Discover The Cellar | A Balance of Art & Science
The cellar is the beating heart of every winery. It is here where Mother Nature’s labor ceases, and human skill steps in. The cellar matters because it is the sanctuary in which wine is allowed to mature and develop under the watchful eyes and hands of the winemaking team. It’s also the first time the team can control the process. That’s why when founder Don Dady first set foot on the land that would become Seven Apart, he knew that a world-class cellar would be one of the key factors distinguishing our winery. “Don wanted to ensure our winemaking facility features the most advanced technology and the finest equipment available, providing us greater control over the incoming fruit,” opens Yannick Girardo, Managing Partner at Seven Apart. For the past five years, Yannick has overseen Don’s vision come to life and shares why creating a cellar where tradition meets innovation is so important for success.
A Cellar Walkthrough
Allow us to set the scene for those who have never been to the Seven Apart cellar. The space is organized into three sections: the front, middle, and back. This layout represents the three stages of winemaking: grape arrival, fermentation, and aging.
The front section is the most active during harvest, as this is where the grapes are received and processed. Upon entering the production facility, you will see a large covered canopy housing the crush pad. The crush pad serves as the initial point of grape arrival, marking the beginning of their transformative journey. An optical sorter is then used to process the grapes – a sophisticated device that meticulously selects the finest grapes through advanced imaging techniques. A pneumatic press is also at our disposal, although it is primarily used for white wine production. A pneumatic press applies gentle, controlled pressure to extract the juice from grapes, preserving their delicate flavors and aromas.
Approaching the cellar’s midsection, the fermentation tanks come into view. “The cellar was an existing structure when Don acquired the property, so the team had a set square footage to work with,” Yannick explains. “To optimize the layout and functionality of the available space, we chose square-shaped fermentation tanks. This allows us to make better use of the area compared to cylindrical or cone-shaped tanks.”
Finally, as you come toward the back of the cellar, you will see the temperature and humidity-controlled environment for barrel aging. Yannick emphasizes the importance of maintaining a 55 to 60-degree Fahrenheit range and 75% humidity at all times. Since the cellar is not underground, they recreate the desired environment using air conditioning units and humidifiers. This setup prevents any shrinkage or issues with the barrel wood drying out. Like a well-orchestrated symphony, the cellar flows seamlessly from point A to B to point C, accompanying the wine through each stage of its life.
Controlling The Cellar
Amidst unpredictable climate conditions such as fires, hail storms, and floods, the cellar is a haven where the team can exert more control. Temperature is the most crucial of these elements. As Yannick explains:
“The temperature-controlled environment for the tanks is critical for fermentation. Whether you’re doing a cold soak, raising the temperature during fermentation, or monitoring CO2 levels, it’s crucial to manage these factors meticulously.”
With the help of technology, Seven Apart maintains a consistent temperature and humidity in the cellar, ensuring ideal conditions for the wine. The cutting-edge technology, complete with sensors and alarms, also ensures the safety of the staff working in the area, especially during the fermentation process when high levels of CO2 are extracted. Ventilation fans kick in automatically, maintaining a constant flow of fresh air and keeping the cellar environment optimal for winemaking.
To avoid issues like contamination and spoilage, control is kept through cleanliness. Everything in the cellar has to be extremely sanitized and clean to avoid any cross-contamination or any issue of spoilage.
“The truth is that the fun part in winemaking is when the grapes come in. But the reality is that you spend 95% of the time preparing for the grapes and only 5% of your time making wine!” laughs Yannick.
As harvest time approaches, cleaning, and sanitation reach their peak. “With each new arrival of grapes, we must sanitize again, scrub everything, and ensure that all surfaces are clean and as free from contamination as possible so that we can process the incoming batch of fruit,” he explains.
Balancing Art & Science
In the realm of winemaking, some purists advocate for minimal technology within the cellar, favoring the raw hand of nature and tradition. However, at Seven Apart, we believe in a different philosophy, one that harmoniously marries the old with the new.
“In winemaking, technology is merely a tool. It’s the winemaker who breathes life into the process, wielding it with the touch of an artist and the mind of a scientist. This delicate balance between art and science is where the true essence of winemaking lies,” ends Yannick.
By incorporating sophisticated technology such as temperature control and juice extraction, the small Seven Apart team can dedicate their time to where they really want to be: the vineyard.
