years to produce the desired quality of fruit. Once the grapes meet high standards, they must be picked at the perfect time. Once the wine is made, it must be cared for, maintained and protected, then aged for 18 months (+/-). The amount of time, money, energy, patience, and dedication put into something that may or may not come to fruition. Winemaking, much like Mountaineering, is risky. The right gear/equipment, years of skill/experience and deep commitment are vital to success. And both are also utterly dependent on EXTERNAL factors, of which we have no control. It is the deep passion for what we do that allows us to struggle, endure setbacks, and continue the journey… all for that one perfect moment. High risk with a higher reward.
So, how does it feel now that I have summited Everest? Well, I can answer with a similar question to our favorite vineyard. Consider this: Seven Apart receives the highest ratings for their 2022 Summit Cabernet Sauvignon (yes, I can see the future). Are Don, Andy and the SA team done? Can they retire now, completely satisfied knowing they made 1 perfect wine? “Good job team! Looks like we’re done. Final checks are in the mail”! OF COURSE NOT!
It always takes a little time for my heart and brain to absorb an expedition. It washes over you in waves. I was frustrated with myself the first couple weeks off the mountain. I thought I’d finally be relaxed and have a strong feeling of accomplishment.
That didn’t happen.
Then it finally clicked for me last week. I realized that is because I’m not just about the summit. I am about the journey. I want to work towards the “next goal.” I want to wake up striving for more and pushing myself further each step. It is in the struggle and the willingness to grow that we find ourselves. And just like a great wine, we change and get better over time. I thought I needed a break from the constant go-getting. However, I realize that is exactly who I am and why I will finish the Seven Summits this November and the Explorers Grand Slam in Spring 2023.
Summiting Everest was like a sip of extraordinary wine. It was big and had a beautiful finish. But, like all milestone moments in time, the taste eventually fades from your palate. It is only when you embrace the journey as your measure of success that you exceed all boundaries and reach your full potential. There will always be more mountains to climb. There will always be more wine to explore. Seven Apart, like myself, are in this for the journey. And may that, my friends, never end.
Behind the Bottle #3 | Basalt
Award-winning Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson takes you Behind the Bottle to introduce the dark and broody Seven Apart Basalt Cabernet Sauvignon. The latest Basalt vintage 2018 is now available on allocation only.
Like red and green, our Basalt Cabernet Sauvignon is a complementary counterpoint to our Shale Cabernet Sauvignon. While both wines are made from the same varietal grown in our Stags Ridge vineyard up on Atlas Peak, they are worlds apart in style. Where Shale displays softness and feminine elegance, Basalt displays an outward strength, structure, and masculinity. In the third of our four-part journal series, Andy goes behind the bottle of each wine to share the full story. Whether you’re new to Seven Apart or a devoted aficionado, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Seven Apart Basalt.
Behind the Name
Meaning: ‘A dark-colored, fine-grained, volcanic rock that is the most common rock on Earth’s surface.’
As its name suggests, our Basalt Cabernet Sauvignon is named after the basalt soil in which the vines grow. Millenia ago, Atlas Peak was the site of intense volcanic activity, so it is no surprise that the region is abundant in this dark, rocky earth. Rich in calcium, iron, and magnesium, volcanic basalt is ideally suited for various forms of agriculture – most notably vineyards. According to our Seven Apart Winemaker Andy Erickson, it is this nutrient-rich, basalt-based volcanic soil (sometimes called “Jory”) that gives our Basalt Cabernet Sauvignon its very distinctive profile:
“The Basalt rocks themselves are dark gray, almost black, in color as they formed from cooled, hardened, and weathered lava. Volcanic soil also contains high proportions of iron that is thought to sometimes impart a welcome ashy, almost rusty taste to wines. Basalt encapsulates the solid, muscular frame that Cabernet Sauvignon can provide when grown in these rocky, challenging conditions,” opens Andy.
Behind the Vines
At 1,475 ft elevation, our Stags Ridge Vineyard are made up of mostly shale and basalt soil. Where shale soil is layered and softer, basalt tends to be finely grained, drains well, retains and reflects heat, and holds water. The resulting Cabernet Sauvignon is dense and tannic.
“You must remember that this earth was left untouched until 1999, when the soil was first excavated to plant grapevines. If we were to replant, we would need to bring in surface mining equipment and dynamite to break up the rock and move it. It’s pretty extreme and incredible!” explains Andy.
Seven Apart produces three Cabernet Sauvignons from the Stags Ridge vineyard – Shale, Basalt, and Summit.
“Cabernet Sauvignon is king around here for a reason. It will grow in many different soil types. But grown in shale and basalt, that’s where you get small berries and low yields. And that’s when the wine gets very exciting – when you have that level of concentration and aromatic expression,” Andy states.
