A Day in the Cellar with Winemaker Morgan Maureze
For the distinct group of individuals who choose winemaking as a career, it’s not so much a job as it is a way of life. Unlike most professions that begin with coffee, morning commutes, and 9-to-5 routines, winemakers experience both extremes. With the first buds of spring and the onset of harvest, their lives transform into weeks filled with 1:00 a.m. starts, 24-hour shifts, and staggered sleep. However, it’s winter now in the valley, a season marked by heavy rainfall, short days, and cold nights. At Seven Apart, our winemaker Morgan Maureze’s routines reflect those of our vines, hibernating, diligently maintaining things, and preparing for the next vintage. While the pace is significantly calmer compared to the hustle and bustle of summer, we took the chance to sit down with Morgan to gain an intimate glimpse into what a day in his winemaking life entails.
Morning: 9 am – 1 pm
“It’s the off-season in Napa Valley right now, meaning my hours are more regular—a typical 9-to-5 day, which is fantastic. This schedule allows me the luxury of time in the mornings to be with my daughter Genevieve, to enjoy breakfast together, and to walk her to daycare, among other things,” opens Morgan. This tranquil routine starkly contrasts with the hectic pace of peak season, during which Morgan finds himself at the vineyard by 1:00 a.m. to harvest grapes in their optimal state and catch sleep sporadically amidst overseeing pressings and fermentations.
Upon arrival at the winery, Morgan’s routine reflects the current season’s pace. Winter in Napa Valley is a time for introspection and planning. The cellar, a sanctum of potential and promise, holds the future of the 2022 vintage, quietly aging in barrels alongside the more recent 2023 vintage. Morgan, alongside Jorge, Seven Apart’s Cellar Master, delves into the day’s tasks with a focus sharpened by years of experience.
“Mornings mean maintenance, encompassing not only the facility but the wines themselves. We’re currently monitoring the 2023 vintage as it completes its malolactic fermentation,” Morgan shares. From monitoring the progress of the wines in barrel to envisioning the blends that will define the next vintage, his approach is one of minimal intervention but maximum attention. As Morgan walks through the cellar, his eyes scan for anything amiss, a habit honed by years of tending to the minutiae of winemaking. The aesthetic of the cellar, its cleanliness and organization, speaks to the ethos of Seven Apart—excellence in every detail. “I’ve also made some adjustments to enhance the layout for our winery tours,” he notes.
Morgan and Jorge methodically review a weekly schedule displayed in their office, ticking off each completed task. While the vineyard remains dormant, necessitating only monthly inspections, the frequency of these walkthroughs intensifies as spring nears, eventually becoming almost hourly to meticulously monitor the fruit’s development and pinpoint the ideal harvest time. “These walkthroughs are crucial for evaluating the cover crop’s vigor and the effectiveness of our pruning techniques, among other factors,” Morgan explains. For now, the morning hours are reserved for tackling the most labor-intensive tasks.
Afternoon: 2 pm – 5 pm
Lunch is often a shared moment with Jorge at a simple picnic table outside. “We just talk about work, family, whatever. We’ve known each other a while, so we’re comfortable to grab a quiet bite to eat,” explains Morgan. Sometimes, their lunch break is not so quiet, punctuated by interactions with winery visitors. Morgan’s willingness to engage and share the story of Seven Apart reflects a broader commitment to hospitality and the shared experience of wine.
By afternoon, his focus shifts to the barrels that lie in the heart of the cellar. Tasting and blending are acts of creativity, guided by an intimate knowledge of each lot’s potential. His philosophy, one of letting the wine express its inherent qualities without unnecessary manipulation, shapes his approach to these tasks. It’s a belief in the wine’s ability to mature, to find its balance and character with time rather than through constant adjustment.
“Once the wine is in the barrel, I avoid excessive tinkering and sampling. After all, it’s aging for a period of 18 to 24 months.. Intervening too much can introduce oxygen and potential contaminants. Moreover, it’s about allowing the wine to rest and mature on its own. If the wine was crafted correctly from the start, it shouldn’t need much adjustment. Much like people, wine sometimes needs time to develop,” Morgan elucidates.
As the day draws to a close, the sense of accomplishment from completing the day’s tasks and leaving the cellar in pristine condition reflects Morgan’s life philosophy—being thoughtful, and always looking ahead. “The most gratifying part of my day is when everything is cleaned, organized, and ready for tomorrow. There’s a profound sense of satisfaction in knowing everything is in its right place. It feels good and makes the next day’s start infinitely smoother,” he shares.
Evening: 6 pm – late
Morgan’s commute home is a short 10-15 minute drive. Dinner, often prepared by his wife Britny, is an opportunity for Morgan to shift from winemaker to family man.
