Atchley Vineyards

by Marvin Atchley

In 1968 I purchased a twenty-acre parcel that included the home grounds of the old Moding winery, barn and wine cave. At the time I was a manager in the Scientific Computer Center of a major academic research lab: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, working on the largest computers of that era. I had been making wine for a few years in a Berkeley garage in my spare time. My wife Judith and I were attracted to the country life and decided that living at Spring Mountain would be worth the hour-and-a-half commute. We and our two daughters became the only residents in the area, which now has a dozen families.

The beauty of the 250 year old oaks and firs surrounding the old buildings seemed to outweigh the disadvantages of our site, which were limited water and a problematic vineyard site. We began clearing brush and trees in 1969, and the first rootstock was planted the next year, to be grafted with Chardonnay scion wood from Stony Hill.

Our imposing barn and winery buildings dated from the 1880s and were in remarkably good shape. But dry farming on the hillside was difficult, and after a couple of disappointing years we constructed a dam on the headwaters of Mill Creek to provide water for drip irrigation. Our small planting of Johannisberg Riesling produced excellent wine, but since the varietal was not in demand in the Napa Valley we began replanting our vineyard to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1993. The five acre vineyard now also contains 12% Merlot and 1% Petite Verdot.

Our viticultural practices have evolved much in the last thirty years. Changes to trellising systems now provide a more efficient conversion of “sunlight into wine,” and moisture-obligate grasses planted between the rows allow us to forego cultivation and virtually eliminate soil erosion. We have restored the Roman-style wine press, which uses the force provided by a long lever to squeeze wine from the fermented grapes, using lumber milled from old Black Oak trees near the winery building. There is a cave on the property that was dug by Chinese laborers in the 1880s and refurbished in the 1970s.

Wine from Atchley Vineyard grapes is now blended into the Vineyard 7 & 8 Cabernet.