Au Sommet is a 45-acre property located high on the slopes of Atlas Peak (2,100 feet). Nine acres of vines are planted; the majority being Cabernet Sauvignon with two small blocks of Petit Verdot. These are vines with incredible views at times – on clear days they look east into the Central Valley, on very clear days the snow capped mountains of some of the Sierra Nevada’s can be seen from the property including a tiny view directly into Yosemite and Half Dome. Because of their elevation, the property sees a dusting of snow at times (including the day before our latest visit).
And we have to mention this; their normal rainfall is about 20 inches pear year but in 2016/2017 they received nearly 70 inches. These are rocky soils – and despite the higher rainfall, their vineyards drain nicely. The vines are farmed organically – chicken hutches are moved at times throughout the vineyard rows. A garden on site supplies fresh produce and goats produce milk which they turn into cheese.
Au Sommet (inaugural vintage 2008) is a partnership between vintner John Schwartz, viticulturist Jim Barbour and winemaker, Heidi Peterson Barrett – one of America’s foremost winemakers. Heidi’s father is Richard Peterson, an icon in the industry and her mother was an artist. Wine making is both an art and a science and Heidi has used her talents in both disciplines to build an extremely successful career in the Napa Valley.
She began her wine making studies at UC Davis, graduating in 1980 with a degree in Fermentation Science. She worked for several wineries in the Napa Valley until she became an independent/consulting winemaker in 1988. Her work with Dalla Valle Vineyards and Screaming Eagle was noteworthy – producing two 100 point scored wines (by Robert Parker) for both wineries. Today her talents are as sought after as ever – besides her own labels she continues to consult and make wine for a number of smaller producers in the valley.
Heidi and John have known each other for years; they first met when they were children. John is an extremely talented individual who has made food and wine an integral part of his life for several decades. His parents sent him to France to learn the culinary arts when he was young – later in his life he lived with noted chef, Julia Child for several months. He is an avid traveler, collector of fine art and proprietor of Napa Pearls Caviar. He is also involved with the American Assistance for Cambodia, an organization which is dedicated to providing opportunities for Cambodian youth and the impoverished living in rural parts of the country.
In addition to Au Sommet, both Heidi and John are associated with a number of well-regarded wines including Amuse Bouche with the following labels sold through Amuse Bouche: Prêt à Boire, Richard G. Peterson and Vin Perdu. And John is the proprietor of Coup de Foudre.
The name Au Sommet in French translates to “at the top” – in their case this has multiple meanings; the estate vineyard’s lofty elevation high on the slopes of Atlas Peak and also refers to the high standard of excellence they set for themselves. This wine features a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend each year. Only estate grapes are used and in addition, no grapes from the property are sold to other vintners.
Amuse Bouche (meaning “appetizer” in French) was founded in 2002 (the first vintage). The focus of this wine is on producing a premium Napa Merlot (simply called Red Wine) to rival some of France’s best Merlot’s (and perhaps a taste of this wine will change your perception of Merlot) in a very good way. This wine is a part of their artist series – a wine where the label changes each year, displaying a painting picked out by Heidi and John. One year featured a painting by Heidi’s mother, noted Chef Jacques Pépin, George Rodrigue (of blue dog fame) and the 2016 vintage features one of Heidi’s own paintings.
Coup de Foudre (is available for tasting at Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley in Yountville) and translates from French as “something that happens quickly, not foreseen – usually love at first sight”. As it is written on the label, “is best enjoyed when you want to capture a special moment in time and remember it forever”. John met his wife while in France and the labels for this wine are images of his early letters to her (in French) written during their courtship. John also developed the ‘peel back label’ on this wine to further treasure the memories from when it is consumed – simply peel off the front label for a keepsake (marked with Who, Where, When, and Why on its back”, leaving behind the ‘real’ label still adhered to the bottle. Heidi does not make these wines.
Prêt à Boire is a Napa Valley Rosé made from a blend of mountain grown Syrah and Grenache grapes (eastern hills of Rutherford). Appropriately named for this type of wine, it means “ready to drink” in French.