“I’m incredibly fortunate because my wife is a chef, so I often return home to exceptional meals. Consequently, mealtime is important in our home—it revolves around food and wine,” shares Morgan. As Britny prepares the meals, Morgan contemplates their drink choice, delving into their home cellar to find the perfect pairing. “This ritual marks the beginning of my evening unwind, essentially assisting in meal preparation, though I mainly try to keep out of Britny’s way in the kitchen. It’s about spending quality time with Genevieve and enjoying dinner together. While work might come up in conversation, we make a concerted effort not to let it dominate our evening discussions,” he adds.
Morgan’s evenings are a time for reflection, for appreciating the simplicity of a meal shared with loved ones, and for the quiet contemplation of the day’s work. It’s in these moments that the full scope of his role at Seven Apart comes into focus—not just as a maker of wine but as a custodian of a tradition that spans generations, a tradition that, under his watchful eye, will continue to flourish. Here’s to the journey ahead, the vintages yet to come, and the hands that will bring them to life.
Worth the Wait: 2021 Seven Apart Shale Cabernet Sauvignon Release
In the world of fine wine, patience is more than a virtue – it’s a necessity. Back in September 2020, our patience was truly tested when the devastating Glass Fire swept through the vineyards of Northern California. While Seven Apart’s winery escaped physical harm, smoke taint rendered our prized Stags Ridge grapes unusable. Faced with this challenge, we made a tough call – to not produce wine from the tainted grapes that year, putting our Seven Apart Shale, Basalt, and Summit releases on hold. But as the seasons changed, so did our fortunes. 2021 brought with it a perfect blend of weather conditions, and we harvested from Stags Ridge once again. This February, we’re absolutely delighted to present a vintage that, in our opinion, was worth the wait: the 2021 Seven Apart Shale Cabernet Sauvignon. We sat down with our winemaker Morgan Maureze, to discuss this first and highly-anticipated release from the 2021 collection.
“A Vintage That Carries Both Our Touch”
Perched at 1450 feet on Atlas Peak, the Stags Ridge vineyard experienced a harvest like no other. Morgan Maureze reflects on 2021 with a sense of awe, saying:
“It was an amazing, amazing year – but patience was once again key. The season leading up to harvest was marked by limited winter and spring rains. We had to wait for the autumn rains, but when they eventually arrived, everything fell into place beautifully.”
These drought-like conditions, coupled with an ideal summer, resulted in smaller, concentrated berries packed with flavor, setting the stage for a vintage that promised intensity and balance.
Upon receiving the green light for harvest, the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Stags Ridge were meticulously handpicked under the cloak of night. This night harvest was a strategic choice, ensuring the grapes remained cool and unoxidized upon their arrival in the cellar. Once the lug boxes arrived for pressing, Morgan explained that the approach, as always, was to “honor the fruit in its purest form”.
In the cellar, the grapes underwent a gentle, slow fermentation at lower temperatures, a deliberate choice to safeguard their rich aromas. After fermentation, the wine was transferred to 57% new French Oak barrels, undergoing malolactic fermentation to soften and stabilize the wine. The wine was then racked off its lees and aged for 24 months in barrels before it was bottled and became ready for release.
Back in 2021, our former winemaker, Andy Erickson, was still at the forefront of Seven Apart. However, by the middle of last year, when blending for the 2021 Seven Apart Shale commenced, Morgan had already joined Andy at the winery.
“This is why, in my view, the Seven Apart Shale symbolizes one of our first joint endeavors at Seven Apart. It signifies a period of transition, a time when Andy was in the process of passing the baton to me. It’s a vintage that carries both our touch,” Maureze acknowledges.
As Morgan begins to imprint his style on the Seven Apart wines, he explains some of the subtle changes he envisions for upcoming vintages:
“For me, it’s about nurturing the Stags Ridge vineyard to reach its full potential. Andy made some adjustments to the canopy and increased irrigation to push the vineyard further. Now, it’s my journey to continue that process. I aim to further subdivide the parcels, capturing even more nuances. My goal is to enhance the complexity of our wines. This approach requires additional effort, but it gives us better control over the blending process, allowing us to craft wines with more precision than ever.”
An Intensely Powerful Wine In Its Own Right
It’s undeniable that the virtue of patience has certainly been tested in anticipation of the 2021 Seven Apart Shale Cabernet Sauvignon. Three years in the making, the wait is now over, and the good news is that this wine is already wonderfully approachable upon release, especially for those who appreciate the vibrancy of young wines.
