Like so much of this state, the first grapes were planted here during the late 1800s and initial growth in the industry was good. Halted by Prohibition in the early twentieth century, viticulture was revived in the Atlas Peak area on a similar timescale to the wider region; the first wineries appeared in the 1980s and the area was officially designated as an AVA in 1992.
California’s flagship variety Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme here, accounting for more than 50% of the area under vine and producing bold, structured varietals for the premium market. Other dark skinned grapes grown in the Atlas Peak AVA include the traditional Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot, along with Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel. White wine is produced predominantly from Chardonnay, with small amounts of Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc also cultivated by some growers.
The elevation - up to eight-hundred metres above the valley floor - helps to provide a unique set of climatic conditions conducive to low yields of high quality, well balanced fruits. Most of the plots here are oriented to the west, benefitting from extended sunlight exposure, and whilst the cooling Pacific fog has the effect of curbing peak temperatures for many Napa appellations, here its impact is lessened by elevation. During the growing season this brings the benefit of a significant difference in temperature between day and night - up to 16 degrees Celsius for some sites - allowing the grapes to ripen slowly whilst maintaining their natural acidity. The area’s volcanic soils are generally shallow, free draining and littered with rocks, contributing to the AVAs celebrated terroir.
Atlas Peak is amongst California’s most exciting appellations and is widely acclaimed for the quality of its grapes. Many of the growers here sell to wineries outside the AVA, others are operated by cellars with headquarters elsewhere in Napa or Sonoma, and some conduct the entire process of vine to wine within the bounds of this appellation. Whilst a number of wineries here were affected by the wildfires of 2017, the area continues to enhance its already glowing reputation. From the soils of these mountain vineyards, through the careful cultivation and vinification of the appellation’s passionate winemakers, come intensely aromatic, delectable wines that increase in complexity as they age.