Vol 4: The Treasures of Napa Valley
“Stags Ridge Vineyard is sort of hidden, yet sort of in the middle of everything.” ~ Andy Erickson, Seven Apart winemaker, on the richness of a Napa Valley vineyard site.
The Journal | Vol. 4
You’ve seen the legendary sign: Welcome to this world famous wine growing region. While Napa Valley is certainly well-known, it’s also exclusive and keeps many treasures. Only 4% of California’s wine production comes from our region, which is actually quite small (about an eighth of the size of Bordeaux) and exceptionally varied.
Soil + Climate
Though the valley floor is only 30 miles long and just five miles across at its widest point, our local vintners have access to half of the world’s 12 recognized soil orders and more than 100 soil variations. And while Cabernet Sauvignon is the valley’s signature grape, responsible for more than half of the overall crop value, the region is home to dozens of varieties thanks to this generous soil diversity.
A Mediterranean climate, which only 2% of the planet enjoys, provides warm and dry summer days that often creep into the 80s or 90s. Overnight, cool fog from the Pacific Ocean moves in, which can drop temps into the 50s or even 40s. But as the sun crosses the sky, the fog burns off and the process begins again.
Because Napa Valley grapes ripen in the sun, and cool off overnight, they experience a long growing season capable of retaining acidity and balancing sugar. Very little rain falls during the growing and harvest season, allowing for vintage to vintage consistency and little moisture-related disease pressure.
The area is so distinct, and so precious as a wine grape growing region, that The Napa Valley Ag Preserve, the first of its kind in the U.S., was established here in 1968. Active land-zoning protects nearly 90% of the region from development such as urban sprawl and industrial growth.
Looking Back, Way Back
150 million years ago, the Napa Valley was born from plate tectonics and volcanic activity, mixing up a parent material of bedrock and soil, which was eroded and exposed over the years.
With the formation of the San Andreas Fault, two mountain ranges were born. To the west, the Mayacamas Mountains separate Napa from some of the coolest influences of the Pacific Ocean. To the east, the Vaca Range helps shield the heat of the Central Valley. And let’s not forget the Napa River, which starts gently and grows as it rolls southward.
So how is this bountiful diversity categorized for the wine lover? The key is the sub-appellations, or sub AVAs. Napa Valley itself has been an American Viticultural Area (AVA) since 1981, California’s first and second for the U.S. as a whole.
Peppered inside Napa Valley are 16 “nested” appellations: Atlas Peak, Calistoga, Chiles Valley District, Coombsville, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, Spring Mountain District, St. Helena, Stags Leap District, Wild Horse Valley and Yountville.
Of these, Seven Apart occupies two: Atlas Peak and Stags Leap District, both exceptionally capable of producing a string of award-winning wines year after year.
How Seven Apart Fits Into Napa Valley
Stags Ridge Vineyard is on Atlas Peak, the most prominent point in the Vaca Range. Icons such as Acumen, Alpha Omega, Antica, Chapellett, Duckhorn, Elan Vineyards and Stagecoach have been drawn to the appeal of fruit from this high elevation environment, with cool bay breezes and remarkably thin soils.
These thin soils force the vines to struggle, resulting in a tighter yield comprised of small, highly concentrated grapes. It’s a truly distinct area from the valley floor, expressed by complexity and purity derived from the volcanic soils “If you drive to the top of Atlas Peak, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere,” says Seven Apart winemaker Andy Erickson, who describes Atlas Peak wines as dark, dense, and aromatic.
The second Seven Apart parcel is Base Camp Vineyard in the Stags Leap District, known for wines of silky texture and supple tannins. In the rolling foothills where Silverado Trail meets Soda Canyon Road on the base of the Vaca Range, mixed volcanic soil promotes deep root growth to pull nutrients and water from below the surface.
Wine lovers around the world often associate Stags Leap District as one of the most famous in Napa Valley. At the Judgement of Paris in 1976, French judges blindly awarded the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon first place, an accolade that elevated it above several French producers, including Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion. When the event was restructured ten years later, Stags Leap District rose to the top again, with first place going to the 1972 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon.
Other icons here are Silverado Vineyards, Shafer, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Pine Ridge, and Chimney Rock…and now Seven Apart, led by winemaker Andy Erickson, a name synonymous with superb Napa Valley winemaking.