“Like any classic Cabernet, the Seven Apart Shale will of course benefit from another 5-8 years of age in the bottle. Yet it already offers a more nuanced and softer profile compared to the Basalt and the Summit. I truly appreciate the soft, silky tannin profile that this wine brings to the fore,” shares Morgan. But rest assured, this doesn’t make it a lesser Cabernet Sauvignon by any means. “It’s still an extreme mountain-grown Cabernet, an intensely powerful wine in its own right,” he adds.
Seven Apart Shale shows a deep, intense burgundy hue in the glass. The fruit aromatics are fresh and vibrant – ripe blackberries and black cherries are joined by hints of baking spice, chocolate and a soft minerality. The palate illustrates the power and suppleness of the 2021 vintage, creating a gentle yet confident progression to a rich mid-palate balanced with soft tannins. The finish is lasting and luscious, brimming with dried black plum, black cherry, and floral notes. “The Seven Apart Shale is exceptionally smooth and rich, yet it maintains a perfect balance, making it a particularly remarkable wine,” ends Morgan.
This wine not only offers immediate enjoyment but also promises to evolve gracefully over the next 25 years. With only 9 barrels crafted, the 2021 Seven Apart Shale Cabernet Sauvignon is now available exclusively by allocation. These grapes, captured at their peak, are transformed into wine intended to be enjoyed at its peak too.
Sign up here if you’re ready to become a member of our allocation list.
Seven Apart Retrospective: Six Years of Vintages and Vineyards
Six years ago, in 2018, seasoned businessman Don Dady discovered an exceptional mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard at one of the highest elevations of Napa Valley’s Atlas Peak – Stags Ridge vineyard. Upon learning that the winery owning the vineyard was up for sale, Don recognized this as the precise opportunity he had been seeking. “From the moment I found Stags Ridge vineyard, I saw an opportunity to grow something special out there,” he recalls.
At that time, Atlas Peak was already a distinguished and unique region. However, it maintained a certain level of discreet allure, contrasting with the more widely known valley floor wineries. The area was defined by its small vintners and wine creators, committed to producing exceptional wines from high-altitude vines nurtured in volcanic soil. It was during this exciting era that Seven Apart was established. As we enter our sixth year of winegrowing, join us as we reflect on the journey from humble beginnings to the bountiful fruits that we reap today:
August 2018: Acquiring Stags Ridge and Base Camp Vineyards
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As the perennial winemaking adage goes, great wine starts in the vineyard. Founder Don Dady was acutely aware of this, having searched for the right property for some time to realize his dream project. When he found the property that is now Seven Apart, he discovered that the land was home to not just one, but two vineyards in one of Napa’s most coveted appellations, Atlas Peak. Perched along the spine of the Vaca Mountain Range was Stags Ridge vineyard. Named after the thousands of male deer roaming the neighboring land, Stags Ridge had a well-established reputation, with nearly all wines produced there earning mid to high ninety-point ratings from Robert Parker. This includes a 2013 vintage that garnered the elusive 100-point score. The vineyard’s enviable terroir boasts four key advantages: its peak location at 1,475 feet elevation positions the vines above the fog line, basking them in morning sun and cooling them with a mid-afternoon maritime breeze from the San Francisco Bay. The sought-after soil, containing intense and nutrient-rich basaltic red volcanic soils, is also key.
Together, these conditions are ideal for creating world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Much lower on the valley floor, at an elevation of 55 to 75 feet, Base Camp vineyard offers a striking contrast to its sister vineyard, Stags Ridge. Situated in the prestigious Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Base Camp blends sand, silt, clay, and gravel soils. Together, the two vineyards are the secret sauce to Seven Apart’s viticultural prowess, enabling our winemaking team to pick and choose grapes as needed to achieve the highest potential for our wines.
August 2019: Acquiring Orange Grove Vineyard
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Exactly one year later, the Seven Apart team experienced good fortune once again. Vineyards seldom come up for sale in the prestigious Napa Valley, so it was both a delight and a surprise when the neighboring Orange Grove property became available in August 2019. This verdant, 5-acre plot was largely undeveloped, brimming with potential — especially for growing vines. Acquired in August, the vineyard is conveniently located a stone’s throw from the Base Camp vineyard on the Silverado Trail. “Rather than buying grapes, we aim to cultivate all our fruit to oversee every aspect of the process. With Stags Ridge, Base Camp, and now Orange Grove, our holdings encompass about 16 acres of vines. Our goal is to cultivate all the Bordeaux varieties across our three sites,” explains Managing Partner Yannick Girardo.