Discover Vineyard Layout | Fitting The Site Properly
Napa Valley is exactly what you expect when you think of Wine Country: hillside wineries, bold cabernets, and vast expanses of neatly ordered grape vines. But while the image of perfectly parallel vineyard rows rising and dipping over rolling fields is certainly a sight to behold, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Enter Vineyard Layout: the fourth secret to Seven Apart’s success. While the concept is not as lauded as soil or even climate, the positioning and arrangement of vines on a site has just as much of an impact on the quality of the final product. After all, as many would argue, great wine starts in the vineyard. So how exactly do the particulars of vineyard design impact the flavors and aromas that find their way into the bottle? We delve into the ins and outs of the topic with the help of our esteemed Vineyard Manager, Mike Wolf.
Pulling Apart The Pieces
While it may sound simple, the concept of vineyard layout covers many different elements. As Mike explains, “It encompasses so many things, all the way from row direction to how you prepare the soil.” Other key aspects include the distance between rows and between vines within a row, the types of trellis and training systems to be used, the position of access aisles, and the partitioning of the site into blocks.
The optimal layout for a particular vineyard depends in part on the grape variety to be grown there, but it’s much more complex than that. It’s critical to think about factors like climate, location, plot dimensions, and soil characteristics. Then you also have to make physical judgments about slope, aspect, elevation, and the risk of erosion, all while taking into account your winemaking goals, management practices, and economic considerations. “There are all these other things that come into play when you’re laying out a vineyard,” shares Mike. “It’s all connected. It’s really hard to pull apart all the little pieces, but they have to come together in the end.”
Figuring out how all these moving parts fall together to determine the ‘perfect’ design for a vineyard requires a mix of mathematical acumen and geological good fortune. And yet it’s critical to make sound layout decisions right at the start. As Mike points out, “You only get to plant the vineyard once, so you have to make it count.”
Configuring The Right Conditions
Traditionally, vineyard layout was based on road and property lines. While these sorts of practical considerations still bear weight, nowadays, the layout is designed with yield and fruit quality in mind. Today’s viticulturists understand that vineyard configuration influences the vines’ interaction with soil, sunlight, and airflow. In other words, it determines how successful a vineyard is at harnessing Mother Nature’s gifts. This, in turn, impacts vine health, fruit ripening, and, ultimately, wine quality.
Row orientation, for instance, is one of the biggest factors influencing sun exposure. Get it wrong, and you risk sunscald on one side of the vine. Get it right, and you can optimize sunlight interception to promote even ripening of the grape clusters and enhance flavor development, resulting in wines with greater complexity, structure, balance, and aging potential.
Similarly, row and vine spacing, which is closely related to planting density, plays a central role in achieving vine balance. Vine balance refers to a state of harmony between vegetative growth (the growth of leaves, stems, roots, and shoots) and fruit production. The right spacing can introduce a healthy amount of competition between plants to ensure that vigorous vines don’t jungle outwards at the expense of grape development. This helps to ensure that enough energy and resources are allocated toward sugar and tannin accumulation. Naturally, spacing also impacts sunlight exposure and airflow – the latter of which is essential for disease control as it helps to keep grape clusters dry and stave off the growth of mildew.
Trellis and training systems work together with row spacing and orientation to determine how much light, shade, and air a vine receives, and to facilitate vineyard operations. The layout choices made here – whether you train shoots upward in a vertical curtain or divide your canopy and train shoots downwards, for example – help to create the right conditions for a particular cultivar to thrive. And this shows in the wine.
In addition, vineyard layout can affect wine quality by directly impacting a team’s ability to manage the vine canopy – to prune, remove leaves, thin and position shoots. A poorly designed vineyard with spacing issues makes it difficult for staff and machinery to access vines for intervention. It’s also an obstacle to timely and efficient harvesting, and the consequences can be dire.
That said, as Mike explains, a good layout should minimize the need for extensive canopy management and manipulation. “If you get it right from the beginning, you wind up with a vineyard that you don’t have to be out there messing with all summer long. In my experience, some of the very best fruit comes from some of the lowest maintenance vineyards – ones that just fit the site properly.”
Stags Ridge and Base Camp: The Details That Make The Difference
Getting it right has long been a focus in Seven Apart’s Stags Ridge and Base Camp vineyards. Resting at the apex of Atlas Peak, on the back of a towering volcanic mountain, Stags Ridge is an unusual piece of land. When it was first planted in 1999, layout options were limited by the practical constraints of the plot – giant rocks and cobblestones scattered everywhere. But the configuration of elements has combined to produce some extremely resilient vines. The result is grapes that are truly expressive of the site, giving rise to world-class Cabernet Sauvignons with big, round tannins, velvety texture, and nuanced flavors.