When it is time to craft the final blend, the Cabernet Sauvignon components that show more tannin and more structure are typically designated towards the base of the Basalt wine.
“It’s not as if we are out in the vineyard during harvest and say ‘Oh, this part of the vineyard is the Basalt this year’. It’s not a linear process. Rather, we harvest the grapes, make the individual components, and then let them age for a year separately before we craft the designated blend.”
Behind the Barrel
Like its sister wine Shale, the 2018 Basalt is produced from 100% estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon.
According to Andy, the wine is racked several times from barrel to barrel during the aging process to separate the sediment from the wine. Andy and Seven Apart Assistant Winemaker Patrick Nyeholt taste through each barrel for quality control during racking.
“I still use chalk to leave notes on the barrel to say what wine we think it should be going into. I’m very analog in that way. Then during the blending process, we sort out which barrels go into which blend,” shares Andy.
Once the desired Basalt blend is finalized, the wine is aged for 21 months in the finest French oak. One immediately noticeable character is the wine’s remarkable opacity and its deep black-purple hue. The depth of color suggests a wine of power and richness – an echo to its volcanic origins.
When you’re ready to pour yourself a glass of Basalt, prepare to have high-toned, ripe black fruit aromas fill the room. Think cassis, dry gravel, kirsch, and sage – the true essence of Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is all power. The wine enters with a rush of fruit flavors and savory complexities, riding on a wave of tannin, which is structural but rounded and supple.
For Andy, Basalt is a lesson in energy and balance: the wine wields its power with a positive intention and brings joy in the process.
“Basalt is certainly impressive now, but it will only gain finesse and grace with time in the bottle. It will easily age for 20-25 years. Enjoy it with great food and good company,” he ends.
Join our Allocation
With only nine handcrafted barrels, the 2019 Basalt Cabernet Sauvignon is now sold out. Unfortunately, due to the California wildfires last year, there will be no 2020 vintage. We encourage you to join our allocation here so you can be alerted when the next Basalt vintage will be released. Join us on this journey as we climb the mountain, push ourselves to the limits, and craft exceptional Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon so that you can savor Napa at its peak.
Winemaking, Wildfires, and Why The 2020 Vintage Will Be Limited
Every winemaker knows there is only one opportunity a year to achieve success. Harvest is a critical season where timing, care, and luck converge into one (hopefully) perfect moment to handpick the highest quality grapes and turn them into the best wine possible. But what happens when an unforeseen wildfire ambushes that one precious harvest?
The 2020 Glass Fire
At 3:48 AM on September 27, 2020, a wildfire broke out from an undetermined cause in Northern California and continued its path of devastation for 23 days. Titled the ‘Glass Fire’ due to its origin near Glass Mountain Road in Napa County, the wildfire fell in the middle of the harvest season. After an already tumultuous period marked by drought, heat waves, a global pandemic, and residual smoky conditions from other nearby wildfires, harvest 2020 was wholly disrupted by a relentless blaze.
The event caused sizable damage in almost all directions. Winemakers throughout Napa Valley saw the heartbreaking destruction of their vines and damage to several established wineries and cellars. Unlike some consumer goods, it is impossible to rapidly re-grow grapes. Mother Nature has a schedule that can’t be rushed. Sadly much of the effort poured into the harvest that year was yet another casualty of the wildfire.
No Fire Without Smoke
Here at Seven Apart, we were fortunate to have sustained no physical damage to our winery. By the time the fires arrived in neighboring areas, our team had completed harvest in our Base Camp vineyard located along the valley floor. This fruit remains of the highest quality and has been used in crafting our 2020 Expedition wine. Still, we certainly felt the impact of the wildfire – particularly in our prized Stags Ridge Vineyard.
Stags Ridge provides fruit for our three distinct Cabernet Sauvignon wines: Shale, Basalt, and Summit. Due to its higher elevation levels and later harvest date, Stags Ridge Vineyard was hit the hardest by smoke taint. Smoke taint occurs when the grapes in a vineyard are exposed to smoke from nearby wildfires. Yet, it’s not simply a case of residue sitting on the grape. In the aftermath of any fire, the residual smoke that permeates the air carries lignin, a chemical compound released from burning wood. This releases a range of volatile phenols into the wood. These phenols are absorbed by the porous grapes and bind to their sugary compounds, irrevocably altering their flavor.
Seven Apart’s General Manager Yannick Girardo remembers the shattering realization that the Stag Ridge grapes had been affected:
“When it was safe to head up into the vineyards, the first thing I saw was a heavy layer of smoke just lingering over the vines. A strong smell of burnt wood filled the air, and ash had visibly settled onto the grapes. It was awful to see, as the entire team knew what this could mean,” he reflects.
