Category Archives: Wine

Chilean Pinot Noir

 

Aside from Burgundy in France, we, in California, enjoy the finest pinot noir in the world, sourced from five major appellations: Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, The Carneros, Santa Rita Hills and Anderson Valley.  Without borders, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, north to south, would be a fitting sixth.

Although imports from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have challenged the myth that all quality pinot noir must be

Casabalnca Valley Vineyard

expensive, the consistently luscious and textural releases from northern Oregon to northern Santa Barbara keep us loyal with resolved acceptance of their price points.

Another challenger, south of the Equator, may be on the horizon.  Chile, geographically, is a long, thin strip of land along the South Pacific Ocean coast and, in the past decade, there are a growing number of vineyard plantings of pinot noir in the central and northern regions, that offer similar cool-climate growing conditions as those in California and Oregon.

Regions like the San Antonio and Casablanca Valleys, west of Santiago and the Elqui Valley, 250 miles to the north, have generated some excitement with pinot noir releases that are complex, fruit forward and affordable.  

San Antonio and Casablanca are relatively small areas where vineyards are blessed with rocky soils and direct exposure to the cooling forces of the ocean. By contrast, the Elqui Valley lies at the southern end of the Atacama Desert and while enjoying maritime influences, is hotter and, in recent years, been in a drought.

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Elqui Valley

Known for producing pisco brandy and table grapes, the Elqui Valley vineyards are now focusing on certain varietals like the San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($17), an intense, fruit forward release that I recently tasted.

The color is lighter than most California pinots, but the bouquet was deep red fruit, earth and even had a forest-floor quality.  The flavors were acutely red fruit and earthy with clear, but balanced tannins.

I compared the 1865 with a 2014 Lemelson Vineyards “Thea’s Selection” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, at three times the price, and found it elegant, but more restrained than the Chilean wine.

Among many Casablanca Valley releases, the Casas del Bosque Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2016 ($18) offered typical intense aromas of red fruit, but it was more medium-bodied with refined fruit, spice and earth flavors with soft tannins.

With deep mushroom and forest floor tones in the aromas, the 

Cuvelier Atanea Pinot Noir 2015 Casablanca Valley ($15) bursts on the palate with dark fruit and a myriad of earth and savory impressions.  I would pair this wine with lamb as well as salmon.

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From an organic winery in the San Antonio Valley, the 2015 Matetic “Coralillo” Pinot Noir San Antonio Valley ($18) is a very accessible, balanced wine that most palates will enjoy. In awarding this release 90-points, critic James Suckling described it as “fruity and fun” with ample, but forgiving tannins.

 

I have not yet tasted the 2017 Apaltagua Pinot Noir Reserva San Antonio Valley ($15), but the winery has a reputation for brighter

Apaltagua Reserva Pinot Noir San Antonio Valley

fruit driven flavors and descriptions of “roasted coffee bean notes,” along with the price, has me intrigued.

For the price, I found the Ritual Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir 2015 Casablanca Valley ($20)to be an intriguing and delightful wine with pleasant floral hints on the nose, an extraordinary rich mouthfeel and some cranberry fruit on the palate. In addition to the full structure and fresh fruit, James suckling, after awarding it 93-points, aptly described a

Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley

light chocolate and berry aftertaste.

Most of the Chilean pinot noir releases are expressive and ready to drink now.  As production continues to grow and availability in wine shops and outlets increases, the wines can become an accepted, reasonably-priced alternative for those choosing to explore the alluring “Heartbreak Grape”  outside of the grand California and Oregon releases.

 

  

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The Viader Story

 

The views are both serene and spectacular, overlooking much of the Napa Valley.  The vines below the outdoor deck seem to fall down the cliffs, quickly out of view. While it is known for producing limited amounts of fine Bordeaux-style wines, the real story behind Viader Vineyards and Winery lies within Winemother Delia Viader, Phd., her determination, persistence, sense of adventure and, of course, winemaking skills.

Armed with a PhD. in philosophy and a Master’s in Business, Delia arrived on Howell Mountain in the late 1980s determined to

Vineyards at Viader

become a farmer, something puzzling to her supportive parents.  She found this alluring, remote mountaintop property that was surrounded by steep cliffs with soil packed between rocks and boulders.

Luckily, she listened to her instincts rather than dozens of experts who told her that clearing the land and planting vineyards on the steepest, rockiest slopes in the Napa Valley was impossible.  It’s easy to say that Delia has carved out a piece of heaven, but she did it one stone at a time.