The perfect positioning of vineyard rows plays a part in shaping the character of our wines, too. Stags Ridge rows run from East to West – an orientation that helps to capture and channel the cool afternoon breeze that drifts in from San Francisco Bay. This maritime draft helps to lower sugar and acidity levels in the fruit to ultimately yield wines that are both balanced and elegant.
Down below on the valley floor, Base Camp is an entirely different story. The 8-acre vineyard was recently replanted, giving Mike and the team a new opportunity to make layout decisions better suited to the location and the varieties grown here – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc.
While an East-West orientation works for Stags Ridge, here, the fruit benefits more from rows angled Northeast to Southwest. “This positioning offers fairly uniform sunlight throughout the day,” says Mike. “Ideally, the fruit shouldn’t know the difference between morning and afternoon. There should just be this nice, even light all the way through.” Of course, nice, even light means nice, even ripening and flavor development, yielding consistent quality in every bottle.
The replanting also made space for the installation of a drainage system to prevent waterlogging and an innovative new trellis system. “It’s a modified vertical system. We’ve raised the height of the fruiting wire a bit,” explains Mike. Above that is a series of cross-arms positioned in a narrow V-shape. “And we use movable wires to spread the canopy out. We train the vines a bit differently, and we prune them a bit differently to make them comfortably grow into that canopy. Again, it’s about the notion of providing even sunlight to every berry all day long,” he adds. A major advantage of this system is that it allows small adjustments to be made to mitigate whatever’s set to be the biggest threat that season. The last few years, it’s been the heat. This year, it’s overzealous growth due to heavy rain. In this way, the integrity of the fruit, and the wine, is protected no matter what comes our way.
Truth be told, if you were to wander through either of Seven Apart’s vineyards, the level of thought and planning that goes into these sorts of layout choices might be lost on you. It’s the tiny details – the sort measured in inches and degrees – that make the difference. But trust us, it’s a difference you can taste in the glass.
Discover Topography | Give The Site Credit
“Geography is Where a Vineyard is Located, Topography is How the Vineyard Looks When You Get There.”
Is terroir and topography like potato, potatoh? Not quite, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Defined as the arrangement of the natural features of an area, the reason topography is often confused with terroir is that it actually relates to three different physical characteristics of the land: elevation, slope, and aspect. Yet, despite its misrepresentation, it plays a critical role in determining the quality and character of the wine produced. So much so that Seven Apart founder Don Dady identified ‘topography’ as the third element that sets our vineyards apart. To better understand the role of topography in our winemaking process, we sat down with our seasoned and award-winning Vineyard Manager, Mike Wolf.
The Importance of Topography in Winemaking
The vineyards of the Napa Valley are planted in a wide variety of locations – hugging valley floors, clambering over hills, climbing steep mountain slopes, or nestling beneath towering peaks. This diverse landscape provides an assortment of mesoclimates and soil types in which to grow various cultivars. Closely linked to geology, topography forms an important part of the terroir concept and has a strong interaction with the environmental components of climate and soil. Its effect, both below and above the ground, is considered to be one of the major factors when it comes to the quality of the grapes. Topographic effects can be indirect, due to soil types, exposure to wind, and ventilation, or direct, due to the immediate effects of the incidence of the sun’s rays on the earth’s surface.
“I understand why topography is sometimes confused, as it is a lot more subtle than elements like soil or climate. It’s something you have to pay attention to on a really small scale. Depending on the vineyard, elevation, slope, and aspect come together to create the site. And depending on the winemaker, you can try to take advantage of those differences – or try to mask them,” opens Mike.
In February and March, Mike was fighting a new kind of battle in the vineyards – and topography had a role to play. “After years of fires and drought conditions, all of a sudden we’ve had floods in California!” he says. Then in late March, the rain turned into snow – up to a foot deep at the top of Atlas Peak. The ever-changing weather conditions in Napa Valley emphasize the importance of adaptability in vineyard management and using topography to one’s advantage. Mike believes that “there really is not a break between seasons. Things just kind of operate on a continuum.”
