Mount Veeder offers the most extreme growing conditions in Napa Valley. Nature restricts the plantable area to about 1,000 acres currently, due to the rugged terrain. Wines from Mount Veeder are rare indeed, about 1.3% of Napa Valley’s annual production.
What makes Mount Veeder unique?
- The only Napa Valley mountain appellation that adjoins the cool Carneros district.
- Ancient, pushed up seabed is the predominant soil, while the rest of Napa Valley is primarily volcanic.
- Highest vineyards in Napa Valley, nearing 2,400 feet.
- Yields average 2 - 2½ tons per acre for Cabernet Sauvignon, about half the average in Napa Valley
- Longest growing season and latest harvest in Napa Valley, sometimes stretching into November.
- High risk conditions demand limited use of machinery. Nearly all vineyard work must done by hand.
Welcome to the Mountain
Mount Veeder is a place of great natural beauty and diversity, with a most unlikely combination of circumstances. 85% of the land remains dense natural forest, with homes, roads and about 1,000 acres of vineyards making up the rest. Soil and sun exposure vary greatly: mist-loving ferns and redwoods grow sometimes within a few feet of sun-baked madrones, along with native bay, white oak, black oak, valley live oak, and maple. Many kinds of birds,deer, mountain lions, and other wild animals roam the mountain, necessitating “wildlife corridors” through many of the vineyards.
For guided trail hikes around Mount Veeder and Napa Valley, contact the Napa Land Trust.
Here can be found some of the most rugged and difficult vineyard terrain in California, naturally limiting the number of acres planted on Mount Veeder. Vineyards are carved in small sections of the side of the mountain, with exposures in every direction available to the grower.
The steep, winding slopes (approaching 30° in many places) render shallow topsoil - a mere 12” to 24” - with minimal water retention in many areas, and low nutrient content, due to the steep runoff. The harsh setting demands that vintners and growers sacrifice all for their craft, with minimal help from machinery, significantly higher farming costs, and heartbreaking low yields (about 2 tons/acre). These conditions induce a stress into the vines that results in wines with pronounced depth, complexity, intensity, and variety that are unique to this appellation.
Daytime temperatures on Mount Veeder are the coolest and most temperate in Napa County, with the exception of Carneros. Its position - the only mountain district that adjoins the cool Carneros region - makes for a significant marine influence, producing milder summers and a more even growing season than most other locations. Breezes from San Pablo Bay can keep temperatures ten to twenty degrees cooler than the valley floor; the tall trees and steep slopes shade many of the vines in the afternoon. These cool conditions produce a bright liveliness to the grape that is felt directly in the wines.
The cool temperature also lengthens the growing season, usually making Mount Veeder the last to harvest in Napa Valley, sometimes into November. Grapes grow more slowly, more evenly, using the entire season to reach full maturity. The results are finely balanced, deeply concentrated, age-worthy wines that speak specifically to their Mount Veeder origin.
Each winter 35 to 50 inches of rain fills the soil profile and reservoirs with water for the next growing season. It also tends to wash nutrients downslope to the valley floor, leaving behind restrictive soils that restrict the size of grapes. Within the mountain is a nature’s gift of a large aquifer which can be tapped for water, as well.
Daily Temperature Swing (Diurnal Swing) and Tannins
Red wines from Mount Veeder are well known for assertive yet fine tannins, the cause of which is not fully understood. Some mountain winemakers conject that the minimal “diurnal swing” on Mount Veeder may be the reason. That is, the early morning sun brings warmth to the mountain, but the maritime breezes and shady afternoons minimize heat in the peak of the day. Night time chill is moderated by the proximity to the bay. Thus, the 24-hour temperature swing is narrower than other districts. This may have a moderating effect on the tannins in the grapes, leaving them assertive but fine, smooth in texture.
Mount Veeder is primarily an island of ancient seabed, pushed up in the mountain’s formation five million years ago. This is the only Napa Valley appellation that can claim this unique geologic phenomenon. While the rest of Napa Valley was covered in volcanic ash 1 million years ago during the eruption of Mount Saint Helena to the north, Mount Veeder received just a sprinkling. Within the marine soils lies a complex tapestry of fractured shale, sandstone, volcanic dust, and other various constituents. Thus, soils on the mountain vary greatly from site to site, but the wines commonly offer inky concentration, and distinctive Mount Veeder flavors.