Antica: a surprise gem

Antica offers gorgeous views and a connection to 600+ years of winemaking tradition.

It never dawned on me that the name Antica is made up of the first letters of Antinori family name and California. Nor did I hear about the winery in my first year in the Valley – quite incredible, really, given the family behind it. In truth, I only booked my tasting appointment because I liked the name.

It worked out really well, this way. Had I read all the archive publications before my visit, I wouldn’t have been as astonished by the beauty of the estate. Nothing on the narrow, winding Soda Canyon Road prepared me for a 1200-acre expanse behind the tall gates in the Atlas Peak AVA.

Antica has kept a low profile, and most people have found the place by word of mouth, said Kim, my tasting room host, as if offering an excuse for my ignorance.

Perhaps the Antinoris want to put all the remaining pieces in place before they start tooting their own horn. Before becoming Antica, the project had quite a sinuous past, with partnerships formed and dissolved, land leased out and grape varieties planted in unsuitable spots. Jon Bonné describes it well in his 2007 SF Chronicle article.

Or perhaps, the Antinoris will never be grandiose self-promoters like some other wineries in Napa Valley. “They’re wonderful, very humble, down-to-earth family, all about wines and vineyards,” said Kim. “Having been in business for 600 years, they think a little bit long-term.”

Thirty years after the project started, the vineyard side of things is finally done. Half of the 600-acre vineyard is now planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, the variety that has long fascinated Piero Antinori. The rest is split between Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as other Bordeaux varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot), and experimental parcels of Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Antica still sells most of its grapes to other wineries, currently using only 20% for own production. In 2015, it made 12,000 cases of wine. The cave is however built to hold 100,000 cases, so there’re clearly plans to expand.

Cave in Antica winery, Napa Valley
Dug in the mountain in 1987, the cave has soft thick mold covering the walls

Compared to the grandeur of the estate, the winery/tasting room building is understated, and tasting itself, held in the kitchen-cum-guest room, is intimate and homey.

Four wines are accompanied by an antipasto plate with cheeses, olives and salami. Food is so important for any Italian, laughed Kim.

The visit also includes a walk through the cave. The eight-tunnel, 35,000 sq. feet cave, dug in 1987, looks very much like an old Italian grotta, thanks to soft thick mold covering the walls. It’s all natural, said Kim, as is 90% humidity and 56-degree temperature.

To me, the cave represents Antica in a nutshell. It’s as if the Antinoris brought a mythical spore of time from medieval Tuscan cellars and effortlessly transformed a new estate in a new wine region into something authentically old.

Antica Winery, Napa Valley, tasting room

Antica vines grow in rocky soils at an elevation of 1400-1800 ft near Atlas Peak. Cooler daytime temperatures result in slightly less alcohol and more acidity in wines compared to hotter valley-floor AVAs.

I tasted two whites – a refreshing, crisp Sauvignon Blanc and toasty, melon-y Chardonnay, and two reds – Sangiovese, and Cabernet, which were my favorites.

Sangiovese 2013 ($35) has more body than its Italian peers but a similar acidity and tannic structure. The wine smells cherries, black cherries, spice, dry leaves and tobacco and is bright and delightful to drink. The Antinoris only have 16 acres of Sangiovese left from the originally planted 80, deciding to focus on best-suited parcels.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($60) has acidity and freshness typically associated with mountain Cabs. It is full-bodied, with young but smooth tannins and has an appealing nose of blueberries, blackberries, black currents, and some smoky, savory notes.

Address: 3700 Soda Canyon Road, Napa. Printing out directions may be a good idea, as phone signal is often lost on top of the hill. If lost, look for Antinori (not Antica) sign among many others at a T-junction on top of the hill, take a right and drive to the end of the road until you see tall fancy gates right in front of you.
Tastings are Monday – Friday and Saturdays during the warm season, by appointment only.