Antica Napa Valley is a 1200 acre stunning wine estate located in Foss Valley at the base of Atlas Peak (or “blue mountain” as the locals call it) in the Atlas Peak sub appellation. While this is Napa it certainly does not resemble the main valley floor. While distance wise (driving) it doesn’t take that long to get here from the valley floor, it’s location feels a long ways away. The estate is planted to approximately 600 acres and is surrounded by hills and native vegetation entirely separated from the main valley floor. Records show that the earliest grapes planted in Foss Valley were in 1881 and the earliest grapes planted in Atlas peak were 1870.
A visit (by prior appointment for serious wine enthusiasts) includes an overview of the property, a visit to the caves and a sit down tasting either inside next to the working kitchen or outside at one of several tables underneath individual portable shade coverings. NOTE: a stand alone space for hosting tastings was completed in mid 2022. We will revisit and update both our tasting notes and photographs of this space, sometime by the end of 2023 at the latest.
The Antinori’s focus on the long term and they continuously look to the future, making decisions that will influence future generations, decades down the line. They respect their long tradition yet are open to new innovation in the industry. Patriarch Piero Antinori was encouraged by his father to look at other wine region’s in the 1960’s. In 1966 he came to Napa and met with Robert Mondavi and after looking at valley’s landscape, decided someday he would have property in the region.
This property is owned by the Antinori family from Italy (the name Antica is created from Antinori and California). The family has a remarkably story and history. Their wine business is one of the world’s 10 oldest family businesses; they trace their wine beginnings back to the year 1385 and another 200 years before that in finance. That’s more than 6 centuries, or in their case 27 generations of involvement in the wine industry. They started their business in Italy 170 years after the Magna Carta was signed in England, during the century of the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire and the Renaissance. Their business was founded before Columbus set sail and about 450 years before wine grapes were even planted in the Napa Valley.
Piero’s contributions to the Italian wine world are significant; in 1971 he did something unheard of by blending about 20% Cabernet Sauvignon into Sangiovese and releasing the now iconic wine called Tignanello. It was groundbreaking for a number of reasons; it was the first time Sangiovese was aged in barriques; it was blended with unconventional non Italian varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet France and it was one of the first red wines in Chianti Classico region made without white grapes.
And in 1978, Antinori developed Solaia, initially a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wine blended with a smaller amount of Cabernet Franc including the same two varietals in 1979. From 1980 onwards Sangiovese was introduced into the blend. This wine is only made during exceptional years.
Piero’s brother Ludovico is also one of Italy’s most influential wine personalities. In 1981, in Bolgheri, he founded Ornellaia (incidentally used to be owned by Robert Mondavi Winery) and Masseto, and then later Tenuta di Biserno, in Bibbona home to his flagship and extremely limited production wine, Lodovico.
In 1985 Piero Antinori invested a very small percentage into a partnership with Champagne Bollinger (also a small percentage) and United Kingdom based Whitbread who controlled the majority interest in this Napa Valley estate before selling to Allied-Lyons. Whitbread was primarily interested in growing Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon here, but Antinori convinced them to plant Sangiovese, and lots of it, in fact at one point this site was home to the largest Sangiovese vineyard planting in the U.S. (well over 100 acres) and was estimated to hold 80% of the entire Sangiovese plantings in the country. Sangiovese planted on site was from a clone Antinori provided from Italy. Today much of the Sangiovese has been replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dr. Dick Peterson was hired to oversee the project and was the winemaker from 1986 through 1990. The project was known as Atlas Peak Vineyards; the first wine produced from the vines was a very small production in 1988 which was never released. The first wine released was appropriately a Sangiovese from the 1989 vintage. This was the first Antinori owned property in California. And it was Atlas Peak Vineyards who successfully applied to gain sub appellation status from the TTB (the branch of the government that oversees alcohol licensing and approvals) in 1992. At the time, Atlas Peak Vineyards was the only bonded winery in Atlas Peak.
Wine grapes were growing on the property before Prohibition but by in large the property was undeveloped. It was however a stop on the old stagecoach line (still marked today). For 15 years the property was leased to one of the partners; after the lease ended in 1993, the Antinori family bought out that partner and took over the vineyard and winery operations of Atlas Peak Vineyards.
In 1994 the winery was constructed, primarily a 35,000 square foot cave drilled by their employees using equipment from a mine that had recently shut down in the southeast U.S. No gunnite was used and after nearly 30 years the inside walls already have an appearance of a much older cave (they are covered with a thick soft black mold which is harmless to those visiting and working inside). The inside of the cave looks decidedly European; it has the “character” one often associates with a historic wine cave.