She has always had help from her son, Alan Viader, who remembers moving rocks from the future vineyards many afternoons after school.  He has worked with his mother ever since and with education and experience behind him, has become the winemaker who oversees all operations.  Delia has become the Wine Mother. She declares, “I’m the mother of the vines, the mother of the wines and the mother of the winemkaker.” 

Alan and I walked the extensive cave system where all the work is done after the grapes are harvested.  Everything at Viader is done in-house, from farming the estate vineyards through labeling the bottles.

The Viader Estate is 92 acres with 28 acres under vine. With the great Bordeaux blends in mind, they originally planted cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc and malbec, then later Rhone-style syrah.

Delia and Alan Viader

While the caves smelled of French oak, I noticed a variety of concrete options out near the crush pads. Delia was one of the first in the valley to introduce concrete aging and Viader has many concrete eggs, cones and large vats.  It is trend that is expanding everywhere and many winemakers are pleased with the enhancements that it provides.

I questioned who resolves disputes between Wine Mother and Winemaker.  Apparently, there are very few and those require little strategy to resolve.  Alan said they know what they want and he credits his fine palate to Delia. Both avoid making wines that punch you in the mouth, striving instead toward those that seduce you.

During the first eleven years of Viader, they made only one wine, a signature blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.  Their largest production wine at a sparse 81 barrels, the 2015 Viader Signature ($175) represents the “best of the best” of the cabernet sauvignon (69%) and cabernet franc (31%), blended and aged 24 months in French oak plus another year in the bottle. The Bordeaux-style elegance is up-front, but I found potency in the aromas and rich texture throughout.  

The Bordeaux’s are superb, but it’s nice to make wines in California with the freedom to explore. Delia’s unscientific poll on the 2015 Viader Black Label ($125), with cabernet sauvignon (48%), cabernet franc (21%), malbec (10%) and syrah (21%) finds that it is preferred by the younger members of the family over the traditional Bordeaux-style releases.

Some years ago, eight acres of estate syrah were planted in a new hillside vineyard.  While Alan has led this new twist and the syrah is evident on the nose and palate, the Black Label is still elegantly structured and balanced. Only 30 barrels were produced.

Malbec is featured in the small production 2016 Viader Homenaje ($150), blended equally with cabernet sauvignon.  Homenaje is a tribute to many people as well as the Viader Argentinian roots.  Although it has not been officially released, this unique Bordeaux blend is already exuding the fine character of the other releases.

These are refined wines for discerning palates. However, those wanting to indulge themselves into a memorable Napa Valley wine experience should schedule a private tasting at the Viader’s Howell Mountain estate.  Sitting out on a deck, overlooking the vineyards with views of the valley below, tasting exquisite California wines paired with fine cheeses is where you want to be.  There may be a better way to spend an afternoon, but nothing is coming to mind.


Discover LaRue Wines

 

I wondered, as a drove to meet Katy Wilson at the secluded Emmaline Ann Vineyard in Sebastopol, what would motivate a young winemaker to join the fray of great pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay production in Sonoma County.  Before I left the vineyard, ninety minutes later, I had my answer.

Katy Wilson, owner/winemaker of LaRue Wines, has had a strategy in place since she crafted a business plan for a small production

Katy Wilson

winery in Agricultural Business 101 at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Raised in farming, this could simply be a “she drove a tractor before a car” kind of story, but, a closer look reveals someone who, at a very young age, impressed her colleagues who, in turn encouraged and motivated her to make her own wines.

After stints in the Napa Valley and New Zealand, Katy settled at Flowers Vineyard and Winery on the Sonoma coast, then Kamen Estate Wines in Sonoma. Nine years ago, at age 26, Katy was offered some grapes and decided to launch LaRue Wines, vowing to limit production to 500 cases.  She named her new winery in honor of her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell, who she described as inspirational and unique.

In addition to LaRue, Katy serves as a winemaker for Anaba Wine, Claypool Cellars, Reeve Wines and Smith Story Wine Cellars, all in Sonoma County.

Fine wines begin with great stock and Katy currently sources her grapes from five distinctive vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Today’s tasting began with her chardonnay release from a known Green Valley of Russian River Valley vineyard that has sourced grapes to Sonoma County icons like William Selyem, Kosta Browne and DeLoach since the early eighties.

