Engaging the Eye and the Palette

If it’s true that the label sells the wine, then it would be surprising to find Alta Napa Valley varietals on any retail shelf. The eye-catching graphic images of the owl and bear that grace this winery’s five wines  are the creation of proprietor and vintner Fred Oliai. Both creatures are frequently sighted atop his Atlas Peak vineyard, thus the homages, each an illustration of the rugged terrain as viewed from the animals’ perspective.

And while graphically compelling, it’s what is inside each bottle that is even more captivating. Alta’s flagship is 2015 Oso Malo Cabernet Sauvignon, a tribute to a grape loving bear that frequents the property before harvest. Oso Malo received 93 points from Robert Parker, as did the 2015 Revival Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2016 Carneros Pinot Noir received 92 points, as did the Quatreaux red blend – a fusion of four different grapes, picked and co-fermented at the same time. And Alta’s 2017 Sauvignon Blanc was roundly lauded by numerous reviewers.

For Oliai, winemaking begins with the  vines  and the land, and his 11+ acre Atlas Peak vineyard provides consistently amazing fruit, as do the other quality vineyards from which he sources. New to Alta’s estate acreage is a 22-acre parcel along the Silverado Trail, anticipated to be productive by the 2021 season, at which time Oliai hopes to become an all estate winery.

“Our philosophy is that great wines are made in the vineyard,” said Oliai. “We also strongly believe that  wine and food should pair well together, and we strive to make wines that complement good food.”

Despite Alta’s positive scores and solid press, the winery flies slightly under the wine industry radar, and for now, this is just fine by Oliai, who makes limited quantities (approximately 2,500 cases) annually at the Wine Foundry, where tasting appointments may be arranged. For a more intimate experience, tastings and vineyard stays are also available to reserve at Alta’s Atlas Peak vineyards.

The Oliai’s first purchased the Atlas Peak acreage in 2008. “We instantly recognized the magic and amazing potential of this site,” said the former dis- tiller and brewer, who since 2009 has provided his Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes to neighboring Kongsgaard Wines. Oliai’s first vintage was his 2009 Oso Malo of which he made 220 cases and released in the fall of 2011. It quickly sold   out. “The unique Atlas Peak terroir, along with our meticulous attention to detail, allows for little intervention. Our wines express the unique and diverse character of each of the Napa Valley’s vineyards with which we partner – vineyards chosen for their sustainable farming practices, site elevation, and microclimate.”

Oliai can cite additional scientific and environmental reasons for the quality of his wines, but for the consumer, it’s the taste that counts. “Simply put,” he says, “We make really good, fruit-forward, small production wines.”


Alta Napa Valley wines can be purchased online or at fine restaurants and wine shops throughout California.

In Napa they can be found at Brannon’s in Calistoga and Oakville Grocery // altawinery.com