Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

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The Napa Valley American Viticultural Area is arguably the most famous growing region for wines in the United States. But with 15 recognized sub-appellations, it also is home to a wide variety of styles of its signature variety: Cabernet Sauvignon.

We’ve already discussed how winemakers can use harvest timing as a tool to guide winemaking style. Another essential component is choosing a vineyard site that matches the desired outcome.

As the grape sales and marketing manager for Atlas Vineyard Management, Kelly Clendenning is well-versed in what various vineyard sites have to offer for winemakers in terms of wine style. Hillside and Mountain vineyards are unique growing regions within the valley.

Hillside and Mountain Sites

Hillside and mountain vineyards are generally the most difficult and expensive locations to develop because it usually involves removing rocks and setting up irrigation systems in places where water is scarce. “You have to be very strategic in the places you plant,” Kelly says.

Once the vines are producing, it typically takes longer for grapes on mountain vineyards to reach proper maturity levels when comparing them to grapes in other growing regions in the valley. Grapes from such locations often require more hang time to allow for the seeds to harden and the tannins to soften. Harvest dates can range from 2 weeks to a month after vineyards on the valley floor.

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What about the wine?

1 Sugarloaf 9-07Vines growing on hillside and mountain vineyards typically have rocky well drained soils that allow the vines to stress. This makes the vines switch their focus from vegetative growth to maturing its grapes earlier which is good for wine quality.

“These different growing conditions provide unique characteristics to the wines.” Kelly says. Hillside and mountain sites are known to create wines dark in color with concentrated flavors and components of mineral and earth driven notes.

Wines made from grapes grown on hillside vineyards typically require more time to age in the bottle. “The tannins tend to be a lot harder in mountain fruit, and in time these tannins soften with age in the bottle.” she says. And usually it is well worth the wait!

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