In 2006 the name of the winery and property was changed to Antica Napa Valley. The first wine commercially produced under Antica was a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2006 Chardonnay.
The Antinori’s were able to purchase a 40 acre adjacent vineyard to their large property and plant this to vines while they waited for the 15 year lease to finish. As a result they were able to make their own wine before having to wait for the lease to complete.
This is not the only winery ownership Antinori has in Napa Valley. In 2007 Piero, in conjunction with Chateau Ste. Michelle formed a joint venture to purchase Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
The property ranges in elevation from approximately 1400 to 1800 feet with vines planted both on flat ground and on the sides of gently sloping hills. When one stands in front of the hospitality center looking roughly east, the tallest peak with antennas on top is the true Atlas Peak at about 2,663 feet. Cabernet Sauvignon comprises 50% of the vineyard planting along with other Bordeaux red varieties. Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Syrah and even Pinot Noir (a limited production wine made for wine club members only) are also planted on site.
Because of the elevation and relative close proximity to the San Pablo Bay to the south, the site features moderate weather year around. Unlike the the northern part of Mt. Veeder and the Spring Mountain appellations (on the other side of the valley) this part of Atlas Peak doesn’t really see an inversion layer so the nights are also fairly cool even during the summer. This all contributes to a long growing season and hang time. Sugars can get high, but they have the hang time to ensure that the other phenolics develop and “balance” out the ripe fruit before the actual harvest.
Today Piero Antinori has stepped back somewhat from the business and his three daughters Albiera, Allegra and Alessia are in charge of Antica’s operations. Their total production is just over 10,000 cases which is an extremely small amount compared to what they could produce. Rather, they sell most of the fruit from their vineyard estate preferring to focus on small lot wines.
The 2008 Antica Chardonnay shows great balance – both in flavor, acidity and structure. Its a crisp clean wine that will pair well with food. The bouquet shows notes of baking spices and honeysuckle. The mouth feel is rounded but not too soft and the finish is clean and lingers delicately. Piero talks about making wines that are “fresh”, wines that invite another sip; this one certainly does that. It has style and elegance.
The 2007 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon is medium ruby with a noticeable brickish color (we tasted 15 years post vintage date). The bouquet offers plenty of bottle bouquet – we noted initial tertiary aromas of tar, mushroom, a gaminess and forest floor. Give this wine time to open and it will become less ‘meaty’ revealing brown dessert spices, brown chocolate and espresso. The fruit has taken more of a back seat on the bouquet to these other aromas. The palate offers flavors of raspberry, cooked blackberry and dried cranberry. The juicy finish lingers with a light touch of integrated tannins and higher toned red fruits. Its peak was probably a few years ago.
The 2006 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal and is a throwback to the days of Napa when this varietal was often created non blended. The wine is dark in the glass and the aromas immediately show notes of smoke, spice and cigar. The palate is all about darker toned fruits including blackberry and plum and is is somewhat briary with a finish that shows dusty tannins that are both from the oak and fruit. With nice acidity this is an excellent wine to pair with a variety of foods – pasta immediately came to mind when we were drinking.
The Townsend Cabernet Sauvignon is named after a neighbor June Townsend who in 1998 sold 24 acres of land to Antica that was not yet developed to vineyards. June was a 7th Day Adventist and did not drink alcohol. Ironically, her former land is now home to some of Antica’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard blocks and in tribute to June, they named the wine after her. Usually under 300 cases of this flagship Cabernet Sauvignon is produced annually; it does not see distribution.
The 2016 Antica G&G Soracco is named in honor of an Atlas Peak neighbor (Mr. Soraco) who brought over cuttings of Muscat from Italy (now grown on the Antica Estate). The G&G comes from the Soraco brothers initials of their first names. Dark amber in the glass with rich aromatics of honey, stone fruit and an orange peel zest. Certainly sweet but not cloyingly so, this bottling offers flavors of honey, brown sugar and ripe apricot. Noticeably supple in texture from start to the end – this wine does not show an oily ‘heaviness’ characterized by sometimes riper desert wines of this style. The finish is soft and lingers with flavors of honey. Decent acidity. Definitely serve chilled.
And in addition to the wines, Antica also produces premium estate grown extra virgin olive oil – harvested from approximately 500 olive oil trees growing on the property.
