Mount Veeder is one of the most intriguing appellations in Northern California. Nestled on the Mayacamas Mountains west of Highway 29 between Napa and Yountville, most of the hillside vineyards are hidden from view by rugged terrain and dense forest highlighted by Douglas Fir, Knobcone Pine, and Redwood trees.
The region was named after Peter Veeder, a German-born Presbyterian pastor, who settled in the area during the Civil War era. Captain Stelham Wing, who entered his wine in the Napa County Fair in 1864, planted the first grapes. But in the early days, the area was mainly known for the “Napa Redwoods” resorts on the mountain, and the Mont La Salle Novitiate owned by the Christian Brothers. Prior to becoming a monastic winery and the current home of The Hess Collection, the famous property was developed by Theodore Gier, a shrewd Oakland liquor dealer, who planted grapes and built the winery in 1903.
But over the past century, newer vineyards were planted in the open spots on the mountain. The most famous is Mayacamas Vineyards, a spectacular site developed by Jack and Mary Taylor in the 1950s and the sacred home of an ancient stone building that was once the old J.H. Fischer Winery built in 1885.
Today, the appellation features 1,000 acres of vineyards planted on steep slopes at 1,500 to 2,400 feet above the fog line. At these high elevations, the shallow soils are composed of a mixture of sandstone and shale from ancient sea floor, clay, and volcanic matter. Due to its close proximity to Carneros and San Pablo Bay, the region has the longest growing season and lowest yields of any of the hillside appellations in Napa Valley. As a result, the berries on the clusters are tiny, which helps produce wines with intensive flavors and soft tannins.
With deep roots of pioneering German farmers, Mount Veeder continues to reflect the passionate spirit of the vintners who work with the fruit from this majestic mountain. Currently, more than thirty vintners produce wines from the Mount Veeder AVA. Most of the growers and wineries in the area belong to the Mount Veeder Appellation Council. www.MtVeederWines.com.
Whites: Chardonnay is the main white grape grown in the Mount Veeder AVA; second is Viognier. There are also small plantings of Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, and Marsanne dispersed on the mountain.
Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon is far and away the most widely planted grape variety in the Mount Veeder appellation. For instance, the 513 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted represented 64% of the grapes picked in 2013. Other important varietals include: Malbec (72 acres), Merlot (39 acres), Cabernet Franc (23 acres), Petit Verdot (8 acres), and Zinfandel (10 acres). Other styles of red wines made with fruit from Mount Veeder are focused on Rhone varietals, primarily Syrah with smaller portions of Grenache, Carignane, Counoise, Mataro (Mourvdere), and Mondeuse.
White Wines: Chardonnay can vary from lean and unoaked styles that are similar to classic Chablis and ready to drink young; to more complex versions that are deep, rich, and worthy of aging. Common characteristics include floral aromas and flavors of ripe pear, stone fruit, citrus, and wild herbs. Some of the Chardonnay grapes are used to make sparkling wines by Domaine Chandon and other local producers. Rhone varietals like Viognier and smaller plantings of Roussanne and Marsanne tend to be fragrant with pronounced flavors of peach, apricot, papaya, melon, honey, and rich texture. While the Alsatian, Austrian, and Mediterranean grapes like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Albarino are generally leaner, fruitier, and more acid-driven.
Red Wines: The Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines of the region are big, rich, and rewarding. Tantalizing aromas often include wild flowers, dark fruits, mountain herbs, smoke, earth, and cedar. The flavors are generous with distinctive notes of briary blackberry, brambleberry, huckleberry, cassis, dark cherry, black currant, bay laurel, ground pepper, fresh violet, vanilla, tar, fresh tobacco, and moderate to bold tannins. In contrast, Syrah and Rhone-style wines are highlighted by flavors of blueberry, boysenberry, lavender, seasoned meats, and savory spices. Some producers that work with fruit from the region also make reserve wines that get even better with extra time in the cellar.
Try the fruity, acid-driven styles of white wines with guacamole, fresh salads, raw oysters, sushi, and Vietnamese, Turkish, and Mediterranean cuisine. With more complex Chardonnays, serve rich soups, seared scallops, gourmet chicken potpie, pork chops, pasta with cream sauce, grilled meats, or Thai and Indian cuisine. Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends are much more amiable with bigger dishes like risotto with wild mushrooms, grilled salmon, slow roasted pork, gamey meats, Rib Eye steaks, and blue cheese. For the spicier wines made with Syrah and Zinfandel, try pasta with fresh pesto, spicy Mexican cuisine, Korean BBQ, juicy burgers, grilled Tri-Tip, and tangy cheeses.