However, the beginning was not without challenges: Orange Grove had a drainage issue. The Seven Apart team installed an extensive drainage system to address this, capturing and redirecting water into the river. The system required contractors to traverse the property, laying a mainline with lateral lines leading to a large, natural well. A pump was installed to extract the water and connect it to irrigation tanks for future use. While costly, this investment allows us to sustain ourselves using recycled rainwater. Five years on, Orange Grove has undergone a remarkable transformation. Now, lush green and healthy vines cover the property, boasting one acre each of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Seven Apart is nearing its goal of using 100% estate-grown fruit at this stage.
February 2020: First On-Site Vintage Produced
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In February 2020, Seven Apart celebrated a significant milestone with the completion of Phase I of its development, marking the readiness of its new wine production facility. “We built a state-of-the-art winery,” recalls Don. This milestone enabled the team to produce its first vintage on-site, a pivotal moment in the winery’s history. The new winery is equipped with advanced technologies like automated pump-over tanks and optical sorters, providing unparalleled flexibility and control over the winemaking process. These technological advancements, along with the building’s energy efficiency through solar power and water management systems, underscore Seven Apart’s commitment to crafting exceptional wines while adhering to sustainable practices. The cellar layout, including a barrel room, laboratory, mezzanine, and spacious tank/fermentation room, complements its high-tech features, creating an ideal environment for producing top-quality wines.
September 2020: The Impact of the Glass Fire
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In 2020, disaster struck in multiple forms. At 3:48 AM on September 27, a wildfire, later known as the ‘Glass Fire,’ ignited from an undetermined cause in Northern California. It ravaged the landscape for 23 days. Originating near Glass Mountain Road in Napa County, this wildfire coincided with the harvest season — a period already marred by drought, heatwaves, a devastating global pandemic, and the effects of smoke from nearby wildfires. The Glass Fire inflicted considerable damage in nearly all directions. Fortunately, Seven Apart’s winery escaped physical harm, but the smoke taint rendered our prized Stags Ridge grapes unusable. As a result, we chose not to release any 2020 vintage wines from Stags Ridge vineyard, including our Seven Apart Shale, Seven Apart Basalt, and Seven Apart Summit Cabernet Sauvignon. The only 2020 vintage we released was Seven Apart Expedition, in a reduced quantity, since it traditionally blends grapes from both Base Camp and Stags Ridge vineyards.
Why consider this a milestone? The Glass Fire solidified Seven Apart’s dedication to excellence and prompted a refinement of our viticultural techniques. Upholding our standard of producing world-class wines meant that the smoke-affected grapes did not meet our stringent quality criteria. Choosing quality over quantity, we released only 825 cases of the Seven Apart Expedition vintage. We also evolved our harvesting techniques to better align with nature’s unpredictability:
“My whole mindset has shifted towards encouraging earlier fruit ripening, aiming to circumvent the higher fire risk later in the season, while maintaining our quality standards. Ultimately, Mother Nature holds the reins. Our actions should complement her forces rather than attempt to outmaneuver her,” shares Mike Wolf, Vineyard Manager at Seven Apart.
October 2021: The Seven Apart Hospitality Facility Officially Opens
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The Seven Apart hospitality facility officially opened on October 1, 2021. Under the guidance of founder Don Dady and the creative expertise of award-winning interior designers Damon and Julie Savoia of Shawback Design, the facility stands as a masterpiece of design. It blends elements of luxury with the natural beauty of Napa Valley. Julie notes that every surface offers a texture, and all these materials communicate with each other to provide a layered experience – much like Seven Apart’s wine. “Our goal was to extract Don’s vision and make it a reality. After several meetings, we regularly visited the site for inspiration. In our studio, we compiled material and color palettes, presenting them to the team until we all agreed,” she explains.
Architect James Jeffery, landscape architect Eric Blasen, and Wright Contracting played pivotal roles in bringing this vision to life. The facility is a testament to Seven Apart’s commitment to excellence. It features a design that intertwines materials like red velvet and brass, reflecting the connection between the cellar and its connoisseurs. Exclusively available to active members of the allocation list, the space offers a unique experience with meticulously designed interiors, including a Cypress-wood ceiling and hand-blown chandeliers. “The design might be subtle, but its impact is unparalleled. The result is a space that tells the Seven Apart story tactilely and elevates the wine to another level,” concludes Damon.
May 2023: Morgan Maureze Takes the Helm as New Winemaker
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Five years into our journey to reach the pinnacle of Napa Valley winemaking, a change of hands occurred in our cellar. In May 2023, Andy Erickson passed the baton to his long-time protégé and friend, Morgan Maureze. Born and raised in France in a family of winemakers, Morgan brings a rich heritage and extensive experience to Seven Apart. He obtained his degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis and further honed his skills at the University of Bordeaux and renowned wineries like Petrus and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Morgan then joined Andy Erickson’s team for fifteen years, refining his craft at some of Napa’s most esteemed properties, including Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle. His journey led him to leadership roles at Marciano Estate and Immix Wines before reuniting with Andy at Seven Apart in the spring of last year.
