Montagna sits high in the Vaca Mountains, above the Oakville appellation in eastern Napa. The terrain here is rugged — not much grows besides scrub oak and wild brush. To the west, the landscape falls away nearly 1,000 feet to the valley floor. Dalla Valle, Oakville Ranch, Phelps’ Backus Vineyard, and Screaming Eagle all lie below, while Ovid, Continuum, and Colgin are just down the road — this is prime Napa terroir.
Montagna is owned by Bob Long, whose brother, David Long, owns neighboring David Arthur Vineyards. Both estates have their origins in the vast acreage purchased by their father, Don Long, in the 1960s (about 900 acres total). After helping his brother to found David Arthur, Bob started his own project next door. In 2001, 32 acres were planted under the guidance of Bob Egelhoff, the estate’s first winemaker. In 2004, phylloxera swept in, decimating 18 acres of vines and delaying the first vintage until 2006. Towards the end of that year, Niles Zacherle took over for Bob, finishing the 2006 wines and then crafting his first vintage in 2007. Given the youth of the vines and the recession that arrived in 2008, the decision was made to focus on a less expensive lineup under the Tres Vigneti label. In my book, they deserve a lot of credit for this. “Most wineries wouldn’t do that today,” Niles commented. “Instead, they launch with wines priced in the hundreds of dollars. But you can’t rush a vineyard, or force it into being something it’s not.” To that I say, hear, hear!
Today, the original 14 acres of vines are reaching maturity, and the newer plantings are beginning to produce as well. As such, the focus of the winery has shifted to making a top quality single-vineyard estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a little Syrah, and tiny amounts of white Italian varietals, as much for fun as anything else.
To his credit, Niles is reserved when talking about the stylistic differences between the brotherly wineries. “David Arthur has found its place over its thirty years.” he said. “Montagna is still finding its way. I notice certain qualities in some blocks, only to see them change over the years. Vineyards take time, they are always evolving and we are always learning.” He acknowledged that yields are a little lower at Montagna, at a mere 2.5 tons per acre, adding that, “David Arthur is typically more wound up, tighter, and more acidic, while Montagna pulls more potassium, which softens the acid profile.”
On U.S. geological maps, everything here is classified as Hambright series volcanic soils, but the land is really a mixed-up jumble of soil types, including Sobrantes, Henneke, and topsoils of various depths. Or, as Niles would say, “It’s mostly rocks.” The aspects within the property vary as well. Fruit from the more east-facing Montagna Block displays more wild herb, bay laurel, and garrigue. The La Presa Block, planted with the same clone, but closer to the pond, exhibits a deeper, darker, and more tannic nature, with a brambly dark fruit character. All of the blocks are picked and vinified differently depending on the vintage and character of the fruit.
In sum, there is no doubt that Montagna is a winery in transition, improving steadily, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. With the superb 2012, 2013, and 2014 vintages in the cellar, the future is now.