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Mount Veeder AVA

by Staff Writer - A. Heinzman | January 15, 2012

While many characteristics of Napa Valley wine show that vineyard conditions can be somewhat consistent, the Napa Valley also sports diversity among its various AVAs. This can be seen in several American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) where land boundaries are contained to areas other than valley floors. In addition to the elevation differences found in these AVAs, soil types, sunlight intensity as well as rainfall can also be different. The Mount Veeder AVA is a district that exemplifies the aforementioned characteristics. These characteristics successfully set the Mount Veeder AVA apart from the various other Napa Valley floor AVAs.

The creation of the Mount Veeder AVA is interesting in that the creation of this AVA focused on Napa Valley politics rather than the logistics of viticulture. The Mount Veeder AVA is actually part of the Mayacamas Mountain range and takes its name from the largest peak in the range, Mount Veeder. If looking at the Mayacamas Mountain range on a map, one can see that the range provides a natural division between the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. The physical boundaries of the Mount Veeder AVA begin at the Napa Valley county line and proceed to roughly 400 feet above the Napa Valley floor. With these boundaries in mind, a natural question arises concerning the Mayacamas Mountain range and the AVA process. Would it not have made sense to create an AVA for the entire Mayacamas Mountain range rather than one particular side? Are the conditions found on the entire mountain not the same? The answer to these questions comes in the form of political boundaries and the AVA system. Even though conditions found on both sides of the Mayacamas Mountains are very similar, the politics concerning the market value of the Napa Valley name override the logical viticultural reasoning for creating a unified Mayacamas Mountain AVA. This can be seen in the drama that ensued after the Los Carneros AVA was created. The Los Carneros AVA was created based on climactic and viticultural properties and as such overlaps both the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. The resulting uproar from Napa Valley wine growers and subsequent legislation forced all future AVAs created within the Napa Valley to be fully contained within the Napa Valley itself. The main objection for the Los Carneros AVA--and for that matter all overlapping AVAs--has to do with the market value of the Napa Valley name. In the case of Los Carneros wine laws simply state that for the purposes of wine labeling, wines produced in Los Carneros can simply have the Carneros name on the label with no mention of the word Napa. While this can be very positive for Los Carneros, not being required to publish the Napa name can detract the marketability and publicity from the Napa Valley itself. It is for these reasons that when creating a new AVA for the Mayacamas Mountain, the resulting AVA was constrained to the Napa Valley.

As stated earlier, the Mount Veeder AVA is part of the Mayacamas Mountains with the AVA contained solely within the Napa Valley. Created in 1990, the Mount Veeder AVA contains roughly 25 square miles of land with about 1,000 acres of grapes planted on the mountain slopes. Due to the fact that the vineyards are located on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, different types of soil, temperature and weather conditions affect grape growth and wine production.

Surprisingly minute differences do exist with the site conditions between the Sonoma and Napa sides of the Mayacamas Mountains. Soil conditions of the Mount Veeder AVA contain volcanic properties. This is not overly surprising as the rugged Mayacamas Mountain range is a volcanic mountain range. Differences are present in the fact that soils on the Sonoma side are rich in iron where soils on the Napa side are comprised mainly of grey volcanic and sedimentary soils. Sunlight is also different between the two sides. The Sonoma side of the mountain receives ample afternoon sun exposure where the Napa side receives and abundance of morning sun.

Significant differences can be found with the amount of rainfall received between the Sonoma and Napa sides of the Mayacamas Mountains. Due to the height of the Mayacamas Mountains, the Napa side of the mountain receives approximately 30 inches of rain more per year than the Sonoma side. Upon reviewing the topography of the Mayacamas Mountains this may seem implausible. The reason for this difference has to do with the height of the Mayacamas Mountains being just high enough to for moist cool air to rise on the Sonoma side of the mountain and then cross-over and condense on the Napa side of the mountain. Overall the Napa side of the Mayacamas Mountains receives approximately fifty to sixty inches of rain per year.

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Due to the fact that vineyards are located in different types of soil than that of Oakville and Rutherford AVAs, the wines produced from the Mount Veeder AVA naturally have different properties. Popular grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon with some promise shown in Syrah. Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced in the Mount Veeder AVA can be described as having powerful characteristics with a presence of minerality. This is different from wines produced in Oakville and Rutherford where intensity of flavor is present rather than an intensity of earthy qualities. The earthy site-specific qualities found in Mount Veeder Cabernets may seem to be an asset, however these very qualities tend to result in poor showings when compared with other Cabernets. In the end Mount Veeder Cabernets show their best in surroundings of similar intensities such as pesto and fresh garlic.

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One area where site-specific properties can be an asset is with Chardonnay wines produced within the Mount Veeder AVA. Due to the rather large influx of Chardonnay grapes grown within the Los Carneros AVA, many Napa wineries that utilize Carneros Chardonnay grapes produce wines that have no distinction and can all taste alike. This is where Mount Veeder Chardonnay wines have an advantage. Qualities such as strong hints of fruit and the site-specific earth flavors create a Chardonnay that does stand out among the crowd. In some cases the intensity of the fruit and earthiness can be more of a liability rather than an asset. When compared to other Napa Chardonnays, the intensity found within the Mount Veeder Chardonnays successfully put the these Chardonnays ahead of the game.

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