The 2016 LaRue “Heintz Vineyard” Chardonnay ($60) expressed floral and mineral notes on the nose with vibrant citrus and stone fruit flavors through the finish.  Aged 17 months in French oak with 50% malolactic fermentation, Katy follows her instincts here,

Heintz Vineyard

that it’s sometimes best to leave the wine alone and let it develop peacefully.  Only 50 cases were produced.

As we tasted, Katy explained that the 2015 LaRue Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($60) had just began to open up during the last few months. Aged 20 months in French oak, 25% new, I found classic aromas of cherry and spice and a very balanced flavor profile and rich mouthfeel. At 240 cases, it represents about 40% of their total production.

With an east facing vineyard located west of Sebastopol that enjoys morning sun, the 2014 LeRue “Thornridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($70) used pommard and 115 clone to produce a “powerful, yet elegant” wine with dark stone fruits, berry aromas and  complex, integrated classic flavors.  Production is limited to fifty cases.

I was impressed with all of Wilson’s releases, but thought of the 2014 LaRue “Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($80) as special and

LaRue Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir

unique, from dirt to drink.  It is uniquely derived from some of the county’s oldest pinot noir vines, grown at 900-1,200 feet elevations, two miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is partly whole-cluster pressed and aged for 32 months in 50% new French oak, which is very unique.

The “Coastlands” bouquet is rustic and earthy, with notes of dark fruit and spice.  The palate is very textural and classically fruit-

forward while the finish hangs on. Only a few barrels of this wine were produced.

Grown on six-acres south of Sebastopol, the grapes sourced for the 2014 LaRue Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70) come from volcanic ash soil, rare to this region. This release expressed solid spice and mineral elements along with the classic structure and pinot fruit.

In all the releases, there was a balance that made them very approachable to drink now while understanding that they will continue to mature for years.

Coastlands Vineyard

Since we were sitting in a handsome garden overlooking the vineyard, we ended the tasting with the 2014 LaRue “Emmaline Ann Vineyard” Pinot Noir.  The aromas were spiced and heavy with a forest-floor quality, yet the flavors were crisp and toasted.

My first impressions of LaRue wines were aptly described by the Prince of Pinot, William “Rusty” Gaffney M.D. when he said, “Her wines have a certain transcendent aura that reminds you why you fell in love with Pinot Noir in the first place.”

I plan to explore each vintage of Katy Wilson’s LaRue wines.


The Past, Present and Future of Rombauer

 

Beginning with the vintage 1980 Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon and later, a 1982 Napa Valley Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards has built a reputation for fine wines and has enjoyed a loyal following for nearly forty years.  The inspiration for the Rombauer brand, its Founder Koerner Rombauer, passed away, May 10, at the age of 83.

Born and raised in Escondido, CA, Rombauer honed his flying skills in the California Air National Guard before becoming a commercial pilot for Braniff Airways in Texas  The family re-located to the Napa Valley in 1972, where he developed a passion for wine that led to

Koerner Rombauer

the establishment of the winery.

 

He remained active in philanthropic and community activities throughout his adult life including the establishment of the $4 million Joan Rombauer UCSF Endowed Fellowship, to honor his wife, who died in 2002. Koerner Rombauer will be missed in the wine community and remembered for much more than his famous chardonnay.

 

Days before his passing, we enjoyed lunch and a tasting hosted by winemaker Richie Allen, owner KR Rombauer and Duncan, his four year-old English chocolate lab. They are excited about the quality of their current releases and looking toward an exciting future with their remarkable property along the Silverado Trail.

After a welcoming glass of the round, fruit-forward 2017 Rombauer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($24), we strolled into the cavernous caves in search of the 2014 Rombauer Napa Valley Merlot($45), sourced from the cooler Carneros region. Added cabernet sauvignon (21%) and petit verdot (2%) make it a rich, flavorful “left bank” blend from California soil.  With too much heat on the valley floor for merlot, KR explained that they are seeking vines in the cooler Coombsville district in southeast Napa to increase production.

Rombauer produces about 300,000 cases of wine per year, 200,000 in chardonnay alone. As they remain in a comfortable place, Rombauer fully grasps the concept that good is the enemy of great.  They are active in the wine community, not afraid of being inspired by what their neighbors are producing. Winemaker Richie Allen quipped that it was not uncommon to KR to show up unannounced with competitors releases for an impromptu blind tasting.