Morgan’s winemaking approach is defined by a commitment to continuity and precision. For the 2023 vintage, he works closely with Andy, meticulously reviewing past strategies and identifying opportunities for refinement. His vision includes an intensified focus on micro-picking and a deeper engagement with the unique terroir of Stags Ridge, recognizing its extraordinary potential. Morgan’s tenure at Seven Apart is marked by an unwavering dedication to building upon Andy’s legacy, ensuring a seamless transition in style and a continued pursuit of winemaking excellence. “I understand that people often think a change in winemakers means a change in style. That won’t be the case here,” he reflects.
In the ever-changing world of wine, six years is just the beginning, but it also represents the most challenging and critical time to establish oneself. To do or die. Without a doubt, we wouldn’t be here without you – our Cabernet Sauvignon champions. Join us as we raise our glasses to the future and the vintages that await. Here’s to what the year ahead and the next six years hold!
A Dream Come True | 2023 Harvest Report
“A dream come true. Harvest 2023 was an ode to nature’s splendor, coupled with the dedicated team at Seven Apart.”
It’s December. Though the vibrant golden hues of fall have faded, there’s a different kind of magic in Atlas Peak. The air is crisp, the bare Stags Ridge and Base Camp vines glitter in the winter sun, and the 2023 vintage is already aging in our Seven Apart cellar. With this year’s harvest complete, Managing Partner Yannick Girardo finds a quiet moment to reflect on the busy season that was.
The Perfect Prelude
The stakes are always high leading up to harvest. Flooding, fires, and frost are all in the deck. This year, Mother Nature dealt exceptionally generous cards. After a refreshingly wet winter and a mild spring, the vines thrived. “We had a perfect weather season leading up to harvest, which was a dream come true for any winemaker,” opens Yannick. Drought and warm conditions of the past 10 years have continued to push harvest earlier and earlier. But this year’s lack of extreme heat spikes during summer, a stark contrast to 2022, meant a slightly delayed yet fruitful growing season. “The stable weather meant that we could monitor the evolution of the grapes very closely, rather than having to be on standby for unfavorable conditions,” he adds.
Broadly speaking, the wet winter and cooler spring—among the coldest on record—set Napa Valley’s harvest back a few weeks. These conditions caused the grapes to flower later, necessitating more time for them to ripen on the vine. “While it hasn’t been a typical year weather-wise in that aspect, we’ve grown accustomed to drought, heat, and fires in the last 10 to 12 years. It was refreshing to experience the kind of climate Napa was historically known for. Evidently, we’d grown accustomed to earlier harvests; Mother Nature had led us into some bad habits, so to speak,” muses Yannick.
As fall rolled in, so did the rain. Rain in October could have spelled potential disaster with the increased risk of botrytis—a fungus that can be harmful to the vines if unchecked. Instead, after several years of severe drought, the abundant rains of 2023 provided much-needed relief to the vines. This rain was followed by a perfectly-timed heat spike in early October. “The heat helped raise the brix levels (sugar levels) in the grapes, pushing them to their peak maturity,” explains Yannick.
This year’s Seven Apart harvest spanned from October 5 to the 25. Over these intense three weeks, we successfully gathered a total yield of around 35 tons. As a result, we’re anticipating the 2023 vintage of Seven Apart to yield between 1,850 to 1,900 cases.
Although our Base Camp vineyard was recently replanted, the team was able to harvest from the northern block section, yielding roughly 1.7 tons from its 3.13 acres. The remaining 4.79 acres, grafted in May of 2023, will start to bear fruit in 2024, with the expectation to reach our targeted crop yield in the next two to three years.
Morgan’s Inaugural Vintage
As introduced last month here, 2023 marked a change of hands at Seven Apart, with winemaker Morgan Maureze taking over from Andy Erickson. Born in France, Morgan is a fifth-generation winemaker. With both of his parents hailing from winemaking backgrounds, it’s fair to say he was raised amidst the vines. “Quite simply, I’ve known I wanted to be a winemaker since I was very young,” he reveals.
Yannick notes that Morgan’s innate connection to the vine and meticulous attention to detail was evident from the start. “Morgan has been nothing short of a pleasure to work with and a true steward of the land.” According to Yannick, Morgan’s dedication is evident in his daily grape quality checks, ongoing communication, and hands-on approach to every aspect of winemaking. “To illustrate, our Vineyard Manager sent me an email expressing how commendable it was that Morgan was on-site for every pick—a dedication he hasn’t often seen from other winemakers he’s collaborated with.”
