Napa's Wild Wines: Vineyard Microbiology

Winemaker Igor Sill enlightens about the wonders of wild yeast and how it is so important for making wine

BY IGOR SILL via Marin Magazine

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Fine wine is powerful. It touches you, inspires you, creates some of the most important memories in life and has the ability to move us, emotionally and physically.

I’ve always wanted to better understand the origins of that wonderful, warm feeling that overtakes me when I sip a glass of an exceptionally crafted red wine. Sure, the alcohol has a mind-altering euphoric affect. Wine is certainly one of the most universally enjoyed substances in history, dating back to the dawn of civilization. I have come to the realization that wine is truly a living thing, actually a microbiological organism, and there is convincing evidence that natural, wild indigenous yeast species serves as the very heart of fine wine.

My life as a vintner and winemaker is probably the most personally life and time-consuming of any business that I know of, and as much as I would like to tout my refined wine crafting skills and stewardship of vineyard nourishment, it is that magical living thing, wild indigenous yeast that does all the work in the creation of a fine wine.

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Native, indigenous wild yeast, which surrounds the vineyards, pervades the world of wine. I’ve learned that the role of naturally occurring yeast is one of the most singularly important ingredient that gives birth to a fine wine. Turns out that we winemakers don’t actually create wine, the yeast and bacteria do.

There’s also an abundance of evidence that red wines grown at higher elevations possess greater levels of health benefits.

Yeast creates the wine, and the winemaker simply attempts to direct its character and style. What’s more, yeast produces more than just alcohol, they produce antioxidants along with numerous healthy nutrients including folic acid, B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, all elements of vitamin B. Basically, the vines synthesize the antioxidant resveratrol as a response to natural UV sunlight. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol antioxidant that is found in some plants, like grape vines. The phenolic content in wine can be separated into two groups, flavonoids and non-flavonoids. The non-flavonoids include the resveratrol and phenolic acids. These phenolic acids provide some of the most important elements in assessing a wine’s quality and are, very possibly, responsible for the beneficial health properties of red wines.

“Red wine has been demonstrated to have a beneficial effect on preventing heart disease. The mechanism of this benefit isn’t known yet, but we have been drinking wine for many centuries and, in addition to the joy it provides, scientists are working with vintners to better understand its health effects,” said Dr. David Agus, professor of Medicine & Engineering, University of Southern California. He is also an author of several books, including The End of IllnessA Short Guide to a Long Life” and The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health.

Many winemakers use commercial monoclonal yeast to predictably ferment wine, but a number of boutique mountain-air vintners have kept the magic of native wild yeast while minimizing the use of those commercially altered yeast strains. I see commercial yeast as a counterfeit, an imitation to the “real deal”. To me, natural yeast is the soul and spirit of its native terroir and the most important element that differentiates a grape's journey to becoming an exceptional wine. 

Wild yeast is exactly what the name implies; it is the naturally existing yeast blowing and circulating in the vineyard's air much as pollen does. The yeasts in vineyards seem to flow from wind-ruffled trees, transported by bees, and insects that surround the vineyard. Wild yeast attaches to surfaces of the grape skin and, as it hangs onto the skins, it faithfully represents its surroundings, the air, sunshine, temperature, bees, vines and many other elements. It’s a complex organism that fuels and drives many processes in the crafting of wine and certainly influences the final, finished product.  

Napa's volcanic Atlas Peak ridges, sitting between 1,200 and 2,200 feet in elevation, is the result of tectonic processes that formed the magic of its basaltic terroir, and a perfect setting for wild yeast. This high elevation moderates temperature extremes, allows for a longer growing season than the valley floor with an abundance of pure unadulterated clean air creating one of the finest locations for growing organic grapes in the world. This area is renowned for its superior Cabernet Sauvignon grapes swarming with a variety of native wild yeasts from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae), Candida, Pichia and sometimes Hansenula genera to drive the initial fermentation energy. Though a varied number of yeast strains help to get the fermentation process moving, S. cerevisiae is the dominant strain that does the heavy lifting in virtually all wine fermentations.

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Wine is truly a living thing.

Fermentation is a complex biochemical reaction in which yeast consumes sugar in the grape juice (must) and releases alcohol and carbon dioxide. It determines the future quality of wine and occurs shortly after harvest. Fermentation can take anywhere from four to eight days for red Bordeaux-style wines, and as long as several months for Burgundian-styled white wines. We have the Frenchman Louis Pasteur to thank for discovering yeast’s role in the microbiological fermentation process (August 1857). “He showed us that fermentation was due to life, thereby confirming an instinctive and almost universal belief that wine was not a mere chemical concoction, but a mysterious living organism, divinely appointed as the symbol of life,” states renowned Biochemist Dr. Sondra Barrett. Today we continue to research, explore and learn from Pasteur’s many wonderful discoveries.