The Topography of Stags Ridge and Base Camp
Nestled high up on Atlas Peak, our Stags Ridge vineyard benefits from a unique topography that sets the stage for cultivating exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. Unlike what you might first think, when you get up to the top of Stags Ridge it’s not steep – the vineyard gently rolls and undulates on top of the mountain. This ensures a more consistent growing environment, with neither extremely cold nights nor scorching hot days. Mike explains, “the fruit ripens slowly…the acid kind of respires in a nice even sort of pace with the increase in sugar.”
The southwest-facing slope of Stags Ridge also aids in mitigating frost risk, as cold air is less likely to accumulate on sloped terrain. “Another benefit to this aspect is that when there is heavy flooding, the rainwater can first soak in as needed and then run straight off. The soils are very rocky and porous, so we don’t struggle with waterlogged vines up there,” says Mike. Of course, the downside to it, which speaks to the changing environment, is that longer ripening creates more risk at the end of the season. Mike adds: “Every day the fruit stays out, there is one more day that you could have a fire.”
In contrast, our Base Camp vineyard is situated on the valley floor, where the risk of fires is less, and the vines are easier to monitor. The vineyard features a two-tiered landscape, with a gentle slope toward the Napa River. Despite its predominantly flat terrain, the vineyard benefits from the west-facing aspect and a slight elevation drop of about 15 feet, which helps with drainage. That said, the flatter terrain means the grapes are more exposed to the elements. When it’s hot, the vines risk overripening, and when it rains, excess water can easily collect. To cope with these challenges, we have installed a substantial subsurface drainage system to prevent waterlogging, using a grid of perforated pipes and drain rock to guide water into storage tanks for future irrigation.
Embrace The Differences
When it comes to topography, Mike’s approach is to embrace the differences and allow the vines to express their unique terroir. “There’s a difference between uniformity and homogeneity. You do want uniformity in growth. I think that’s really important just to give this site credit,” Mike shares.
By paying close attention to topography, Mike believes that winemakers can capitalize on the subtle nuances that exist within each vineyard. His philosophy revolves around the idea of working with the land rather than trying to mask its natural variations.
At Seven Apart, our vineyards’ topography is a testament to the intricate relationship between nature and winemaking. Through the careful management of our Vineyard Manager, Mike Wolf, we strive to express the unique qualities of our Stags Ridge and Base Camp vineyards in every bottle.
Discover Altitude | 1,475 Feet In the Air
Nestled amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, a small vineyard thrives at a stunning 9,000ft above the sea. It’s a testament to the limitless possibilities of high-altitude viticulture. Priorat, Spain and Mendoza, Argentina are well-known for producing quality wines grown up to 5,000ft. At the same time, the low-lying Médoc region in France is equally celebrated for producing some of the finest wines in the world. Meanwhile, the Grand Crus of Burgundy flourish on mid-slopes between 755 and 1,300 feet. Clearly, when it comes to altitude – it’s all relative.
How Does Altitude Affect Wine?
In the context of wine growing, altitude (also referred to as elevation) refers to the height of the vineyard above sea level. Small differences in elevation can have surprisingly big effects on wine quality and, indeed, on the ability of individual grape varieties to ripen at all. Typically, grapes grown at lower elevations may experience more moderate temperatures, greater humidity, and richer soils, resulting in wines with softer tannins, lower acidity, and more fruit-forward flavors. In low-lying regions like the Médoc in France, the wines are known for their intense fruit flavors and soft tannins. These wines are typically full-bodied and can be enjoyed young or aged, depending on the producer and the vintage.
As the vines ascend to higher altitudes, they encounter cooler temperatures. Cooler temperatures at higher elevations can slow the ripening process and promote the development of nuanced and complex flavors. At a higher elevation, there is also increased ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which stimulates the production of phenolic compounds that contribute to the wine’s structure and depth. In addition, higher elevations tend to be drier and windier than lower elevations. This can be beneficial for vineyards because it can help to reduce the risk of disease by keeping the vines dry and preventing the growth of mold and mildew. This combination of factors can lead to more concentrated flavors, higher acidity, and more tannins in the grapes, resulting in wines with greater complexity, structure, and aging potential.