The wines can be purchased direct – they do have national distribution but with only about 10,000 cases total, distribution is somewhat selective. Locally you can find the wine at the Bounty Hunter in the city of Napa.
In October 2017 the devastating Atlas Peak fire burned around their vineyards and right up to almost the edge of the winery – remarkably the hospitality center and offices did not burn. And only a few rows of Sangiovese were actually damaged by the fire – these limited losses were quite amazing considering the scope and power of this fire.
For more information, to purchase wine, or to schedule a tasting, visit: www.anticanapavalley.com.
Antica Napa Valley
OTHER ANTINORI OWNED FAMILY PROPERTIES, ITALY
The Antinori family owns a number of vineyard and estate properties in Tuscany, Italy. We highlight the ones below that we have personally visited. Additional notes and photography will be added to this review as time and budget permits as we visit more Antinori owned properties.
Antinori Nel Chianti Classico
The estate is located about 25 minutes outside of Florence Italy in the small town of Bargino. This is almost directly south of Florence, off of Highway SR 2 and only about 30 minutes from the beautiful town of Siena. Many airlines and flights connect to Florence including Alitalia, Air Berlin, Delta, KLM and Lufthansa.
A guided tour provides a general overview of the cellar, the winery and its production. Much of the winery is made from local materials and the cellar is no different. Hundreds of “baked” terra cotta bricks line the architecturally pleasing curved walls with barrels neatly organized. Two tasting rooms are perched deck like over the cellar and are lit by intimate lighting. Tastings are hosted in one of these rooms.
The winery itself was initially designed in 2002 and construction began in 2006 and finished in 2012. Opened in 2013, arguably this beautiful estate is the Antinori family show piece including housing the headquarters for business (previously was located in downtown Florence. The winery itself is an architectural masterpiece. It is rare when a cellar is an inspirational place, almost like like being in church, a reverent, darkened spot to bathe in the quiet and beauty of the interior. Nature often personally inspires us but it is rare when one can be so moved while indoors – especially at such a modern winery.
The 67,000 square foot winery itself is not obtrusive on the landscape – while its physical footprint is a large one it is nearly all housed underground. Large rust colored vents above ground provide air down to the parking garage. And the restaurant is also above ground where it should be, perfectly situated for the views of the rolling Tuscan hillsides.
The parking garage is an artistic piece in and of itself. Parking garages worldwide are generally mundane boring “boxes” where one leaves an automobile for a while and are constructed in a way that one has no interest in lingering inside. Not so with the one here; it is an beautiful piece of art that create an anticipation of actually seeing the winery. Cities that rotate around the automobile such as Los Angeles would benefit by taking careful notes on this particular design.
A section of the winery houses a small museum. Pucini, the famous composer of operatic scores said he wrote better after he enjoyed drinking some fine Antinori wine. Some of his original scores are displayed under glass. A true highlight of this museum is a massive dual wooden and iron wine press dating back to the Renaissance; this press is unique not only for its size and structure but the fact that is was personally designed by the great Leonardo Da Vinci.
Classical paintings collected over the centuries by the Antinori’s, a wine library, models of the family’s other estates and other historical artifacts are also on display.
A decent sized auditorium is located next to the museum and features documentaries about the Antinori family history, the construction of the winery (5 years condensed into 15 minutes) and presentations about their other estates.
One does not want to miss a stop at the restaurant during their visit to the property. This restaurant is simply called “Rinuccio”, named after a family member who started making wine in the year 1180. It is located on the roof of the cellar and overlooks rolling hills and nearby Tuscan vineyards. Large glass windows bring an “openess” to the dining experience. The culinary focus is on Tuscan cuisine and Tuscan produced wines. Hamburgers are on the menu but these aren’t your normal American hamburgers; instead they are gourmet, served between local bread and presented on a wooden board. a tasty chicken salad is served on a bed of fresh lettuce.
The staff speak a number of languages, welcome visitors and can suggest food and wine pairings.
The wine store is large and features a tasting room showcasing many of their current vintages.
The estate is located in the small town of Bargino at Via Cassia per Siena, 133 a short drive from either Florence or Sienna. For more information visit: www.antinorichianticlassico.it
Osteria Di Passignano Restaurant & Wine Shop
Fonte De’ Medici Farmhouse: Apartments & Restaurant
La Cantinetta Antinori Restaurant & Wine Bar, Florence
Procacci Wine & Gourmet Shop, Florence
Fattoria Le Mortelle
Fattoria La Braccesca, Siena