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Dr. Barrett is also a medical scientist who researched, with a microscope, the development and maturation of normal human white blood cells to improve diagnosis and follow-up of leukemias (cancer of white blood cells). Seeing a surprisingly beautiful exhibit of chemicals of the brain, she began photographing through the microscope vitamins, minerals, hormones, flowers, herbs, and finally got to wine, finding that beautiful stuff of life was part of each of them. It was when she was artist-in-residence for Sterling Vineyards in 1984 that she got bitten by the wine bug. Working independently and with Napa Valley winemakers, she uncovered visual evidence that wine evolves. Through the microscope, wine’s must reveals tiny simple geometric forms and as wine ages, those forms become larger and more complex. 

She asserts that you can also see when a wine begins to lose vitality. The beautiful expressions in the wine can no longer refract light and visually falls apart. That wine is living and evolving can be seen in the images displayed here. As Dr. Barrett interprets the images, the wine at 2-years-old was very focused; another year later it opened up and mellowed. For those of us who enjoy fine wines and are curious as to why a Cabernet Sauvignon may improve with age, or another bottle opened yesterday has completely fallen apart, her photomicrographs of changes in wine as it evolves into different energetic expressions are fascinating clues. “I am sure these microscopic portraits of wine’s inner structure tell us something about the wine’s character and inner nature – for beauty of how a fine wine evolves,” she says. “It’s really about the art of the science.”

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Renowned Napa enologist, Derek Irwin states: "The reason why I am a big fan of starting off with indigenous wild yeast is that wines should reflect the natural taste and characteristics of the place where the grapes are grown. They respond to their natural stimulus from their terroir and as such need to breathe, evolve and transform the grape’s sugars gracefully into fine wines as they surrender their lives as a matter of organic chemistry versus commercially augmented programming. I find that wines that have had an indigenous wild start tend to have more complexity, flavors, texture and elegance to them."

Adding to the benefits of indigenous yeast, the addition of rhythmic music introduced during the yeast’s gestation period interacts with the microorganisms and enlightens their magical elements, truly bringing them to life. I believe that this increased yeast activity translates into fuller-bodied wines with a deeper complexity of flavors. When I drink the wine, I can sense and taste the effects of playing Chopin, Borodin, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", Ravel’s "Bolero" and even Barry White’s "Can’t Get Enough of Your Love" on the wine’s development. The systematic arrangement of these rhythms stimulate perfection of elegant construction, exquisite detail and harmony which propels the yeasts’ passion for their tasks, converting sugar into alcohol. Serenading the yeast’s activities encourages far better single-cell conversion involvement in our fermentation tanks. The rhythmic vibration and harmonious sounds seem to maintain a much more constant fermentation temperature allowing our wines to truly ‘open up’ with a depth of flavor, aromas and complexity that you really savor because the experience of the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

As in art, music, science, health and life, the simplest of details can bear extraordinarily exceptional results.

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Igor Sill

Igor Sill precision farms a sustainable eco-friendly volcanic mountain vineyard on Napa’s Atlas Peak Mountain, Sill Family Vineyards. He’s a passionate wine lover, winemaker, and writer. He is a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group, a judge for the International Wine Challenge in London, holds his master's from Oxford University and attended UC Davis' winemaking program. He thanks Dr. David Agus, Dr. Sondra Barrett, and Derek Irwin for their much appreciated assistance, insights and contributions to this article.

Napa Valley harvest report: Flavors still developing

September 11, 2018 

Atlas Peak — Gordon Waggoner, Acumen Wines — “Veraison has finished and ripening is well under way. Many blocks are over 22 Brix, with great phenolic development and complexity. Seeds are browning with good tannin maturation. We’ve been warm with ample sunshine in most areas, add to that our regular breezes to stave off mildew and cool nights to preserve natural acidity. Whites will start being brought in within the next couple weeks. Reds in some warmer sites may also be brought in during that time. 2018 is shaping up to be a stellar vintage on Atlas Peak.”  

