Sky Vineyards is located at about 2100 feet high in the Mayacamas mountain range near the Sonoma County line. It is one of the higher vineyards in all of Napa county. Founder, Lore Olds has lived here since 1972. His first commercial vintage was in 1979 making this winery the second oldest winery in this area behind nearby Mayacamas Winery. We have a list of Napa Valley based wineries who were in business in 1979 or prior who are still in business today; it is a fairly short list containing some 40 or so wineries – today there are approximately 500 physical wineries in the Napa Valley alone plus hundreds more brands based in Napa.
Lore grew up in Berkeley, moved up to wine country and took various jobs including at a commune in Sonoma County, for a short while at Beaulieu Vineyards and in 1979 as an assistant winemaker to Bob Travers, the owner of Mayacamas Winery at that time. Lore remembers all the times he spent cleaning out the old concrete tanks with a high pressure cleaner (one of the only wineries in the valley to have built in concrete fermentation vats rather then stand alone concrete tanks). Interestingly, Mayacamas Winery is located less then a mile as the crow flies from Sky Vineyards but in reality a 45-50 minute drive due to no connecting roads).
Sky Vineyards is one of the most remote vineyard and winery properties in all of Napa County although via airline miles the site is really not that far from either the city of Sonoma or the city of Napa. However, it takes about 40 minutes to reach the winery from Highway 29 on the Napa Valley floor, all along very narrow and windy roads including the extremely narrow Cavedale Road which usually only accommodates one car in any one direction. The last mile plus is on a semi 4-wheel drive road with the last push into the winery on a complete 4wd road.
Sky very seldom sees visitors and is only open part of the year by appointment only. As a result, a visit here is only for the most serious wine drinkers who are seeking small lot hand-crafted Zinfandel and Syrah, the only two varietals growing on the property. This part of the Napa Valley is like taking a step back in time as there are no nearby visible neighbors, the winery is surrounded by native vegetation and is far removed from busy highways such as Highway 12 in neighboring Sonoma County or Highway 29 in Napa Valley.
Approximately 14 acres are growing on site – all hillside blocks with numerous exposures. All wines made here are from grapes grown exclusively on the property. Sustainable farming is practiced including using permanent cover crops and the use of organic fertilizers. The vineyards are also dry farmed (which is fairly rare on hillsides – more common on the valley floor where the water table is closer to the surface). Due to the elevation, frost is quite common in the winter and early spring months and often receives a dusting of snow. Lore recalls in the 1970s and early 1980s receiving much more snow then today – he remembers one time 44 inches of snow fell and much of Cavedale Road was shut down for about 10 days.
Our first visit many years ago was in mid November during a remarkable warm spell. Fortunately the rattlesnakes were still in hibernation as there are rattlesnake dens nearby the winery and sometimes they even come slithering through the house. Fermentation was still occurring in a couple of bins, and Lore was doing punch downs with a functional home-made wooden device he made himself modified from part of a wine barrel. The wine is pressed in a very old hand press. Everything is done by hand here; Lore is the winemaker as well as the vineyard manager. One of Napa’s long time vineyard experts and master grafter, Salvador Preciado has helped out Lore for decades. And Lore’s nephew Jesse Apgar helps out where needed on the property and Lore’s daughter Skyla is involved on the sales and marketing side. His other daughter, Mayacamas is the head of viticulture at Newton Vineyard.
The cellar feels very old school with, faded with several shades of remaining paint spanning a number of decades on the exterior and dark on the inside – built by Lore and his father from redwood reclaimed from piers 68 and 69 in San Francisco.
The 2002 Sky Vineyards Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Zinfandel is a delicious wine offering a core of sweet fruit on the bouquet and notes of raspberries and red cherries on the palate. The Sky Vineyard Zinfandels have a very good track record of aging remarkably well and they certainly have the history to prove this.
The 2016 Sky Vineyards Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Zinfandel is 100% varietal with an alcohol clocking in at a 1970s-esque 13.1%. The bouquet is clean, unadulterated and slightly spicy (darker spices including white pepper). The aromas are about the characteristic of this varietal without any dominant influence of oak. Bright fruit, plum and red licorice. Not made in a ripe style that is often associated with this varietal. The wine is resolute and restrained on the palate, reflecting its lower alcohol and higher acidity. Flavors of red cherry, currant and cranberry – medium bodied and very balanced, the wine lingers with a mouth watering finish. Quite ageworthy.
Sky Vineyards also produces a rosé from Zinfandel, a wine Lore calls the ‘Halfn’ – an approximately 50/50 blend of Zinfandel and Syrah and a non estate Riesling.
The October 2017 fires hit Sky Vineyards hard – burning Lore’s home to the ground, destroying all of their library wines dating back decades, destroying some 20% of the vineyards by his own estimate and leaving a swath of destruction through and around the property including burning nearly all the surrounding tall knobcone pine trees. The one building that was not burned was the cellar, however the flames came right to the back of the building singed part of the wood and left heavy smoke in the winery.
Lore is an artist and has designed all the labels by hand including a scene of when the property was covered with a dusting of snow and a bucolic vista looking west including of the famed Louis Martini Monte Rosso Vineyard in neighboring Sonoma County. The wines are sometimes found locally at the Oakville Grocery in Oakville or Enoteca in Calistoga. Total production is around 1,000 cases per year. For more information, visit: www.skyvineyards.com