by Fred McMillin
for January 2, 1998

Winery of the Week

Things Looked Bleak on Atlas Peak


  • Atlas Peak rises 2660 feet at the southern end of Napa Valley's Eastern Mountains, where most of the country is too steep for vine cultivation.

  • There wasn't even enough water on Atlas Peak for the rattlesnakes (1980).
Sources: James Conaway, James Halliday

The Rest of the Story: So, 20 years ago it looked like Atlas Peak would remain the domain of hawks and eagles. But five bulldozers, six 25-ton dump trucks, four earth movers and a mine shaft drilling machine, as well as over twenty million dollars can make a difference...including three water-storage lakes, over 400 acres of vines, and a state-of-the-art winery with underground storage. Now, what do we plant up on the hillside above the fog belt?

The Antinori Touch

The 600-year-old Italian Antinori firm has been a partner in the venture since its 1983 inception. Hence, Piero Antinori personally selected a group of clones of his Tuscan favorite, Sangiovese, and 120 acres were planted. Also, there's plenty of Cabernet for Supertuscan blends with the Sangiovese. My panel just gave a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to the '95 "san-jo." They agree completely with Piero who has concluded that his Tuscan grape "likes the Napa Valley."

Just the Facts

Name   Atlas Peak Vineyards
Address   3700 Atlas Peak Road, Napa Valley
Contact   Dan Solomon, (707) 433-8268
Winemaker   John Falcone

Postscript: The large, shallow-bowl vineyard is 1500—1800 feet above the Napa Valley floor, and part of it is some ten degrees cooler than the floor. This makes it Chardonnay friendly. In fact, the area is cooler than Carneros, and the Chardonnay harvest later. The extra time on the vine produces such rich fruit flavors that John Falcone doesn't mask them with very much malolactic fermentation. Conclusion: Taste their wines and you'll agree with the critics that Atlas Peak is a winery to watch.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the WineDay Annex

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