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VOLCANIC WINES - Magic Behind Napa’s Atlas Peak Mountain

Wine is one of the most civilized and natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, offering a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.
— Ernest Hemingway
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Only three percent of the wine grapes grown in California are grown at altitudes above 1,000 feet in elevation with some of the most uniquely fascinating wines sharing a common characteristic, volcanic rocky soils. About 30 million years ago, massive volcanic eruptions covered the entire Northern California region, but, over the course of thousands of years, only select parts of Napa’s vineyard growing areas contain these volcanic soils. Their soil composition is a direct result of volcanic eruptions, which determines how much igneous, lava gravel rock the soil contains. There’s clearly a discernible difference to the grapes grown high in Napa’s volcanic mountain terroir.

Eminent and highly influential Canadian Master Sommelier, wine critic and one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject of Volcanic wines, John Szabo, says of Napa’s volcanic mountain wines: “Genuine mountain wines are born from stony, low-fertility, free-draining hillsides. They’re denser, darker, quite often more tannic, yet more evenly ripe at lower alcohol, and they age magnificently. The vines themselves grow more slowly, they struggle and naturally yield less fruit per hectare. For a vine it’s probably hell. For a winemaker, and wine drinkers, it’s much closer to heaven. And some of the highest and most rugged Napa vineyards are planted in theAtlas Peak AVA, at up to over 2600 feet. Here, red-tinged basalt soils nurture less than a third of a per cent of total acreage in the Napa Valley. But reputation is disproportionate to size”.

When one brings up the concept of terroir—a French wine term used to describe a wine’s "sense of place” — you realize the importance of these obscure vineyard soils when combined with an optimal growing climate. But, if any terroir is going to be interesting, it’s the nutrient-rich volcanic soil some wines come from—particularly the cabernets, which are complex, complicated, balanced, elegant, and much less tannic. Volcanic soils impart unbelievable mineral sensations that include volcanic crushed gravely lava rock, infusing complexity and depth to its wines. These wines are brilliantly expressive, pure and aromatic as a result of the different climatic rhythm, cleaner air, and natural nutrient content in the soil. These vines are healthier, fresher and happier.

ABC7 weather anchor Spencer Christian’s love for fine wines has propelled him as a recognized wine enthusiast. “As elevation increases, sunlight becomes more concentrated, causing grapes to develop deeper pigments,” he said. “They get more early sun because they are above the fog line, thus forcing grapes to mature and ripen slowly.”

The mountains are more exposed to prevailing winds, adding more stress to the vines. Essentially, high-elevation volcanic vineyards benefit in several ways over valley floor vines. They receive more concentrated sunlight, greater temperature changes, and, far better drainage due to volcanic rocks porous nature creating natural stress to the vines as they struggle to develop greater pigment concentration. As a result, they produce fewer, but more intense aromas, flavors, colors and tannins. The grape’s elements evolve more slowly and age much more gracefully, and, sometimes Mother Nature allows us an incredibly memorable vintage rarity.

Renowned and influential Bordeaux-based oenologist Michel Rolland said, “Growing these mountain grapes are far more difficult to farm and the growing season tends to be considerably longer. It’s much more difficult to plant, more difficult to establish the vines and they produce far lower yields. However, the end result is a grape expressing intensity of stellar quality as difficult growing conditions often lead to extraordinary wines.” Rolland maintains hundreds of vineyard clients across 13 countries around the globe.

Home to the most highly elevated and rocky volcanic mountainous landscape, Atlas Peak has been producing wines of renowned quality since 1870. Over the years, despite its rugged remoteness, the appellation has produced an abundance of intriguing volcanic wines acclaimed worldwide for their intense flavors and delicate, balanced tannins that have become the signature of Atlas Peak Mountain wines. Volcanic wines tend to be produced in small quantities from land that is extremely difficult and expensive to farm, hence the reason that many of Napa’s expensive “cult” wines are from high elevation volcanic lands.

Wine is born of passion, evolving over time, offering a beautiful thing that speaks to us through heightened sensory emotions that often reflect wonderful universal mysteries in a surprising fashion, evoking one of life’s many unforgettable pleasures. I think the people who farm volcanic vineyards at higher elevations possess a different sort of inner motivation and optimism, perhaps more in harmony with Ernest Hemingway’s view that “wine is one of the most civilized and natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection.”

Igor Sill precision farms a volcanic mountain vineyard on Atlas Peak Mountain in Napa. He’s a passionate wine lover, winemaker, writer, Court of Master Sommeliers, attended UC Davis’ winemaking program, member of the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group, Judge for the International Wine Challenge, London; and holds his master’s from Oxford University. He thanks John Szabo, Michel Rolland and Spencer Christian for their much appreciated assistance, insights and contributions to this article.