While known for their chardonnay, merlot and zinfandel, Allen curated a tasting of special select or

KR Rombauer

single-vineyard releases not well-known to those outside of the Rombauer membership family, included a best-of-the-best chardonnay. The 2016 Rombauer Proprietor Selection Chardonnay($70) is actually a blend of the best juice from three Carneros vineyards, including Sangiacomo. With hints of banana on-the-nose, the rich stone fruit flavors add some sweetness, but the wine is dry, expressing a Burgundian minerality throughout.

Sourced from the best grapes and best vineyards in the St.Helena, Stag’s Leap and Calistoga AVAs, the 2014 Rombauer Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($100) exudes big, concentrated, but balanced flavors with an 15.1% alcohol content. Likewise, the elegant “right bank” style 2012 Rombauer Le Meilleur Du Chai Napa Valley ($115) translates to “best of the cellar,” and is aged seventeen months in 100% new French oak.

Rombauer Winemaker Richie Allen

After producing the first vintage, Rombauer was so impressed by the fruit, they purchased the Stice Lane Vineyard in St. Helena.  The barrel-fermented, 100% 2014 Rombauer Stice Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($115) has dense flavors of cassis and dark berries with sleek tannins on the finish.

One take-a-way from the tasting was the 2015 Rombauer El Dorado County Zinfandel ($35), dense, rich and affordable with a 15.9% alcohol content. The complexity in the aromas and on the palate is clear throughout this wine from great El Dorado County grapes, available at cheaper costs.

After a delicious lunch featuring recipes inspired by the Joy of Cooking cookbook, co-authored by Koerner’s great-aunt, Irma Rombauer, KR and Richie unveiled the barrel-

Rombauer “Joy” late-harvest wine

fermented 2015 Joy Late Harvest Chardonnay ($55), enhanced by botrytis, as the perfect accompaniment to the cookbook’s dessert recipes.  From the scripted bottle, the color to the honey, soft fruit, nuts and spice flavors, they succeeded. Bring on the crème brûlée.

The Rombauer brand is as strong as ever and there is an excitement and attitude in the air that signals a compelling future. Koerner Rombauer would be proud.


Von Strasser Wines Diversified

 

Rudy Von Strasser has made his own wine in the Napa Valley since 1990, focusing exclusively on cabernet sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain AVA. In fact, he led a two-year movement that forged consensus and completed the process for a 1998 AVA designation for the district.

With over 25 years experience making cabernet sauvignon at the same site, Rudy sought change.  He wanted to diversify  his palate of wines and begin to explore regions outside of the Napa Valley.

In 2017, Von Strasser sold his Diamond Mountain facility, purchased the Lava Vine Winery in Calistoga, moved his operation and began to shoulder new challenges.  Lava Vine had focused on varietals other than cabernet sauvignon and his initial priority is to continue that format while elevating the label.

Prior to developing the familiar Von Strasser label, Rudy Von Strasser graduated from the enology program at UC Davis and became the first U.S. intern for Chateau Lafite Rothschild.  After a stint at Trefethen Winery in the valley, Rudy and his wife Rita took the bold step, in 1990, to purchase the old Roddis Estate Winery and Von Strasser Wines was born.

Now is their time to begin again, although Rudy will continue to produce his familiar single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon. He seemed

Winemaker Rudy Von Strasser

excited as we sat in his Calistoga tasting room one morning with Huckleberry, the official winery pup, to taste some of the new releases of Von Strasser 2.0.

It began with a 2016 Lava Vine Gruner Veltliner ($30) from a one-acre vineyard on Diamond Mountain.  Whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, this is a crisp wine with pungent aromas of green apples, citrus and stone fruit flavors and a soft minerality that makes it food-friendly.

As Gruner Veltliner originates from Austria, verdelho is a popular white varietal from Portugal.  The 2016 Lava Vine Verdelho ($30) is sourced from a Suisun Valley vineyard and fermented in all stainless steel, resulting in a zesty summer wine with a healthy acidity.

Admittedly partial to grenache, the 2014 Lava Vine Napa Valley

Grenache ($45) stood out among the new varietal releases.  Aromatic baked fruit and blueberries on the nose were followed by

2016 Lava Vine Verdelho

deep, complex flavors of strawberry, spice and roasted nuts throughout the finish.

It would have been hard to leave without tasting some of Rudy’s noted cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blend releases.  He obliged with three including the 2012 Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Post Vineyard ($80) from a site first planted in 1992. Malbec (10%) and petit verdot (5%) were added and the blend aged two years in 50% new oak.  These wines are all about the stock, local Diamond Mountain terroir and Von Strasser’s not so secret weapon:  his palate.