The team set about collecting grape samples and headed straight to the cellar. The problem with smoke taint is that it typically only reveals itself during fermentation or – in extreme cases – after the wine has aged.
In our case, the damage was evident very quickly. “When I first tasted the grapes, it didn’t seem like anything was wrong. You can’t actually taste smoke taint. But as soon as we started crushing the grapes, the smoke was right there,” describes Yannick.
It was an intense sight that won’t be forgotten by Yannick anytime soon. “The smoke was emanating from the grapes. It wafted up into the air and filled the entire space. The smell stayed on my clothes, and the cellar felt like a cigar room,” he says.
Smoke taint renders grapes unsalvageable. For any winemaker, this is devastating. Depending on the extent of smoke exposure and the varietal of grape affected, there is virtually no way to be sure of the impact of smoke taint until the grapes are crushed, bottled, or consumed. By then, it’s too late. Thanks to the sample test, the smoke taint was picked up early.
No Shale, Basalt, or Summit 2020 Vintage
As we hold ourselves to the high standard of producing world-class wine, the smoke taint meant that the quality of the available grapes simply did not meet our criteria. For this reason, the Seven Apart team decided not to release any 2020 Vintage wines from the Stags Ridge Vineyard this year. This includes our Shale, Basalt, and Summit Cabernet Sauvignon.
“There are techniques such as microfiltration or reverse osmosis to potentially reduce the smokiness in the wine. The problem with that is that you’re likely to change the innate characteristics of the wine so drastically that it becomes a different wine altogether – a risk Andy and the team were not willing to take”, explains Yannick.
As much as no winemaker wants to see their fruit not live up to its purpose, the caliber of our wine is something we will never compromise on.
Wildfires: The New Normal
Seven Apart will be releasing only one wine for the 2020 vintage: Expedition. Traditionally, Expedition is a Cabernet Sauvignon blended from grapes harvested from both our Base Camp and Stags Ridge vineyards. As the fruit from Stags Ridge was rendered unusable, this means that only the fruit from Base Camp could be used – halving the quantity of wine produced.
“We’re only able to produce around 750 cases of the Expedition vintage. That’s 50% less than what we’ve done in previous years”, confirms Yannick. “This is to ensure that only the finest grapes are used while minimizing the impact on the land itself that has already seen so much turbulence.”
The sad reality is that wildfires are no longer unprecedented phenomena in wine country. The effects of climate change mean that wildfires are predicted to become more frequent and even more intense. This is a change for which winemakers and Californians are already preparing. Some have begun to explore cutting-edge technology that combats smoke taint and prevents smoke compounds from ever reaching the grapes. Innovative techniques include covering grape clusters with activated carbon hoods to insulate them from smoke exposure. Early studies have shown a 97% efficacy in this method, leaving winemakers increasingly hopeful. But these preventative measures will take time to be widely adopted, making them costly and unrealistic for most wineries at the moment. In truth, winemakers will need to make active changes in the vineyards – be that growing more drought-resistant varieties or moving their vineyards to the valley floor where fires are less of a threat.
Despite the changing weather conditions, all is not lost. Wine has survived through millennia thanks to the resilience of winemakers and the grapes themselves. Innovation is something we champion at Seven Apart, and that is not going to change. Of course, our story is not unique. Many fellow neighboring wineries in Napa Valley and further afield will not be able to release a 2020 vintage at all and are navigating the same difficult decisions and consequences. For this reason, we encourage you to support your favorite wineries by purchasing their available wines, delving into the archives, or signing up for the allocation list.
At Seven Apart, we are grateful to be releasing our limited-release 2020 Expedition in late September this year. 2020 will undoubtedly be a vintage that will go down in our history books and one that proves there is always a silver lining to every cloud – even if that cloud is a little hazy.
Behind the Bottle #4 | Summit
This is truly Napa at its peak. Seven Apart’s award-winning winemaker Andy Erickson takes you Behind the Bottle to introduce our most elevated Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The next release of the Summit will be available in November 2022.
In life, we are all seemingly driven by an invisible force. A feeling that motivates us to get out of bed every day and aspire to achieve something greater, something beyond what we have now. For Andy Erickson and the Seven Apart winemaking team, the Summit 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine encapsulates this feeling. It reflects a way of winemaking that always strives for greatness. Philosophically speaking, the summit doesn’t quite exist, because as soon as you reach it, there is always another level for which to aim. In the final part of our four journal series, Andy goes behind the bottle of the Summit to unveil why this is truly Napa at its peak.
Behind the Name
Meaning: ‘The top or highest point, especially of a mountain’
For us, Summit has a dual meaning. The first is quite literal, as the grapes for making this wine are handpicked exclusively from our Stags Ridge Vineyard which is located near the summit of Atlas Peak in the eastern mountains above Napa Valley. The second is that it refers to our winemaking vision, which is to create the most elevated and compelling expression of Cabernet Sauvignon possible.