Sill Family Vineyards Earns Double Gold Medal and USA Wine of the Year Award for 2018

Sill Family’s 2015 Atlas Peak Estate très Cabernet Sauvignon received the coveted DOUBLE gold medal award, and USA Wine of the Year at the 2018 CWSA Hong Kong International Wine Competition.

The annual event showcases the finest worldwide vintages and is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the world, with 100 judges blind tasting wines. This year, 4,600 wines were received from over 900 producers in 55 wine-producing countries, making it one of the most influential wine awards in the world.

The crafting, processing and production is handled by winemaker, Igor Sill of Sill Family Vineyards, Atlas Peak Mountain Winery.

Napa is well known around the world for its exceptional wines, and the appellation which he believes surpasses all others is Napa’s famed Atlas Peak mountain region.

“It’s the high-elevation terroir and ultra-high-quality grapes that lend these boutique vineyards and wineries their magic and mystique.  Even though it’s just minutes from the hustle and bustle of tourist-rich Napa Valley, it remains a completely different world.” Says Winemaker Sill.

Only 3% of the wine grapes grown in California are grown at elevations above 1,000 feet (300 m). It is widely known that the most costly and exceptional wines tend to come from these high-elevation mountain vineyards, where the terroir provides a mystical and divine setting.

Renowned Bordeaux-based oenologist Michel Rolland said, ‘These mountain grapes are far more difficult to farm and the growing season tends to be considerably longer. It’s much more difficult to plant, more difficult to establish the vines and they produce far lower yields. However, the end result is a grape expressing intensity of stellar quality as difficult growing conditions often lead to extraordinary wines.”

Sill Family Vineyard’s très wines have received numerous awards and rave reviews from Master Sommeliers, Wine Editors, Wine Critics, Wine Aficionados, Chefs and wine lovers, noting comments such as “a true revelation,” “absolutely exceptional,” “discernibly distinctive”

The mountains are more exposed to prevailing winds, adding more stress to the vines. Essentially, higher-elevation mountain vineyards benefit in several ways over valley-floor vines. They receive more concentrated sunlight, greater temperature variation and far better drainage, which creates a natural stress to the vines as they struggle to develop greater pigment concentration. As a result, they produce more intense aromas, flavors, colors and tannins, evolving more slowly and ageing much more gracefully.

Mountain wines tend to be produced in small quantities, hence the reason that many of Napa’s expensive ‘cult’ wines are from high elevations. Making things difficult for the vine, by withholding fertilizers, making nutrients scarce, pruning it hard and crowding it with competing vine neighbors can take the wine to another level.

Sill Family Vineyards offers its limited production, hand crafted wines through its website at www.sillfamilyvineyards.com and presently does not offer public tastings.

Thank You Firefighters and First Responders

We, at Napa’s Atlas Peak Appellation are truly grateful to the heroic efforts of fire fighters and first responders from all over the country who helped protect our homes, winery and vineyards. The difficult job and the many days spent putting their lives on the line to protect all of us goes well beyond a simple “thank you”. While we have been through a heartbreaking event and witnessed so much loss, the outpouring of support from everyone has been amazing. Our community has truly come together in support of the devastation we've all suffered.  In support of our community, please buy and enjoy Napa wines and continue buying them from all your favorite Napa wineries, online, in stores and in restaurants, this is one of the very best ways you'll help us restore our beautiful wine country!  Thank you!

ATLAS PEAK APPELLATION ASSOCIATION

The mysterious magic behind Napa’s mountain-grown wines

“Wine is one of the most civilized and natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, offering a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” — Ernest Hemingway

Only three percent of the wine grapes grown in California are grown at altitudes above 1,000 feet in elevation. It is widely known that the most costly and exceptional wines tend to come from these high elevation mountain vineyards, where the “terroir” provides a mystical and divine setting.

When one brings up the concept of terroir—a French wine term used to describe a wine’s “sense of place” — you realize the importance that extraordinary vineyard soils and climate have on producing truly exceptional wines.

For me, that “sense of place” is on the mountain slopes of Napa’s wine grape-growing region, where I contend some of the finest wines are produced. Pour a quarter glass of red wine grown in volcanic tufa (a porous gravely soil) swirl it and sniff it to fully absorb its aromas and flavors, and you’ll immediately notice how much more you sense and appreciate those floral sensations.

These wines are much more expressive, pure and aromatic as a result of the higher elevation, cleaner air, volcanic soil, natural nutrient content in the soil. These vines are healthier, fresher and happier.