Apart from Morgan, the recent additions to the Seven Apart family have brought fresh perspectives and renewed commitment. Jorge Lopez, having worked on our wines alongside Andy for the past four years, now assumes the role of Cellar Master, forming a formidable team with Morgan. We also welcomed another addition to our team, Catie George, who has taken on the role of Estate Host with the goal of strengthening our hospitality offerings.
One For The Books
“It has been an extraordinary year. We’ve truly navigated numerous stages and milestones since our inception. In this industry, constant change is inevitable, whether due to weather or developments within each family-owned winery or organization. We couldn’t be more grateful for everything that has transpired,” remarks Yannick.
So, what is there to look forward to in the year ahead? Plenty! As 2024 nears, the eagerly awaited single vineyard wines are poised for release, marking a welcome end to a two-year hiatus. “Again, it’s a labor of love and patience. The last time we had Shale, Basalt, and Summit available was in 2022,” recalls Yannick. We paused releases due to the Glass Fire’s impact on our yields, but we’re thrilled to soon reintroduce these wines.
Harvests, like chapters, tell the story of a year’s challenges and triumphs. 2023 has been a testament to the resilience and dedication of the Seven Apart team. The upcoming vintage promises to be one that mirrors these attributes. “We anticipate the 2023 vintage will join the esteemed ranks of 2018, 2019, and 2021 – it’s one for the books,” ends Yannick.
Discover Seven Apart’s New Winemaker | Morgan Maureze
Change is the only constant, particularly when it comes to winemaking. Each year, the vintage will depend on the shifts in weather, the different techniques applied in the vineyard, and even the percentage used in each blend of wine. While some fear it, the truth is that change is the momentum needed for growth. As Seven Apart enters its sixth year of winemaking, we welcome growth with our new winemaker, Morgan Maureze. Once a student of Andy Erickson and now a close friend, Morgan is a learned scholar of winemaking and intends to build upon Andy’s strong foundations. A change of hands, yes. But certainly not a change of heart.
Thank You, Andy
When founder Don Dady founded Seven Apart, there was only one winemaker he approached: Andy Erickson. Don recognized Andy had the experience needed to yield greatness from a burgeoning vineyard. As a consulting winemaker, Andy also knew that the winery’s needs would eventually outgrow the capacity he could offer. But Andy took on the challenge of establishing Seven Apart with gusto. He tended to the complexity of Stags Ridge with the gentle patience it demanded, wedging vine trellises between million-year-old boulders. Further down the Atlas Peak slope, he oversaw the replanting of the Base Camp vineyard with expert viticulturist Mike Wolf and kitted out a brand new cellar setup to his exact specifications. In short, he took the blueprint of our winery and brought it to life. Most importantly, he took our extreme mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and turned it into the world-class Seven Apart wines you have come to know and love. With each passing year, Seven Apart’s reputation for quality Napa Cabernet grew, and so did our winery’s needs. Soon, it was time to take the next step. As Andy turned his focus to his own wine brands, we began to ask: Was there anyone in the world who could fill Andy’s storied shoes? As it happens, Andy knew—and had trained—just the man. Morgan joined our team on April 1 of this year. We quickly realized he doesn’t need to fill anyone’s shoes; he has a pair wholly his own.
From Premier Cru to Cult Wineries
Born in France, Morgan was raised practically among the vines. Both his parents hailed from winemaking lineages: his father from the fifth generation and his mother from the third. His childhood wasn’t just an experience; it was an education. By the age of 12, he could discern grape varieties with just a whiff and a sip. By 16, he was accompanying his father to trade fairs across Europe. “Quite simply, I knew I wanted to be a winemaker from a very young age,” opens Morgan.
He started his career in his mid-teens, spending holidays and summers at Dominus estate, where he mostly worked in the vineyards. Upon achieving his UC Davis diploma in viticulture and enology, he decided to further pursue his education in his native region at the University of Bordeaux in an endeavor to compare both worlds. During his stay in France, he worked at the prestigious Château Haut-Brion, Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix (which managed esteemed chateaus such as Petrus, Magdalaine, and Trotanoy), and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, where he ultimately completed his Masters Thesis. Not a shabby start for a 20-something.
