Saturday, February 5, 2011

Soda Canyon Rd. / Atlas Peak

While sheets of ice are attacking people in Dallas, a heat wave has been brewing here in California. Napa reached record high temperatures today -- 80 degrees! (in the middle of winter!) With weather like this, I just had to go out, drop the top on my convertible, and explore one area I had been curious about: Soda Canyon/Atlas Peak.

I drive past the Soda Canyon Deli and General Store every time I commute up and down Silverado Trail, and I've sometimes seen Soda Canyon Road and wondered what's up there... but then I never wander up to see. Meanwhile, I've been seeing more and more local wines tagged with the "Atlas Peak" AVA label (of local mountain regions in Napa, the three you are likely to see are Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak, and Howell Mountain. For a long time I couldn't keep the different locations straight, but I finally understand where they are -- they sort of form an equilateral triangle surrounding Napa Valley, with Mt. Veeder to the west, Howell Mountain to the north/northeast, and Atlas Peak to the east.) However, my interest came to a head when we recently saw a listing for a nice and reasonably-priced (by Napa standards) home, a 2000-square-foot, 2.7 acre beauty tucked up on a hillside overlooking the rugged hills, with a pricetag of $479k (it had started at over $700k but dropped steadily over the course of a few hundred days, until finally somebody bought it at this price). This is still out of our price range and a little more out of the way than we'd like a home to be, but we were curious what kind of area and home you can get for that price, so today we decided to find out.

As soon as you turn onto Soda Canyon Rd., you are entering another world. You slowly but surely start ascending a very gradual (at first) climb into the mountains -- more tranquil and not as winding as the roads toward Mt. Veeder or Lake Berryessa, but just as primitive and otherworldly. The place is rugged and almost prehistoric looking; pale green lichens and Spanish moss cling to gnarled trees and jagged outcroppings of gray rocks. Combine this with the relative silence, lack of traffic, and relative paucity of buildings and vineyards and you have a feeling you are in the Land of the Lost.

Soda Canyon Rd. is one of two roads that wind their way into the 11,000-acre Atlas Peak appellation (designated in the 1990s), with Atlas Peak Rd. being the other road and Atlas Peak being the highest point at 2,663 ft above sea level. The roads are not connected and both eventually dead-end high up in the hills.

The reason you would explore back here would probably be to enjoy the cruise itself -- ideally in a convertible or a motorcycle on a nice day like today. However, there are several vineyards and some wineries tucked back here, although some are closed to the public and the rest require you to call ahead for tasting appointments because this place does not get the drive-by casual traffic of Hwy 29 or Silverado Trail.

You can learn more about this region and AVA -- including maps, wineries, and history -- at

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