Mountain wineries flourished here in the late 19th century, before Prohibition put them out of business. There was a bit of newfound interest in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that existing wineries and vineyards were re-energized by new vintners and higher elevation mountain wines were rediscovered and revived to their past glory. There’s a discernible difference to the grapes grown in Napa’s high-elevation mountain areas.

Mountain vineyards, usually some thousand feet or so in elevation, offer a different climatic rhythm and, thus, produce greater intensity of flavors and aromas. “Only with height do you get the combination of clean, thin, cool mountain air which steadies the day’s temperatures, creating warmer days with full sun and cool nights.”

ABC7 weather anchor Spencer Christian’s love for fine wines has propelled him as a recognized wine connoisseur. “As elevation increases, sunlight becomes more concentrated, causing grapes to develop deeper pigments,” he said. “They get more early sun because they are above the fog line, thus forcing grapes to mature and ripen slowly.”

In the afternoon, the heat from the valley floor begins to drift up the hillsides. The grapes absorb more sun, then, close down at night, halting photosynthesis, sugar formation and acidity, locking in their structure and backbone while allowing them to ripen perfectly. You get much more depth, notes, balance, structure and complexity from these climatic rhythms.

The mountains are more exposed to prevailing winds, adding more stress to the vines. Essentially, higher-elevation mountain vineyards benefit in several ways over valley floor vines. They receive more concentrated sunlight, greater temperature changes, and, far better drainage, which creates a natural stress to the vines as they struggle to develop greater pigment concentration. As a result, they produce fewer, but more intense aromas, flavors, colors and tannins. The grape’s elements evolve more slowly and age much more gracefully. This high elevation stress contributes to higher quality wine grapes.

One such higher elevation American Viticulture Area, Atlas Peak, provides shallow tufa topsoil that feature depth of flavors that are different from other Napa AVAs.

This terroir offers a layer of nutrient-rich volcanic soil ideal for farming cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and sangiovese. Its consistency allows it to absorb water and retain moisture for long periods of time, offering what exceptional grapes require: dry farming.

Vines develop and produce best when stressed through dry farming. As the vine struggles to push roots deeper into the soil to scavenge more resources, ideal conditions develop for producing ultra-high quality grapes. Another benefit of making the vine struggle is that yields tend to be lower, which results in exceptional quality grapes.

Making things difficult for the vine by restricting water supply, withholding fertilizers, making nutrients scarce, pruning it hard and crowding it with competing vine neighbors, excel it to another level. It senses that this is not the ideal place to be a grapevine; rather it devotes itself to reproducing, which for a vine means making exceptional, ultra-premium grape berries. And, this is what the finest vineyards do to produce phenomenal wines.

 

 

This volcanic soil also acts as an insulator, retaining the soil’s temperature consistent even if the air temperature fluctuates. Cabernet sauvignon grapes thrive in this ashy volcanic soil, and Atlas Peak’s relatively high slopes offer an ideal growing elevation for these vines.

The soil acts like a solar panel, collecting and radiating solar heat throughout the day and into the night, well after the sun has set. The difference in temperature, known in the viticulture world as the diurnal temperature variation, is an important element for grapes as they develop both the right amount of acidity (from cool nights) and sweetness (from warm and sunny days). It is easy to see that there are certain places on the planet that are more perfect for growing cabernet sauvignon grapes.

The fact is that clay and limestone exists all over the world, so concerning oneself about why wine grapes grown in Bordeaux’s soil are different than the ones in Napa’s can be complicated — not to mention boring. But, if any terroir is going to be interesting, it’s the nutrient-rich volcanic soil these wines come from—particularly the cabernets, which are complex, complicated, balanced, elegant, and much less tannic.

Every year, there seems a flurry of headlines about the health benefits of high-elevation red wine as if ripe berry flavors along with perfect structure weren’t reasons enough to seek out mountain wines.

There is growing evidence that red wines grown at higher elevations possess greater levels of healthy antioxidant properties, gaining a reputation as an elixir of life. Mounting evidence suggests that drinking red wine in moderation can reduce the oxidative damage responsible in the aging process and for many degenerative diseases.

A recent study by researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion School discovered that resveratrol, a compound in the skin of red grapes and red wine have many of the neuroprotective benefits of a low-calorie diet and exercise, helping preserve muscle fibers and protecting connections between neurons from the negative effects of aging. The researchers found that resveratrol was able to shield neuromuscular junctions from damage as we age, essentially tapping into natural mechanisms to slow age-induced degeneration of neuronal circuits. The researchers plan to further study these neuroprotective effects by identifying the specific mechanism that enables resveratrol to protect synapses.

