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.