Upon returning to Napa Valley, Morgan began working with Andy. “Andy just kind of plucked me right out of the college,” Morgan says. “I began assisting Andy at Ovid, working on his small high-end Napa Valley clients Arietta Wines, Dancing Hares Vineyards, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Marciano Estate, and Screaming Eagle. We worked closely together, and I became the right-hand man.” In total, Morgan trained under winemaker Andy Erickson for fifteen years.
“Andy is a great guy. But with time, I wanted to branch out and establish myself more, so I took over one of our clients full-time. That was Marciano Estate. I was the director and winemaker there from 2016 to 2023. Then, one day in early Spring, Andy rang.”
Passing The Baton
Andy told him he was looking to pass the baton onto the right person at his labor of love, Seven Apart. Morgan came to view the facilities and was impressed by what he saw. “The vineyards were exceptional. I met the team, including Managing Partner Yannick Girardo, and loved them. I was sold.”
Today, Morgan’s office is at Seven Apart, and he jokes that it is like his base camp. “I appreciate that many people think that when there is a change in winemakers, there will be a change in styles. That’s not going to be the case here,” he reflects.
Having worked together for over a decade, Morgan’s approach is to evolve rather than revolutionize Seven Apart wines. “Andy and I share a very similar winemaking style. He has always said not to make wine by numbers. So with Seven Apart, I intend to follow my gut – or palate in this case.”
He has spent the last few months examining the vineyard sites appropriately to understand the benefits and potential pitfalls. He and Andy have also spent many hours sitting down and tasting the wines, discussing Andy’s past strategy and seeing where there is room for improvement. They even worked on the 2021 Seven Apart vintages together. “Andy was probably one of my greatest mentors. While there is academic knowledge, he taught me how things are in real life. It’s not so much a handover as it is a passing of the baton – and I don’t intend to drop it,” muses Morgan.
Let The Vintage Speak For Itself
When it comes to winemaking, Morgan’s winemaking philosophy echoes Andy’s but also comes from years of working at some of the finest wineries in France, Chile, and the US. “Keep it simple. Keep it clean. I like it when there is a vintage variation because that means you’re expressing the vintage and not forcing it to be something it’s not,” he says. Basically, intervene only when necessary. “It’s the way the French do things too.”
Other takeaways from Morgan’s time in France include not over-extracting. He prefers the tannins to be softer and rounder, creating more elegant wines. “That means gentle extractions and cooler fermentations.” Morgan’s goal is to build upon the existing work that Andy has done by monitoring the vineyards as closely as possible. He said the team will do more micro-picking, picking smaller lots of grapes to tweak where necessary. Under Morgan’s guidance, the team will also work more on Stags Ridge. “When I go up there, I can feel how special it is. It’s one of those vineyards,” he shares. “There’s not much that needs changing – Andy modified things already when he came in, and I agree 100% with his modifications. Rather, it’s about managing it more closely as the vineyard ages and requires more attention. You’ve got to keep the yields reasonable and not become greedy. ”
In Morgan, Seven Apart has found Andy’s kindred spirit – someone who stops at nothing to achieve the finest quality possible in winemaking and all aspects of running the winery. He is the ultimate successor as we level up on the next step of our journey to the summit. Welcome, Morgan: here’s to you, and here’s to change!
This is the final chapter in our Discover Seven Apart series. Based on the maxim that a solid investment should have seven compelling things that set it apart, Seven Apart was born. If you’d like to rediscover our stories, you can find them here to learn the secret to our success:
Introduction: A Year of Discovery
1: DISCOVER SOIL: DIGGING DEEP INTO ATLAS PEAK
2: DISCOVER ALTITUDE | 1,475 FEET IN THE AIR
Discover Quality Equipment | Doing It Right Where It Counts
Like many crafts, the process of turning fruit into wine relies on the marriage of talent and tools. As a dedicated oenophile, Seven Apart founder Don Dady understood that high-quality tools are a critical ingredient in the recipe for world-class wines. It’s why he spared no expense when outfitting our cellar with equipment after acquiring the property in 2018. “Don’s philosophy is that if you’re going to do something, you must do it properly, or not at all,” explains Yannick Girardo, Seven Apart’s Managing Partner. “He wanted our winemaking facility to feature the most advanced technology and the finest equipment available so that we could have greater control over the incoming fruit.” To offer more insight into the relationship between cellar machinery and wine quality, Yannick opens a window into Seven Apart’s winemaking world and discusses top-tier tools’ role in crafting premium Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Tools That Distinguish Our Trade
Don’s go-big-or-go-home philosophy is immediately evident when you step into Seven Apart’s state-of-the-art production facility. For every stage of the winemaking process, there is a sophisticated device dedicated to the pursuit of perfection.