“Red wine has been demonstrated to have a beneficial effect on preventing heart disease. The mechanism of this benefit isn’t known yet, but we have been drinking wine for many centuries and, in addition to the joy it provides, scientists are working with vintners to better understand its health effects,” said Dr. David Agus, professor of Medicine and Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is also an author of several books, including “The End of Illness,” “A Short Guide to a Long Life” and “The Lucky Years: How to thrive in the brave new world of health.”

For decades, Dr. Chris Cates had been working as an interventional cardiologist, recommending to heart patients that they keep their hearts healthy by enjoying a glass of red wine each day. “Since we learned that wine was beneficial in a group of studies called ‘The French Paradox’ … where it really showed that French people live longer than Americans even though they smoke and arguably have worse diets than Americans,” Cates said. “The thing that really shook out from all of that is the importance related to red wine and the polyphenols and antioxidants in wine.”

Basically, plants synthesize the antioxidant resveratrol as a response to natural UV sunlight. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol antioxidant that is found in some plants, like grapes. The phenolic content in wine can be separated into two groups, flavonoids and non-flavonoids. Flavonoids contain anthocyanins and tannins which give the color and mouth feel of the wine. The non-flavonoids include the resveratrol and phenolic acids. These phenolic acids provide some of the most important elements in assessing a wine’s quality and are, very possibly, responsible for the beneficial health properties of red wines.

There are five American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) in Napa that can be described as mountain-growing AVAs. On the western side of the valley are Diamond Mountain, Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain, and on the eastern side stands fabled Atlas Peak and, to its north, Howell Mountain. Adjacent to Atlas Peak is Pritchard Hill, home to some of Napa’s award-winning mountain wines, including Dalla Valle, while farther north is Mount St. Helena, home to Jericho Canyon with its spectacular, steeply terraced mountain vineyards.

Renowned and influential Bordeaux-based oenologist Michel Rolland said, “Growing these mountain grapes are far more difficult to farm and the growing season tends to be considerably longer. It’s much more difficult to plant, more difficult to establish the vines and they produce far lower yields. However, the end result is a grape expressing intensity of stellar quality as difficult growing conditions often lead to extraordinary wines.” Rolland maintains hundreds of vineyard clients across 13 countries around the globe.

Home to the most highly elevated and rocky volcanic mountainous landscape, Atlas Peak has been producing wines of renowned quality since 1870. Over the years, despite its rugged remoteness, the appellation has produced an abundance of wines acclaimed worldwide for their intense flavors and delicate, balanced tannins that have become the signature of Atlas Peak Mountain wines. It’s worth mentioning that mountain viticulture is an expensive business when you have to remove tons of huge rocks to plant vines with different ripening times within rows which require many passes during harvest. Mountain wines tend to be produced in small quantities from land that is extremely expensive to farm, hence the reason that many of Napa’s expensive “cult” wines are from high elevations.

Wine is born of passion, evolving over time, offering a beautiful thing that speaks to us through heightened sensory emotions that can sometimes reflect wonderful universal mysteries in a surprising fashion, evoking one of life’s many unforgettable pleasures. I think the people who plant vineyards at higher elevations possess a different sort of inner motivation and optimism, perhaps more in harmony with Ernest Hemingway’s view that “wine is one of the most civilized and natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection.”

It is good to know that luscious healthy pleasures can be derived from this geographic pedigree of mountain vines.

Igor Sill farms a hillside cabernet sauvignon vineyard in St. Helena and a mountain vineyard on Atlas Peak Mountain in Napa. He’s a passionate wine lover, winemaker, writer, Court of Master Sommeliers, attended UC Davis’ winemaking program, member of the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group, Judge for the International Wine Challenge, London; and holds his master’s from Oxford University. He hanks to Dr. David Agus, Dr. Chris Cates, Michel Rolland, Spencer Christian and Jessica Sill for their much appreciated assistance, insights and contributions to this article.

 

Upcoming Event: Taste of Atlas Peak

We are very excited for an upcoming event hosted by the Atlas Peak Appellation Association: the Taste of Atlas Peak! It will be hosted at Black Stallion Winery on Saturday, September 24th. Come enjoy wine, small bites, live music & silent auction. Purchase tickets here or call 707.251.5631. 

Stay tuned for a list of participating wineries...