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 location wise it 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. 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.
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.
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. In 1985 in partnership with Bollinger and Whitbread (well established companies), Piero acquired this Napa estate. It was the first Antinori owned property in California – in 2007 Piero, in conjunction with Chateau Ste. Michelle formed a joint venture to purchase Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (still under both of their ownership).
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). Grapes were planted and for 15 years the property was leased to another winery. After the lease ended, the Antinori Family bought out the other shareholders and took over the vineyard and winery operations.
The Antinori’s were able to purchase a 40 acre adjacent vineyard to their large property and plant this to vine 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.
These are all hillside vineyards; the property ranges in elevation from 1500 to 1800 feet. 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 vineyards planting along with other Bordeaux red varietals and Chardonnay, Sangiovese and even Pinot Noir (a limited production wine made for wine club members only).
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.
In 1985 a 35,000 square foot cave was drilled by their employees using equipment from a mine that had recently shut down in the South East USA. No gunnite was used and after only 30 years the inside walls already have that appearance of a much older cave (they are covered with a thick soft black mold – harmless to those visiting and working inside). The inside of the cave looks decidedly European – it has the “character” you often associate with a wine cave.
The 2008 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 2006 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 – it 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 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 – 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.
The Antinori Family owns a number of vineyard and estate properties in Tuscany, Italy. We have visited the beautiful Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar located approximately between Florence and Sienna in Tuscany, Italy. View our write-up here. For more information visit: www.anticanapavalley.com.
Antica Napa Valley
Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar, Italy