The Allure of Atlas Peak
Atlas Peak has been producing renowned wine since 1870. Located in the Vaca Mountains east of Napa Valley, the elevation of Atlas Peak ranges from 1,400 to 2,600 feet above sea level. This is relatively high for the Napa region, meaning the mountain appellation sits above the morning fog layer – a prime spot for bold red wine varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Atlas Peak vineyards are generally planted on steep slopes, which allows for good drainage and ensures that the vines receive plenty of sunlight. In fact, when founder Don Dady first arrived to inspect the now-current site of Seven Apart, he was in awe of the steep slopes around him:
“Good wine starts with good fruit. That’s why I was on the lookout for the perfect vineyard. When I came upon Stags Ridge Vineyard, what caught my attention was: you get mountain fruit. You’re on the tip-top of Atlas Peak, which is the back of Mayacamas – the highest mountain range in Napa. It’s a unique spot,” shares Don.
Atlas Peak’s elevation adds a distinct flavor profile to mountain fruit. At 1600 feet, UV exposure increases by almost 5%, and every vineyard above the fog layer at 1500 feet experiences greater exposure. These conditions enhance polyphenol development (i.e., wine’s flavor compounds), leading to richer color and texture in the wine, with more pronounced tannins. The steep slopes also mean that the majority of the fruit needs to be hand-harvested – a marker of quality.
Of course, as a compliment to Stags Ridge Vineyard is Base Camp – a thriving valley floor vineyard situated where Silverado Trail meets Soda Canyon Road. Following Seven Apart’s acquisition in 2018, Base Camp was replanted, presenting a unique opportunity for Don and his winemaking team. “Base Camp offers low-elevation fruit and Stags Ridge mountain fruit, giving us the best of both worlds,” Don explains.
Base Camp & Stags Ridge Vineyard
To understand the impact of elevation on Seven Apart winemaking, let’s take a closer look at our two vineyards, Base Camp and Stags Ridge Vineyard. At almost 8 acres, Base Camp has recently been replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a bit of Sauvignon Blanc. The elevation ranges between 55 and 75 feet above sea level. This means the vineyard is planted on mostly flat land, ensuring the grapes receive a lot of direct sunlight. The temperatures here can be quite warm, making the grapes ripen quickly.
“Base Camp is our home base. It’s where every adventure begins. The vineyard is also in the process of going organic, meaning the quality of the fruit will increase even further in the coming years,” explains Seven Apart Managing Director Yannick Girardo.
As it turns out, hedging our bets between mountain and valley-floor fruit has also been a saving grace. In the 2020 Glass Fire, the Stags Ridge vineyard fruit was rendered unusable due to smoke taint. The fruit from Base Camp came to rescue the vintage. “If it weren’t for our Base Camp fruit, we would not have been able to release the Seven Apart Expedition 2020.”
The truth is mountain fruit is high risk – but also high reward. At Stags Ridge Vineyard, the vines are planted on steep slopes, which allows for good drainage, plenty of sunlight, and thinner air making the vines less susceptible to pests and diseases. The higher altitude and cooler temperatures mean the grapes ripen slower than they do at Base Camp, allowing them to develop more complex flavors and aromas. The cooler temperatures also help retain the grapes’ acidity, which is important for balance in the finished wine. For all these reasons, this is why we produce three distinct Cabernet Sauvignons from the Stags Ridge vineyard – Seven Apart Shale, Seven Apart Basalt, and Seven Apart Summit.
“While it may seem odd to craft three Cabernet Sauvignons from the same vineyard, there’s so much incredible diversity up there. You might have one section that gives you one unique element and another that gives you something completely different. It’s what makes this mountain fruit so exciting to work with,” ends Yannick.
If you ask us, there’s no doubt that altitude plays a significant role in the grape quality and wine character. But when done right, you can elevate the wine to new heights.
