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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Pine Ridge Brings Bordeaux to Napa

Thursday, April 12, 2012
With over 450 wineries in Napa, how do wine pickers end up employed at their respective wineries?  While I  don’t know the answer this question, I did hear on a recent tour of Pine Ridge that grape harvesters who get hired to work at Pine Ridge feel like they’ve won the lottery!  The Stags Leap region in Napa Valley, where Pine Ridge is located, is known for producing its “huge” full-bodied Cabs and the very hot summer season helps give them great concentration. Pine Ridge harvests their grapes at night between 1am - 5 am when the temperature cools down to 60 degrees to slow the fermentation process, which accelerates greatly if grape juice is hot leading to unbalanced wine.  That’s just one of many quality control processes Pine Ridge winery has developed to produce its highly acclaimed wines.  Aside from using sustainable farming practices, Pine Ridge prunes its 14-18 year old vines using the T-cordon pruning style that is used on old vines- trained in Bordeaux.  They also use the guillaux system for pruning - which leaves only 5-6 fruiting buds, producing 2 clusters each which yields brighter, fresher fruit off new wood each year.  This pruning style is time consuming and expensive, but controls for overcropping and allows the vines to pour all their nutrients into a few clusters, enhancing the flavors and concentration.

Arriving at Pine Ridge, the steeply terraced hillsides flanked with a dramatic ridge-line of pine trees instantly grab my attention and mesmerize me with their natural beauty.  Having set up a tour and tasting in advance, we began the experience in the Visitor Center tasting room with a glass of Chenin Blanc then followed Ray, our wonderful guide, outside to a gazebo where we learned that the beautifully terraced vineyards are not only rare but grandfathered to Pine Ridge.  You won’t find these kind of steep vineyards elsewhere in the Stags Leap region since they’re no longer approved in Napa due to a 12 degree gradient rule created to control erosion.  With birds singing above and a carpet of sweet peas and fava bean sprouts below, the serene setting is like a fairytale.  

As rain clouds gathered overhead, we curtailed the vineyard walk and headed underground.  The caves of Pine Ridge, lying 130 feet below the vineyard, are a labyrinth of new and old tunnels, lined with 4,600 French Oak barrels, and featuring a gorgeous tasting cave featuring bright lemon yellow Chihuly glass. We were seated to an exquisitely displayef wine and cheese tasting and finally got to taste the famed Pine Ridge Cabs.  Pine Ridge founder Gary Andrus’ pioneering efforts to make Bordeaux style blends were met with tremendous success as the Bordeaux varietals he planted – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot. The wines embody the unique characteristics of the Napa Valley appellations in which its 200 acres of estate vineyards are located. Since the Pine Ridge winery was founded in 1978, its old world traditions have been fused with innovative viticultural and winemaking practices to yield powerful yet balanced Bordeaux-style red wines with classic aromas, rich textures and lingering flavors.
This tasting experience costs $50 per person, but is 100% well worth the great experience - especially if you’re a fan of rich, elegant Bordeaux style red wines. If you are fortunate enough to get Ray as your tour guide, you’re in for a treat - this veteran sommelier has worked at Pine Ridge for over 28 years and has judged thousands of wines in International competitions.  If you’re lucky and ask nicely, he’ll take you back to the tasting room after the tour and let you sample some interesting Pine Ridge bottles not included in the tasting, like the Onyx mentioned below in my tasting notes:

2010 Chenin Blanc - $12.99
This light wine gives off a bouquet of light aromatic fruit and orange blossom.  The wine has nice acidity and flavors of asian pear, white peach, green mango, and white chai tea. The crisp and slightly off-dry flavor profile lasts well through the clean and refreshing finish. With its balanced acidity, this versatile wine would pair perfectly with light salads, seafood, and foods with a hint of spiciness — and it’s a great summertime apertif as well.

2008 Cave 7 Cabernet Sauvignon - $65.00 per bottle

This blend has a mesmerizing nose of ripe blackberry and cassis.  The wine boldly meets the palate with ripe cherry, black raspberry, earthy brambleberry and undertones of green olive, ground coffee, dark cocoa, and cinnamon.  The wine holds its intensity through a lengthy, toffee-caramel finish.

2007 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon- $80.00 per bottle

This big, powerful wine offers aromas of black plum, cherries, toasted pecans and vanilla.  On the palate, the wine maintains its solid core of dark fruit with mouthwatering acidity and a velvety texture that balances the muscular tannins.  Savory coffee, caramel chocolate linger on the finish.

2007 Fortis - $140.00 per bottle

This wine displays an intensity of aromas including a blend of blackberries, plum, currant, and candied fig.  This bold wine explodes on the palate with rich dark cherry and cassis balanced with baking spices, caramelized brown sugar and cocoa with hints of espresso and toast that carry through the unrelenting finish.  The firm tannins and robust structure give this wine tremendous aging potential.

2007 Onyx - $60 per bottle

This dark wine boasts a complex nose abounding in black cherry, plum and berries with intriguing notes of smoke, rose petals, creamy chocolate, tea and leather. The palate offers red cherry, cola and roasted plum flavors alongside brisk acidity and dry, chocolatety tannins that sustain the lengthy finish. Three to five years in the cellar will allow for the palate to open up and match the nose in complexity. Decanting for up to an hour is also recommended.

Wines we tasted paired with the following cheeses:

  • Abbaye de Belloc
  • Fiscalini, San Joaquin Gold
  • Vintage, 5 Year Old Gouda


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