“At Seven Apart, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme. It is our focus varietal, which is why we craft four different expressions of it. But the Summit is the crème de la crème of our offering. The goal is to create what we feel is the very best wine we can make from each vintage. As we use only the best lots from our Stags Ridge vineyards, the quantities are typically minuscule. In fact, there were only two barrels of the 2018 vintage released.”
Behind the Vines
At 1,475 feet up in the air, Atlas Peak is an appellation that sits on the highest elevation in Napa’s wine region. Here, the Stags Ridge Vineyard is on full, panoramic display to the elements. At this height, the vines are above the fog line, meaning the vineyard gets morning sun. It also faces the Pritchard Gap – an opening to the San Francisco Bay. Every afternoon around 3 pm there’ll be a cool breeze that blows in on the San Francisco Bay to cool down the vineyard and help balance the sugar levels and acidity of the grapes. These conditions are ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s why all the grapes for the Shale, Basalt, and Summit are grown in the Stags Ridge Vineyard.
“What makes Stags Ridge so remarkable is that despite it being one vineyard, the varying soil types can result in a completely different style of wine depending on where you pick. The Shale soil results in a more soft Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Basalt soil delivers a more rugged and tannic wine. For this reason, I didn’t want to blend the unique lots into one big blend, as the nuances would be lost. Instead, we created three wines that exemplify this terroir,” explains Andy.
2018 was a growing season that offered up dark, delicious, perfectly ripe fruit throughout the Napa Valley. High atop Atlas Peak, where our soils are incredibly rocky, and the temperatures are cooler, the grapes became more concentrated as the season extended into late October. This said it is not possible to decipher which lots will go into which wines while they grow in the vineyard. During harvest, all the Stags Ridge grapes are handpicked together and brought into the cellar. The categorization process only begins once the individual Cabernet Sauvignon components have been vinified and aged for about a year in the cellar. Then the real fun begins…
Behind the Barrel
While you may think of wine blending as pertaining to only different grape varieties, it is also a process that is used to combine different vintages or different single lot barrels. At Seven Apart, we use the process to evaluate and rank all the single Cabernet Sauvignon barrels individually before creating the final Summit blend. Together with Seven Apart Assistant Winemaker Patrick Nyeholt, the duo marks exceptional barrels with chalk as they taste throughout the season. Then, during the blending process, they select only the most exceptional barrels to go into the Summit blend. Once the final Summit Cabernet Sauvignon components are selected, the wine is then aged for two years in 100% new French oak barrels.
“For me, Summit is a wine that should have a purity of fruit and elegance about it. I want it to have structure but not hit you over the head with it. It should be something that is going to age for a long time but shows off finesse as well. After all, we’re shooting for the top! This wine has to express the best thing that we can make each year,” says Andy.
Dark, black-purple, and opaque, the 2018 Summit is highly aromatic, with an aroma profile as deep as the wine is dark. Baked blueberry, vanilla bean, cedar, and even hints of bay leaf fill the glass. On the palate, the wine has a highly polished texture, rich and soft, and with remarkable fruit intensity. The dark black fruit flavors dance with notes of oolong tea and gunsmoke, bringing layers of complexity that expand with time. With such softness and richness, the wine is practically hedonistic and pleasing right now.
According to Andy, Summit is a wine designed for the decades that will develop over the coming years in the bottle:
“This wine will age for decades, but if someone prefers more fruit in the expression, 3-5 years of age would be great. I prefer to taste these kinds of wines after 10-15 years in the bottle, that’s when they really come alive.”
Join our Allocation
With only four handcrafted barrels, the 2019 Summit Cabernet Sauvignon will be released in November 2022 and available exclusively by allocation. Join us on this journey as we climb the mountain, push ourselves to the limits, and craft exceptional Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Sign up here if you’re ready to become a member of our allocation list and savor wine taken to new heights.
International Wine Report Review – Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon
As seen in International Wine Report, May 2022
By J. D’Angelo
“The 2019 ‘Expedition’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Seven Apart is sensational. The wine itself opens to a seductive nose with inviting aromatics of ripe black currants, black cherries, mocha, graphite, toasted spices, violets and hints of scorched loam that all emerge beautifully from the glass. On the palate this possesses a gorgeous full-bodied texture and fantastic overall structure. It continues to impress with its wonderful freshness, along with excellent concentration and depth, as layers of ripe dark fruits, exotic spices graphite and mocha flavors continue to build through the long polished finish. This is a marvelous release from Seven Apart that is already extremely impressive upon release, however it also has the characteristics to age for decades.”