Richard G. Peterson is made by Heidi’s father Dick Peterson and features two extremely rare wines because of their particular clone – a Pinot Noir and a Brut Rosé. Dick Peterson found an ancient clone of Pinot Noir growing in the village of Wrotham (south of London) in the early 1980’s when he was in the UK judging a wine contest. He brought back several cuttings of this clone and dated it to nearly 2,000 years ago when the Romans introduced it to this part of what is now England. He planted three acres in Yountville (calling it his ‘diddly squat vineyard’). It is resistant to powdery mildew (never has to spray sulfur) and makes one of the most unique wines you will ever find in the Napa Valley (based on both the clone and the winemaker’s fascinating pedigrees).
The Brut Rosé is made from his Yountville vineyard. Dick gave some cuttings of this clone to a friend in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA (Monterey County to the south of Napa County) – today his friend now has 8 acres of this and one other Pinot Noir clone. The Pinot Noir is made from this vineyard in Monterey County.
Vin Perdu (pronounced van perdoo) translates to “lost wine” from French. This wine is made each year with premium wines that do not fit into their other portfolios. These components might be “lost” each year when they create their other blends – but they are certainly found when they build the final Vin Perdu blend. Take note of the one of a kind lenticular label – the artwork ‘changes’ when you tilt the bottle. For example the 2014 vintage shows a loose interpretation of the God Bacchus holding a glass. As you tilt the bottle, the wine glass rotates to catch the now dripping grape juice from the grapes above his hand. The labels on previous years are equally as intriguing.
The 2015 Coupe du Foudre Sauvignon Blanc is 100% varietal and is made somewhat atypical of Napa Valley produced Sauvignon Blancs. It was aged 8 months sur lie. The aromas tend to be more tropical in nature then citrus like, with notes of white pineapple and a more subtle citrus nuance. The mouth feel is what sets this apart from lighter Sauvignon blancs – it is creamy, almost oily with both a richness of weight and flavor. Peach/pear flavors show mid palate through to the long clean finish.
The 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands Richard G. Peterson Pinot Noir is ruby red in color with pretty pink tinges on the edge of the wine’s rim. Shows pleasing aromatics (sweet at times) including red cherry and cranberry and an earth spice component. Very balanced on the palate it shows red cherry, currant and a cardamom spice that Dick has identified often showing in his Wrotham clone. Drinks very well by itself.
The 2013 Amuse Bouche Red Wine is 96% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The vineyard source for these grapes is about 1,600 feet in the hills of eastern Rutherford. Opens immediately with appealing floral and a core of sweet spice notes including fig and brown sugar interwoven with subtle oak influences. Great acidity and bright lively fruit with flavors of red cherry and blackberry. There is a lingering tartness with well-integrated slightly chewy tannins (supple on the palate).
The 2013 Au Sommet Cabernet Sauvignon is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% Petit Verdot (all estate fruit). The bouquet is brooding at first – earthy with a mushroom quality – showing deeper darker aromatics. Letting it breath reveals layers of aroma including cigar smoke, coffee and a hint of burnt toffee along with plenty of fruit. This is a muscular wine with power, structure and flavor. Mouth watering acidity. A very long finish with robust tannins. This is an ideal wine for someone from Texas (or anywhere else for that matter) who appreciates Cabernet Sauvignon with a good steak – and the power, yet balance of an exceptionally made Napa mountain wine.
Their wines appeal to serious wine enthusiasts and collectors and perhaps to those who are partial to fine art. And because John and Heidi produce a number of wines under various labels, collectors certainly have a diversity of wines to choose from in their portfolio.
In early 2017 Amuse Bouche moved their offices slightly further north on Main Street in downtown Napa and in the process built out an art gallery (not open to to the public). The space may be used for tastings at a future date.
NOTE: apologies are in order for the gloomy estate photos, The Napa Wine Project website focuses on bright sunny uplifting days in Spring, Summer and early Autumn – not gloomy, grey and cold conditions. We will revisit the property to update these photographs at our earliest convenience based on the cooperation of the weather and various schedules.
Amuse Bouche, downtown Napa (not open to the public)