Mount Veeder Winery Celebrates 50 Years of Going Off the Beaten Path

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Mount Veeder Winery began as an adventure in the late 1960s. Over time, through innovation and creativity, the winery established a legacy rooted in the trailblazing spirit of its founders, Michael and Arlene Bernstein.

In 1963, the Bernsteins purchased a prune farm on Mount Veeder, nestled in the Mayacamas Mountains in Napa Valley, and decided to plant cast-off grapevine cuttings given to them by a farmhand. They were surprised to find that the vines thrived in the rugged mountain terrain at an elevation of more than 1,500 feet.

In 1973, they debuted their inaugural vintage: 375 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. It became the first wine with a Mount Veeder designation, even though the Mount Veeder American Viticultural Area (AVA) wasn’t established until 20 years later.

This year, Mount Veeder Winery celebrates its 50th anniversary — still carrying on with the adventurous nature that inspired the Bernsteins to trek up Mount Veeder.

“Longevity and history are such integral parts of the world of wine,” says Jason Smith, Master Sommelier and general manager of Mount Veeder. “Anytime a trailblazing winery achieves a 50-year milestone, it shows their long-term dedication to quality and the commitment of its wine drinkers.”

Mount Veeder Winery helped lay the foundation for the modern Napa Valley wine industry. Today, it comprises three vineyards in the mountains that produce an array of bold, powerful wines that capture the ruggedness of the place and the spirit of its founders.

Embracing the Ruggedness

When the Bernsteins planted grapevines on Mount Veeder, Napa Valley was best known for prune, walnut, and cattle farms. Growing vineyards on the valley floor was a challenging task, but planting on the mountain was more than that — it was a courageous endeavor.

“There were even fewer wineries who wanted to challenge themselves by making wine in the mountains,” Smith says. “Other wineries have now followed in the footsteps of the Bernsteins and have established themselves in the mountains overlooking Napa Valley.”

Mountain wines are labor-intensive to produce. The farming and harvesting are done by hand, so “it takes a lot of folks to maintain a vineyard up in the mountains,” says John Giannini, winemaker at Mount Veeder Winery. Giannini has lived in the Napa area since the late 1990s and has been a winemaker for 16 years.

“You have to work extra hard with vineyards in the mountains because of the variability,” he says, explaining that the vineyards are terraced, placed above the clouds. The terrain is rugged, the elevation is high, and vineyards experience different sun exposures and microclimates. But the growing season is longer and more even than on the valley floor.

These conditions produce lower yields than other vineyards as the vines struggle to mature. The vines grow looser clusters of grapes, which ripen more evenly and are harvested at their peak.

“All of this makes for more complex, interesting wines,” he adds. The wines age in small oak barrels, resulting in smooth and concentrated flavor with lots of character.

Mount Veeder Winery is also dedicated to sustainability, ensuring the vineyards thrive for many more decades. The vineyard team embraces erosion control, encourages natural predators to reduce the need for pesticides, and uses recycled water for irrigation, organic compost, plant-specific cover crops, integrated pest management, and wildlife corridors. Respecting the land and conserving the wildness of the vineyards ensures they can continue producing wines for another 50 years.

Crafting ‘Wines With Altitude’

The remote, exacting location in the mountains and unique approach to farming have given Mount Veeder a reputation as the wine for adventure seekers who prefer something off the beaten path.

“At its core, Mount Veeder Winery makes wines that are inspired by the wild beating heart of the mountain, and many of our members and wine drinkers have that same adventurous spirit,” Smith says.

Winemakers capture the unique sense of place, known as terroir, where the vines grow. In Mount Veeder’s case, this results in a “wildness” in the bottle. “The wine has a fruit focus,” Gianni says. “There’s a concentrated core fruit without being overly opulent. There’s a freshness and a liveliness.”

Mount Veeder Winery’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is thoughtfully sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley. These vineyards are chosen specifically because they reflect the signature style of the estate mountain vineyards, which produce small berries with a distinct flavor. The winery includes a small portion of fruit from the estate vineyards, as well as seeking out other fruit that produces robust and savory wines.

The 2019 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vintage features concentrated fruit flavors and the aroma of black plum, blackberry, fig, and ripe cherries. Hints of toasted oak, caramel, and subtle dried herb and floral notes underscore its depth. It’s rich, full-bodied, and balanced with notes of leather and wet stone, and its tastes end with dark berries, baking spice, and mocha.

The 2021 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was created during a drought with gentle, consistent temperatures. The conditions resulted in lower-than-average yields and small berries with concentrated flavor. The vintage features notes of red fruit, black tea, and bramble with moderate acidity and tannins.

The Reserve Red Blends are Bordeaux-inspired wines comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. Each one perfectly encapsulates Mount Veeder’s heritage. The 2019 vintage saw significant rainfall and a long, moderate summer that created smooth ripening, and these conditions led to intense color, rich flavors, and ripe tannins.

These wines pique the interest of even the most seasoned wine connoisseur. Complex and distinctive, the Cabernet Sauvignon evokes classic, old-school Napa Valley styles without an overwhelming amount of fruit. They continue aging in the bottle for years, enabling them to hit their stride and obtain optimal drinking time at around a decade.

This fall, Mount Veeder Winery will release three-bottle gift sets for its 50th anniversary, which feature 2012, 2013, and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Red Blends vintages. If you’re looking to explore intense, unique mountain wines — or gift them to the wine lover in your life — this would be a great way to do it. Plus, their longevity means you can save them for your own special anniversary.

Continuing the Legacy of Adventure Seekers

Mount Veeder Winery’s legacy stems from its consistency in “overdelivering on expectations,” Smith says. The dedication to producing quality wine, adventurous spirit, and the story of its trailblazing founders have drawn people to the winery for five decades and will continue to in the future.

“This is something that’s been around for 50 years, and that doesn’t happen by accident,” Giannini adds. “It’s very much a commitment to quality, from farming to winemaking to the bottle.”

Giannini, who joined Mount Veeder Winery earlier this year, appreciates being a part of the story — and strives to keep it growing for at least another 50 years.

“I’m fortunate to work with this great team who have the same vision of keeping the legacy going and trying to elevate what we’ve been handed,” Giannini says.

Adventurous wine drinkers looking for something unconventional should give these “wines with altitude” a try. Check out Mount Veeder Winery’s lineup, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Red Blends, to get a taste of the wild side.

Shop Mount Veeder wines today! Click here to check out their wines. New customers can use the code VINEPAIR at checkout for free ground shipping on their first purchase.

This article is sponsored by Mount Veeder Winery.