With musk and forest floor aromas followed by acute black cherry and spice flavors, “Post” is consistently one of the highest rated Von Strasser wines.

Using root stock from Martha’s Vineyard, first planted on Diamond Mountain in 1968, the 2012 Von Strasser Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), also with added malbec and petit verdot delivers a rich mouthfeel, solid tannins and flavors of dark fruit and espresso.

Von Strasser Sori Bricco Vineyard Red Wine

The last wine was a unique red blend from the high elevation Sori Bricco Vineyard owned by Lindy Johnson who was described as a mid-wife from Berkeley.  An equal blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot with a hint of merlot, the 2012 Von Strasser Sori Bricco Vineyard Red Wine ($80) was dominated by layered savory flavors including mushroom, black pepper, spice and coffee.  The vineyard name translates to “sunny hillside” and the site is synonymous with lush fruit.

It should be noted that Von Strasser is beginning to experiment with pinot noir and has secured partnerships in the prestigious Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations.

I was impressed with the Von Strasser palate of wines, new and old.  The future will certainly produce exciting releases that can be enjoyed at the remodeled tasting room on the Silverado Trail near Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga. The new facility is also commercially zoned for dinners and musical events that should add to the appeal of the fine wines. 

I plan to keep an open eye on the continuing diversification of the Von Strasser Family of Wines.


Dutton-Goldfield Celebrates Twenty Years

 

Winemaker Dan Goldfield is all about the area.  His local neighborhood consists of some 60 non-contiguous parcels, part of 1,300 acres of the Dutton Ranch vineyards within the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA.

The Dutton Family has owned and farmed this land since Warren Dutton began acquiring land in 1964.  Twenty years ago, Steve

Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield

Dutton and Goldfield merged their skills and created Dutton-Goldfield to pursue a passion for creating primarily cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir. Over that time, they have achieved success by making the wines that they like to drink. 

As a lab chemist ardent about the outdoors, Dan Goldfield did the only logical thing, he earned an MS Degree in Enology from UC Davis and began making wine with early stints at Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg.  His love of cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir led him to La Crema and Hartford Court before partnering with Steve to release the first Dutton-Goldfield vintage in 1998.

Goldfield’s comment that, “You shouldn’t make a wine unless it is different” is revealing of his style.  Nuance like this makes their palate of wines appealing.

As a fifth generation farmer, Steve Dutton has worked this land literally his whole life.  His father planted the family’s first chardonnay vineyard in 1967, the year Steve was born. The Green Valley soils are literally on his jeans and figuratively in his genes.

Truly pushing the envelope requires exploration outside of the neighborhood.  In addition to the Dutton Ranch vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield sources grapes from Russian River Valley, Marin County, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County and Sonoma Coast AVA’s. Dan led me through a sample of their current releases including the first wine I have tasted from Marin County vineyards.

The 2017 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling Marin County is sourced from 25 year-old, dry-farmed vines in northwest Marin. Dan aptly described it as a cool-climate, Austrian-style riesling; bone dry, aromatic, with a rich mouthfeel and nice long finish.

Next on our tasting menu was a flight of pinot noir releases representing three AVA’s.

Cold-soaking pinot noir is commonly done to extract flavors and color from the skins at an early stage. It gives the juice a head start in developing richer flavors and softer tannins.  From an east-facing vineyard the heart of the appellation, the 2015 Emerald Ridge Pinot Noir Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 50% new, displayed those characteristics with deep berry and cherry flavors, clear spice elements and, yes, soft tannins.

Wine Enthusiast magazine awarded this vintage 94-points.

Impacted by a wet 2015 Spring, the grapes in the Freestone Vineyard were harvested early and yielded little.  As a result, aromas and flavors of the 2015 Freestone Hill Pinot Noir Russian River Valley are highly concentrated with layered dark berry, red fruit flavors and a significant spice element.

Surrounded by protected redwoods in the far north Sonoma Coast, six miles from the ocean, the 32-acre Putnam Vineyard sits above the fog line and is subject to cooler temperatures and above average rainfall, resulting in a longer growing season.  As the winery highlights the “wild character” of 2015 Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, I found a savory, herbal component that complimented the rich berry flavors.  The complex aromas and flavors of this release confirmed my preference for Sonoma Coast wines. 

Nearly fifty years ago, much of the original stock in the Rued Vineyard turned out to be “chardonnay musque” and it has produced rich, aromatic wines since, always with a floral quality.  From a low-yield vintage, the 2015 Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley, with 100% malolactic fermentation and multiple lees stirrings, exudes intensely concentrated flavors and a rich minerality through the finish.

