Napa Valley's Mount Veeder AVA is to get a new arrival in 2016 in the shape of Château Pontet-Canet owner, the Tesseron family, which is bringing its biodynamic principles to California's spiritual home of Petit Verdot.

Pontet-Canet arrives in Mount Veeder AVA

The Tesserons of Pontet-Canet have agreed to buy Villa Sorriso, owned by the late actor Robin Williams. It’s an estate with 259 hectares of land – albeit with only 7.3 hectares of vines – and a 20,000 square metre house that includes an implausible 15 bathrooms to just nine bedrooms.

In making the purchase, the Pontet-Canet owners are following in the footsteps of several other Bordeaux landed wine gentry by entering the New World via California.

But, they are the first to enter the steep hillsides of the Mayacamas mountains that largely separate the west side of Napa Valley with Sonoma; they are home to the Mount Veeder American Viticultural Area, where vineyards can be planted at angles of up to 30 degrees.

Mount Veeder AVA at a glance

Data source: Mount Veeder Appellation Council

Total Area: 16,000 square acres (64.7 km2)
Acres under Vine: about 1,000 (400 hectares), 64% Cabernet Sauvignon
Cases Produced: Approximately 40,000 per vintage, about 1.3% of total Napa Valley production
Highest Vineyard: 2,400 feet (Mayacamas)
Highest Winery: 2,100 feet (Sky Vineyard)
First wine recorded: 1864, by Captain Stelham Wing, from today’s Wing Canyon Vineyard
AVA established: 1993
Wineries: 22 member wineries producing wines from Mount Veeder grapes
Growers: approximately 20
Soil Types: primarily rocky, clay seabed, with areas of volcanic soils and other variations
Top soil depth: typically 24 inches to less than 12 inches
Vineyard slope: varies, typically 10°-30°
Varieties: varieties grown by Mount Veeder Appellation Council members

  • Cabernet Sauvignon, 513 acres
  • Malbec, 72 acres
  • Merlot, 39 acres
  • Cabernet Franc, 23 acres
  • Petit Verdot, 8 acres
  • Syrah, 34 acres
  • Sangiovese, 1 acre
  • Zinfandel, 1 acre
  • Carignane, .5 acre
  • Mataro, .5 acre
  • Chardonnay, 76 acres
  • Viognier, 15 acres
  • Gewürztraminer 2 acres
  • Riesling, 2 acres
  • Gruner Veltlner, 2 acres
  • Albariño, 2 acres
  • Sauvignon Blanc, .5 acre

Wine production goes back to 1864

Although it only gained AVA status in 1993, Mount Veeder has been producing wine since at least 1864, according to records published by the Mt Veeder Appellation Council.

It is also known as the spiritual home of Petit Verdot in California. Local cuttings of this classic Bordeaux variety were shared with other Napa Valley growers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Cabernet Sauvignon dominates

It is known for its Bordeaux varietals, with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for nearly two thirds of the total planted vineyard area of 400 hectares.

Much further back comes Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet France and Petit Verdot, but Mount Veeder is also something of a wine world United Nations, with 17 grape varieties known to be planted – including Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Riesling, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

‘Dripping with terroir’

There were only 22 member wineries of the Mount Veeder AVA at the last count, but the Tesserons will instantly have some well-known neighbours – and that’s before one hits the Napa Valley floor.

Charles Banks, the former co-owner of Screaming Eagle, has co-owned Mayacamas Vineyards in Mount Veeder since 2013, having purchased the estate with his wife and retail entrepreneur Jay Schottenstein. It is around 700m above sea level.

‘Mayacamas is dripping with terroir and authenticity,’ said Banks’ winemaker, Sashi Moorman.

In a Decanter panel tasting of California Cabernet 2011, Trinchero’s Cloud’s Nest wine from Mt Veeder scored 95 points in what was generally considered a difficult vintage for California Cabernet as a whole.

  • Brian St. Pierre

    “Dripping with terroir and authenticity”? Oh my. I think the train just went off the tracks.