In the front section of the cellar, an optical sorter is the grapes’ first encounter with technology. This cutting-edge machine uses advanced algorithms and imaging techniques to meticulously sort through the incoming fruit and pick out only the best of the bunch based on predefined criteria. “The optical sorter is definitely a huge asset,” says Yannick. “It allows us to get granular during harvest and select the finest quality fruit that we have available to us.” This equipment is especially valuable when Mother Nature throws a curveball, as she so often does. For example, when the heatwave of 2022 wreaked havoc on the vineyards, the team could turn to the optical sorter to identify grapes that still met exacting standards, minimizing loss.
Our pneumatic press, used to extract the last drops of juice from the grape pulp after fermentation, is in the same part of the facility. The press applies gentle but precise pressure to the fruit – carefully controlled and configured digitally — to draw out the desired levels of tannins, sugar, and flavor compounds for the finished wine.
Seven Apart has also invested in state-of-the-art temperature-controlled tanks to perfect the fermentation process — the star of the show in our cellar’s midsection. Sophisticated technology allows for the scrupulous management of conditions within the tank to ensure optimal fermentation. “From a touchscreen, we have full access to each individual tank and can monitor and manipulate every detail,” Yannick explains. “We can see the level of CO2 extraction, the temperature when the glycol system kicks in, even the CO2 level in the room.” The fermentation tanks also feature an automated pump-over system that circulates the fermenting juice through the machine to promote flavor extraction. “It’s set up the same way it would be if done manually,” elaborates Yannick. “A hose is connected from the bottom to the top of the tank and a motor pumps out the juice automatically, then splashes it back over the skin cap. This happens several times a day and the frequency is programmed into the system.”
Of course, no winery would be complete without tools to aid the final winemaking stage: the aging process. To contribute to the character and complexity of the wine, Seven Apart makes use of premium French oak barrels for maturation, adding the final flourish to our high-end equipment inventory.
Why Does Quality Equipment Matter?
When Don invested a small fortune in this selection of top-tier technology, he did so because he knew something many don’t: high-quality equipment isn’t just a tool — it’s an invaluable addition to the team. Superior equipment automates many activities that would otherwise be done by hand, freeing up the winemaker to focus on tasks that require skill and intuition. This eliminates the risk of human error and makes the winemaking process much more efficient, saving time and preventing delays that could impact the wine’s quality.
“The automated fermentation tanks, for example, save us a tremendous amount of time,” asserts Yannick. “This is critical, especially when you’re a small team like us and don’t have a lot of manpower. It means we’re free to concentrate on the fruit itself.”
Thanks in part to automation, high-end tools also allow for enhanced control over every aspect of the production process. The team can carefully manipulate the selection criteria of the optical sorter, the pressure of the press, the temperature of the fermentation tanks, and even the humidity in the barrel room — all to create the ideal conditions for winemaking. With such extreme precision, it’s possible to safeguard the quality and stability of the wine and craft Cabernet Sauvignons with highly specific characteristics.
What’s more, with greater control comes the promise of consistency — the mark of a world-class winery. Through the micromanagement of every detail, we can avoid inconsistencies in production. This way, we succeed in providing Seven Apart patrons with the same fine flavor profiles — the same outstanding quality — batch after batch and bottle after bottle.
Of course, the direct impact that quality equipment can have on a wine’s character also shouldn’t be ignored. Our high-grade barrels are a good example. Imbued with natural compounds that interact with the wine, French oak imparts desirable flavors and aromas to our Cabernet Sauvignons, polishing their tannins and contributing to their structure, complexity, and depth — qualities often associated with superior wines.
While adding to the wine’s quality, state-of-the-art machinery also ensures that nothing detracts from it. “Maintaining cleanliness is essential to avoid contamination and spoilage,” explains Yannick. As high-end equipment is easier to clean and sanitize than lower-quality alternatives, it plays a critical role in promoting cellar hygiene and preserving the integrity of the wine.
Finally, like all sound purchases, quality equipment tends to be more durable and reliable. Even minor interruptions in the winemaking process can be detrimental to the finished product. As a result, reliable machinery becomes an invaluable asset. The dependability and longevity of high-grade tools also curtail the need for extensive maintenance, repair, or replacement. So although Seven Apart’s initial investment was significant, the reduction in costs over the long term — and the positive impact on our craft — makes every cent worth it.
Doing It Right In The Cellar
Equipment might not be as romantic as terroir or as mysterious as topography. But it’s easy to see why our founder identified top-tier tools as one of the seven elements that distinguish Seven Apart.
As the great Henry Ford once said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” Don Dady also knew that if he “did it right” behind the scenes — within the pristine walls of our cellar — the results would be evident where it matters most: in the bottle.
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.