When asked to recommend a Sonoma County syrah, the Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah is my first thought since

Dutton-Goldfield tasting room on Highway 116

tasting its balanced complexity years ago.  The vineyard location is described as a “warm spot in a cold area,” and the 2015 vintage adds depth to the bouquet and flavors with vanilla spice, courtesy of new wood.

A little research will reveal how highly regarded Dutton-Goldfield wines are.  Their terroir driven releases are distinctive, but share the consistent high character of  carefully crafted wines. It’s not hard to imagine twenty more years of success. 


Pine Ridge Winery Turns 40

 

Many years ago, I purchased a 1982 vintage of Pine Ridge Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, cellared it and drank it in 1990 at an anniversary party.  It was a time when my palate was developing and I began to be more circumspect in my wines choices.  Since then, the number of wineries and choices in the Napa Valley have grown exponentially while Pine Ridge Vineyards has continued

tosustain and evolve and is now celebrating its 40th Birthday at their Stag’s Leap District location.

The keys to their success are the same as other producers of fine wines:  good stock in the right terroir, meticulous farming practices, thoughtful enology and the best oak available.  The strategic way that Pine Ridge has grown their winery to ensure sustained quality is a story.

Pine Ridge owns and farms vineyards in five prestigious Napa Valley appellations to produce cabernet sauvignon and cool-climate chardonnay: four in Stag’s Leap, three in Carneros and one each in Rutherford, Oakville and Howell Mountain.  As the weather and the vintages vary, they will always be assured some of the best fruit in the valley.

Pine Ridge also has a veteran winemaking team that has worked together for nearly a decade.  At their recent birthday celebration,

Pine Ridge Estate Vineyards

General Manager and Winemaker Michael Beaulac introduced Vineyard Manager Gustavo Avina as someone who understands the local soils and vines as well as anyone in the valley.  Avina has been with Pine Ridge since 2003 and his team has met the challenges in working with many different microclimates and diverse soil-types including, but not limited to clay, sandy loam, volcanic, and silty clay loam.

Beaulac joined the Pine Ridge group in 2009 after years of developing his craft while working at nearby notables Murphy-Goode,

Winemaker and General Manager Michael Beaulac

Markham Vineyards and St.Supery Winery.  He enthusiastically described the current and future vintages as we entered the elaborate network of caves.  Before we barrel-tasted three future cabernet sauvignon releases, Michael spoke of his excitement about soon adding a sauvignon blanc to their palate of wines. In recent years, many established Napa Valley producers have become serious about sauvignon blanc and Beaulac believes that Pine Ridge will be among them.

My first taste of Pine Ridge cabernet sauvignon in years came from a barrel as Michael removed the “bung” and used a “thief” to transfer the juice to my glass. The 2016 and 2017 futures need and will get more time but I was impressed with the expressive flavors and balance that was already at hand.

Before leaving the depths of the underground grotto, we visited Club 47,a very private lounge with comfortable furnishings, soft lighting and a large Chihuly glass art installation. The cave room is used for special options such as Savor Pine Ridge, a VIP tastings of the five cabernet sauvignon wines paired with “small bites” dishes from the in-house chef.

As anticipated, all the cabernet sauvignon releases are stunning wines.  The Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($140) follows past releases from the steep, hillside vineyards that surround the winery, dating back to 1978.  There is such history here that the stag supposedly took his final leap from the cliffs atop these vineyards.

Beaulac describes a love for the Howell Mountain appellation, that at 2,000 feet elevation, is different from others in the valley because of cooler temperatures and rocky, volcanic soils that produce small-cluster fruit with intense flavors. The Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($150) has been sourced from the estate Los Posadas Vineyard since 1986 and typically earns ratings in the mid-nineties.

The cooler Carneros appellation, exposed to foggy days, has long been the ideal terroir for chardonnay like the inaugural single-vineyard Carneros Collines Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($48) whose rich mouthfeel is derived from sur lee aging and full malolactic fermentation.

Michael Beaulac and Gustavo Amina in the vineyards

Equally impressive releases included the 2013 Petit Verdot ($75), from the original Stag’s Leap vineyards and the bone-dry 2016 Chenin Blanc ($38), sourced from Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta region.

As impressive as the site and facilities are, Beaulac spoke of an expansion project designed to enhance the tasting experience for current and future members. Clearly, Pine Ridge does not plan to sit on its laurels for the next forty years.