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Written by Nikitas Magel   

Atlas Peak Napa Valley Cabernet, Mountain BlendDP:  The Atlas Peak winery was originally in the Napa Valley, in the Atlas Peak appellation.  The Antinoris had been leasing the vineyard and the facility to us for the last 20 years.  Then in 2008, that lease expired and we needed to come find a new home, bringing us here [to the Buena Vista Carneros winery].  Starting in 2009, we'll no longer be getting grapes from the Antinori property, but instead buying our Atlas Peak appellation fruit from the Stagecoach Vineyard (plus another vineyard adjacent to it).  Honestly, it was a bittersweet thing for me to leave that property after nearly seven years!  But from a winemaker's perspective, our goal is still the same; you've got to separate place from what you're trying to make and deliver to the consumer.  And though I learned a tremendous about winemaking while we were up there [on Atlas Peak], I believe I can bring all that here and apply it even further.  As we go forward I think the wines continue to improve.  Since I came in 2002, with every vintage I've had, things have gotten better.  Part of that is that I've personally gotten better, as have the people who work for me; we've all learned how to do things more efficiently.  Plus, moving down here [to the Buena Vista Carneros winery] was really an upgrade because the facility is a real jump in terms of quality.  For one, the [fermentation] tanks at this facility are much smaller, which itself is a monumental step because it allows me to experiment in a way that I couldn't have before.  Specifically, I can now look at different yeast strains and do some native ferments.  Now, the current releases [2007] are all made using one [innoculated] yeast strain, because at that point the focus was to prove to myself what the differences are among the Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, and Howell Mountain appellations.  Plus, during those first few vintages [since the brand relaunch in 2003], we were still trying to find out who we were.  But what I've been wanting is for these wines to be unfined and unfiltered, which to me means that we've got to have a complete fermentation with no residual sugar left, and that requires a good strong, reliable fermenter [yeast].  In 2008, we got to a point where we moved beyond that and started to explore other things; having the smaller tanks at this facility let us do that.

"I'm a big believer that you should evaluate wine with food."

NM:  Having tasted through the 2005 vintage, what strikes me about the Atlas Peak wines overall is their very prominent savory elements that balance out their berry-fruit flavors, all framed by some very bright acidity.  These are, without a doubt, food wines!

DP:  Sometimes I think that when we taste these wines without food, it's a shame.  Sure, you always have to have some level of clinical analysis to see where the wines are, but that's not how these wines were intended to be consumed!  I will never write a wine note in a setting like that, in some clinical situation; ultimately, I always sit down and have a steak.  I want to know how that wine tastes when I'm having a meal, because that's how I want you to have that wine!  How does the wine taste when you bring it home and you're sitting down and reading the evaluation, and then you're having something to eat with it; how do those two pieces come together?  I'm a big believer that you should evaluate wine with food.  Because I might open a bottle here at the winery, sit down, and write notes; then I would bring the other half of the bottle and have it with dinner that night — only to ask myself, "Is this the same wine?!"  So, in the end, which is the sort of experience that the person who's reading my wine notes having?  Which one do I want them to have?  There are not many consumers who will sit there with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon like this, all by itself.

Atlas Peak Howell Mountain CabernetNM:  And what is your general sense about how these wines are being received by consumers?

DP:  I was in Miami once, doing a tasting of these wines.  I got one person saying, "OMG, the Mount Veeder is the best wine I've ever had; I can't believe you waste your time making anything else!"  Then later, the next person: "Howell Mountain!  OMG, that is the best wine I've ever had; why do you waste your time with anything else?!"  {laughter} I knew at that point we were doing something right.  Everyone's got a favorite, and that's the cool thing about what we're doing.

What's interesting about these wines is that they're all Cabernets, but what I like is the difference in their textures.  And because we use the same yeast and the same malolactic bacteria for all these wines, all about 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, you're truly seeing the differences in the appellations.  Winemakingwise, the only thing that's really different in these wines — other than their appellations — is the oak profile.  But the care, the love, the meticulous attention to detail is all the same.  The Napa Valley Cabernet represents about 75% of what we do.  The other 25% is represented by the mountain appellation wines, which are all roughly about 500 cases each, and they'll stay at that level even as the Napa Cabernet production grows.



 

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