Jeb Dunnuck 2019 Seven Apart Summit – 99 points
“If you can believe it, the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Summit is even better and can be thought of as a hypothetical blend of the Shale and Basalt releases, with the elegance of the Shale and the power of the Basalt. Lots of cassis, raspberries, iron, savory herbs, and lead pencil notes emerge on the nose, and this beauty hits the palate with full-bodied richness, a deep, layered mid-palate, and enough building tannins to warrant 3-5 years of bottle age. This lengthy, insanely good 2019 will have 20-25+ years of longevity.” – Jeb Dunnuck
Jeb Dunnuck 2019 Seven Apart Basalt – 97+ points
” A bigger, richer wine, the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Basalt has a similar darker cherry, plum, and currant driven core of fruit as well more minerality, iron, and roasted herb notes with time in the glass. The palate is on another level and is full-bodied, deep, rich, and concentrated, with incredible tannins as well as balance. This is pure Napa Valley Mountain Cabernet. Hide bottles for 2-4 years, and it’s going to have 25 years or more of overall longevity. Bravo!” -Jeb Dunnack
Antonio Galloni 2020 Seven Apart Expedition Review
“The 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon Expedition is the only wine Seven Apart bottled in 2020. It is one of the better wines I tasted from this very challenging year. Effusive and bright, the 2020 offers up a compelling mélange of dark cherry, plum, crushed flowers and mocha. There’s a good bit of tannin, but also enough fruit to balance things out. I must say, this is an impressive showing from Seven Apart and winemaker Andy Erickson.” -By Antonio Galloni at Vinous, October 2022
Discover Soil: Digging Deep into Atlas Peak
While it might not be as romantic as century-old underground cellars or handmade barrels, soil is the unsung hero of the winemaking world. It is the foundation upon which the vine takes root and flourishes, imbuing the grapes with DNA-like qualities that define the terroir. As one of Napa Valley’s prized mountain appellations, Atlas Peak boasts world-class soil that is as diverse as it is magnificent. At Seven Apart, we are proud to cultivate our vines in this unparalleled terroir.
A Tale of Fire & Ash
The volcanic soil of Atlas Peak is a story written in the rich tapestry of the earth’s history. It is a tale of fire and ash, of molten rock and explosive geological forces that etched their mark upon the land and transformed it into the fertile ground it is today. This soil was formed over millions of years as volcanic eruptions left behind layer upon layer of ash, pumice, and volcanic rock. Over time, this material was weathered and decomposed, creating soil that is rich in minerals and well-drained – the perfect conditions for grape vines to thrive.
Today, viticulturists and winemakers benefit from the many natural volcanic features on Atlas Peak. Firstly, there is a veritable cornucopia of soil types, including white volcanic ash soils, rusty red soils, and black gravelly basalt. Each of these soil types brings about a unique taste of minerality in the wines, from umami notes to saltiness. For example, if you taste a savory quality in an Atlas Peak wine, it’s likely that the grapes were grown in vineyards with reddish soils.
Another natural advantage from the millennia of seismic shifts is particularly rocky soils. Rocky soils are not only rich in minerals and nutrients but also have excellent drainage that allows the vines to reach deep into the earth for sustenance. The result is grapes known to produce wines with increased aromatics, including floral aromas in red wines. The well-drained soil also prevents waterlogging, reducing the risk of disease and promoting healthy vine growth. The volcanic soils of Atlas Peak are truly a gift to winemakers, providing the ideal conditions for crafting some of the world’s most exceptional wines – particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Perfect Match: Atlas Peak and Cabernet Sauvignon
Ask any viticulturist what the best soil is for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, and you’ll probably get this answer: “Cabernet Sauvignon works well on a variety of soils, but it does best in moderately rocky/gravelly soil with medium-high drainage.”
That makes Atlas Peak soils a textbook choice for growing Cabernet. Why are the two so perfectly paired? Cabernet Sauvignon has the potential to be a very vigorous vine. For this reason, it does benefit from controlled stress. In winemaking, stress on the vines can be achieved through various techniques, such as vineyard management practices, pruning, or in the case of Atlas Peak – natural conditions. Thanks to the rocky terrain, the Cabernet vines need to produce deeper roots, which help to anchor the vines and improve their access to water and nutrients. This results in better vine balance, improved resistance to disease and pests, and better fruit quality.
In addition, the structure of volcanic soil can help to regulate the temperature, which is important for the proper development of the grapes. The soil’s ability to retain heat during the day and release it at night can help to maintain a consistent temperature, which can promote healthy vine growth and improve the quality of the fruit.
As a result, the volcanic rock and ash of Atlas Peak provide excellent drainage and allow the grapes to ripen slowly and develop complex secondary and tertiary flavors that are sought-after by Cabernet connoisseurs worldwide.
Rocks The Size of Sedans
When Seven Apart founder Don Dady first arrived at Stags Ridge vineyard, he was greeted with a rather unusual site. “The rocks were the size of sedans!” he recalls. Towering boulders and rows of cobblestone-like alleyways adorned the vineyard – not exactly an easy location for viticulture. Yet, through tenacity and patience, the site had been planted since 1999 and reaped some of the most delicious fruit Don had tasted in Napa Valley. It was for exactly this reason that he chose Stags Ridge to become the home of Seven Apart wines.
