It poured yesterday in the Napa Valley but it didn’t stop hundreds of fans from crowding the annual Mount Veeder Appellation annual tasting at The Hess Collection. I looked forward to tasting classic “mountain” Cabernet Sauvignon but discovered there’s a lot more to the appellation, the people and its wines than I ever expected.
Mountain Wine Pioneer
Robert Craig‘s enthusiasm for mountain wines is as fresh today as it was 30 years ago when he was a key driver for the approval of the Mount Veeder appellation in 1990. Craig has an excellent perspective of Napa Valley’s mountain wines since he makes both Mt. Veeder and Howell Mountain wines at his winery at the summit of Howell Mountain. All mountain wines share an intensity of fruit and rich tannins from the high luminosity, cooler days and poor, shallow soils. But for Craig, Mt. Veeder’s longer growing season and unique shale and sandstone soils produce more black fruit, cassis and notes of cedar in the wines compared to the red fruit spectrum of Howell Mountain wines. The power and ageability of Mt. Veeder wines was captured perfectly in his still youthful 2005 Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon from Pym Rae Vineyard located at 1,800 ft. elevation. Another Cabernet Sauvignon I really liked at the tasting was the 2009 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($80). In contrast to the bold and powerful Robert Craig, the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon had a clarity of savory structure that made me think of Bordeaux.
The Promise of Syrah
Mount Veeder, I was told, is the coolest mountain appellation in the Napa Valley due to the combination of high elevation and proximity to the cool breezes off San Pablo Bay. In fact, it’s the next appellation north of Carneros on the western range. The climate allows for the longest growing season in the Napa Valley, ideal for late-ripening Cabernet, but it’s also great for other red grape varieties like Syrah. I loved the Syrahs at yesterday’s tasting, especially the 2010 Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder Syrah ($48) which expressed cool-climate Syrah character, blue fruit and floral notes, freshness and notable spice.
Carole Meredith and winemaker husband Stephen Lagier of Lagier Meredith wines have lived on the mountain for over 25 years, planting Syrah, Zinfandel, Malbec and Mondeuse. The 2011 Lagier Meredith “Tribidrag” Zinfandel ($45) is a really expressive mountain Zinfandel with freshness and pepper spice. If there is such a thing as iconic Zin, this might fit the bill in style, name and provenance. Meredith, a grapevine geneticist and UC Davis professor for 22 years, is credited with tracing the origins of California Zinfandel back to Croatia through DNA analysis. The name Tribidrag was the ancient name for the grape during the Middle Ages.
I didn’t realize that Mount Veeder reached as high as 2,500 feet until I stopped by Lampyridae Vineyards. I loved their 100% Syrah Red Wine ($50) which was a dark and powerful, fruit-driven Syrah, different in style than the Lagier Meredith but well-balanced and long in the mouth. The wines are now made by Aaron Potts.
Also near the top of the mountain is Spotted Owl Vineyards. They produces yet another beautiful Syrah, Alexandria’s Cuvee ($70), a deeply concentrated yet elegant wine.
For more information on Mount Veeder wines, visit the website of the Mt. Veeder Appellation Council.