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The Jewel of Napa: Diamond Mountain District
By Miranda Franco
Feb 8, 2022
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If Diamond Mountain District doesn't sound familiar, you need to know more.  This little-known region, nestled in the Mayacamas range on the western side of the Napa Valley, far away from the traffic of the valley floor, produces some of the region’s most exquisite wines.  It also has stunning views from an appellation that ranges from 400 to 2,200 feet above sea level.  The region's fine-grained, ash-like soils contain shards of reflective volcanic glass, which inspired its name.  

The first vines were planted in this region in the early 1860’s by wine pioneer Jacob Schram (Schramsberg Vineyards).  Al Brounstein, of Diamond Creek Vineyards, came a century later, in 1968.  Diamond Creek Vineyards is California's first exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyard serving as a pioneer in establishing Napa Valley as prime territory for Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winery produces a few thousand cases a year of some of the region's most celebrated wines, now under the leadership of winemaker Phil Steinschriber.  In 2020, 52 years after its founding, Diamond Creek Vineyards was acquired by the Rouzaud family of Maison Louis Roederer, the French Champagne producer whose roots in wine date back to the 1700s.
In 2001, what we now know as the Diamond Mountain District obtained American Viticultural Area (AVA) status.  Those that petitioned for the AVA noted the microclimate of the mountain was so distinct from surrounding areas that it warranted its own geographical boundary and appellation designation.  Notably, the region has only 5,000 acres, of which less than 500 are planted to vines, making it one of the smallest AVAs in the Napa Valley.  

Diamond Mountain District wineries are most famous for producing age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, the region's climate also supports world-class Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Zinfandel, as well as a handful of white varieties.  Growing vines on the steep slopes of Diamond Mountain takes considerable skill and perseverance.  While less than a dozen wineries call Diamond Mountain District home, the grapes grown here have attracted a Who’s Who of California vintners: The Vineyardist, Dyer Wine, Wallis Family Estate, Mueller Family Vineyards, Diamond Creek Vineyards, and Constant Diamond Mountain, to name a few.  The vintners on Diamond Mountain are drawn to the region's features known for developing a vibrant range of wines with rich, intensely concentrated fruit.  In addition to the highly rated wineries, several others, like Hall, produce exceptional wines from Diamond Mountain District grapes.  

"Earlier in my career, I was a winemaker for Sterling Vineyards,” said Bill Dyer, of Dyer Wines, “which had a vineyard on Diamond Mountain, and it produced my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon.  When we decided to build a house, we were lucky to find property adjacent to the renowned Diamond Creek Winery, finding some of the same volcanic gravels from which they produce such long aging Cabernet.  We planted our vineyard in 1993, and produce about 350 cases per year on average.  The site produces wines of great intensity and concentration."

As to the unique character of Diamond Mountain, Dirk Fulton of the Vineyardist Winery & Vineyards shared the view that, "There are three attributes of the terroir that provide us the tools to produce world-class wines: the rocky volcanic soils, eastern exposures, and temperate micro-climate."
Frank Mueller of Mueller Family Vineyards elaborated, noting that, “The chalky, almost white soils with a surface layer of gravelly loam over rocky, cobbled clay-loam subsoil gives us perfect conditions for growing red Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot."

One of the defining features of Diamond Mountain District are these small producers, their passion for creating wine, and their willingness to share their wines and stories.  I had the privilege of experiencing this generosity firsthand during a visit to the stunningly beautiful property of The Vineyardist (as illustrated in the pictures seen here) in December 2021.  During that visit, along with The Vineyardist, Mueller Family Vineyards, Dyer Wines, and Wallis Family Estate were on-site to share their wines, all of which reflect the uniqueness of the terroir.  During the visit, I also learned some inspiring stories of how these families established their vineyards in Diamond Mountain.  

Frank Mueller of Mueller Family Vineyards and his wife Angie have called Diamond Mountain their home for decades.  As a physician, Frank provided free medical care to patients for many years.  One of those patients was the sister of longtime Napa vineyard management company owner, Jess Madigral.  One day, Frank casually asked Jess what it might cost to plant a few vines on his property.  Not long after that conversation, Frank and Angela discovered 250 vines planted around their home.  Jess gifted the vines to the Muellers for taking care of her sister for so many years.  From there, the vines led to an expansion to a larger vineyard to produce wine commercially.
Stories like the Mueller family story, the beautiful views, and the dynamic, complex wines are just a handful of reasons to visit this historic, high-altitude region.  To get you started in your experience, below are a few wines to try that reflect a sense of place and capture the elegance, energy, and beauty of the Diamond Mountain District.
2018 Mueller Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($120):  This blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Petit Verdot is dense and intricate, but there is a noticeable lift of freshness due to Diamond Mountain District’s unique microclimate.  It is teeming with aromatics and flavors of fresh and ripe blackberry, plum, red and black cherries, and hints of clove.  This hits the mark with structure, purity, and richness of flavor.  It's impeccable now, but still has many years ahead of it.  
95 Points

2018 Dyer Cabernet Franc ($95):  A 100% Cabernet Franc that is incredibly focused and defined, this wine showcases aromas and flavors of red and black cherries, graphite, sage, and crushed rocks.  It is full-bodied, luscious, and has beautifully balanced acidity and well-integrated tannins.  Stunning out of the gate, this wine should provide cellaring rewards for many years to come.  
95 Points

2018 The Vineyardist Cabernet Sauvignon Calarcadia Vineyard ($295):  This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is lush with beautifully concentrated dark cherries, baked plums, mocha, and spice that all wrap around a deeply expressive finish.  The palate has perfectly balanced acidity and fine-grained tannins that play off of the abundant dark fruit flavors.  This is a spot-on Cabernet with impressive richness, multidimensional mouthfeel, and endless aging potential. 
95 Points

2018 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($100):  A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, this is intensely aromatic, delivering a rush of fruit and earth notes with a hint of purple flowers that will surely impress.  It boasts black cherry, blackberry, plum, cigar box, and subtle savory flavors on the palate.  It is incredibly rich in fruit while retaining freshness and lingering savory notes, and is impossible not to love.  
95 Points           

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