Today, Seven Apart’s collection of storied Cabernet Sauvignons is quickly amassing a cult-like following – a testament to the fact that the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to Atlas Peak. The volcanic soil of Atlas Peak has become renowned for producing exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, with its unique combination of volcanic minerals, depth, and excellent drainage providing the ideal foundation for grapes of unparalleled depth and character. This volcanic soil is an integral part of the region’s rich winemaking history and a testament to the power of the earth to shape and define the flavors of our finest wines.
Introducing the Discover Seven Apart Series
Like everything else at our winery, our name was created with intent.
When our founder Don Dady first viewed the property, he applied the principle his college professor had instilled in him while he was completing his economics degree. He shares:
“At the end of the semester, we had to present possible investments to Professor Nye. For each, we had to find seven compelling things that set the investment apart. If we couldn’t, it didn’t meet his standard to buy.”
The concept of finding seven advantages that set something apart became a guidepost for Dady throughout his career. “When I discovered the property that is our winery today, we found so much more than seven reasons. We knew it was the perfect location for a worthy investment,” he shares.
And so Seven Apart was born.
Introducing Our Discover Seven Apart Series
Due to the smoke taint from the 2020 Glass Fire (read this journal if you’d like to learn more), the quality of the Stags Ridge vineyard grapes was compromised. As a result, we did not harvest any fruit from the Stags Ridge Vineyard and could not produce our Seven Apart Shale, Seven Apart Basalt, and Seven Apart Summit 2020 vintages. That’s why this year, Seven Apart will see only one release: the 2021 Seven Apart Expedition. With 1500 cases available, this veritable phoenix of wine will be released in September this year. But worry not!
As we wait for our 2021 Expedition to mature to perfection, we invite you to join us on a different kind of wine adventure. Over the next seven months, we will be doing a deep dive into each of the following significant seven ingredients that lead to our growing success:
- APRIL | DISCOVER OUR SOIL:
Our vines are grown in dense, volcanic rock soils providing exceptional terroir that result in incredibly complex and elegant wines. But what is it that makes the unique soils of Atlas Peak so special for growing our flagship variety, Cabernet Sauvignon?
- MAY | DISCOVER OUR ELEVATION:
At 1,475 feet above the valley floor, the vineyard sits above the fog line and enjoys the morning sun. Why does altitude matter in winemaking? And how exactly does it influence the quality of the grapes we grow?
- JUNE| DISCOVER OUR TOPOGRAPHY:
The vineyards face the Pritchard Gap, which captures a breeze directly off the San Francisco Bay every afternoon. Explore the area with us as we learn how this cooling effect produces higher-quality fruit.
- JULY | DISCOVER OUR VINEYARD LAYOUT:
The vineyard is perfectly positioned to channel the afternoon breeze to help lower sugar and acidity to desired levels. The right balance of sugar and acidity helps us craft wine that will age beautifully over the years. We chat with our legendary Vineyard Manager Mike Wolf to understand the importance of vine positioning and how we have set up our Stags Ridge and Base Camp vineyards.
- AUGUST | DISCOVER OUR PROCESS:
When our cellar was first designed, Don Dady emphasized creating a multi-functional space that would guarantee success. Today, the cellar team has complete control over every step of the winemaking process. From hand-harvesting in the vineyard to selecting barrels for aging, we speak to our winemaking team to understand the vision for the cellar and why it works.
- SEPTEMBER | DISCOVER OUR EXCEPTIONAL EQUIPMENT:
From pneumatic presses to an optical sorting machine, our team has access to some of the world’s most impressive winemaking equipment. But how does this equipment help improve the quality of our wine? We chat with our winemaking team to highlight some of their favorite machines and talk about how each of them helps us achieve the best possible results.
- OCTOBER | DISCOVER OUR WORLD-CLASS WINEMAKING:
While the quality of grapes matters and the right setup is key, there would be no wine without a winemaker. We chat to our winemaking team to understand how they balance expressing the terroir while adding their artistic touch to each bottle.
Are you ready to embrace your inner wine geek? Along the way, you’ll learn not only about Seven Apart, but all about the micro-factors that can make a good wine great (including some useful anecdotes to impress your dinner party guests). Grab your hiking boots, and join us as we set out on a journey of discovery with Seven Apart!
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 Seven Apart 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.