The name Napa Valley AVA is somewhat misleading. Napa Valley is certainly dominant within the AVA but is far from the only valley. Some others are obvious by name or quick perusal of a map: Chiles Valley and Pope Valley for example.
There are scores of small valleys nestled within the Vaca and Mayacamas ranges too. Some are easily visible as you drive Highway 29 or the Silverado trail. Most are hidden behind peaks. Only a small number have significant wine grape plantings.
A spectacular, yet little-known, exception is Foss Valley. It lies high in the Atlas Peak AVA within the Napa Valley AVA and is accessible to the public only via a 7.5 mile drive up Soda Canyon Road. Even then, you’ll need an appointment with Antica Napa Valley to pass through their gate for the best view, along with a tasting and tour.
Atlas Peak is the highest AVA in Napa Valley, rising to 2,663 feet. Even the Foss Valley floor—1,450 feet at its lowest point—is above the fog line. Vines there see long, sunny days with temperatures lower than the other mountain AVAs due to breezes coming off nearby San Pablo Bay. Hillsides are steep and well-drained with volcanic soils of red dirt, loads of rock and tuffa. Eons of erosion covered the long, surprisingly broad valley floor with finer and more fertile alluvial loam.
Antica [Antinori California] is by far the largest grower in Foss Valley with 600 essentially contiguous acres under vine. 75% is Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Merlot makes up another 11%. The remainder is divided among eight varieties, Sangiovese chief among those.
In the glass, the 2011 Antica Chardonnay is crisp and juicy with a gently flavorful blend of fruit (citrus, green apple, soft pear and stone fruit) plus notes of mineral, spice and yeast. The 2009 Antica Townsend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a delicious juxtaposition of black cherry, dark chocolate and savory elements such as drying leaves, tobacco and spice. It’s a long and creamy, full-bodied wine with plenty of chalky-powdery tannins, resulting in the mouthfeel of thick chocolate milk.
Have you been to Atlas Peak AVA or tasted any of Antica’s wines? Are you curious why Antinori chose to plant here or changed their focus from Sangiovese to Chardonnay and Cabernet?