We start another day of our Napa Valley tour at Pine Ridge Vineyards. Somewhat new to Napa’s scene, in 1978 Gary Andrus founded Pine Ridge in Stags Leap AVA. His goal: to recreate Bordeaux.
As you might notice, Stags Leap is a mini valley within Napa Valley. Pine Ridge’s 47 acres of terraced vineyards catch the Eastern sunrise but cool quickly as the sun rolls West. They also own/use around 200 acres throughout Napa Valley.
They also have a demo vineyard with various grapes and trellising forms.
Chris (our tall guide) starts with Pine Ridge’s near-ubiquitous white: 2014’s Chenin Blanc + Viognier: plump melon, yet more citric than I remember (with only 7 grams of residual sugar per litre). For $10-15ish, and as a break from Napa Cab-land, I still find it very good (4 of 5).
Their 2014 Encantado Rosé mimics Bordeaux pinks with cabernet and merlot. It is off-dry but tighter, with strawberry pith, and a slightly more serious character than Chenin Viognier. At $24 and only sold from the winery, this rosé fills a niche (for sweaty guests and staff) but you could find better for less, still good tho (3 of 5).
Next, Chris pits a Chardonnay-off. Both 2014s. From those hobbit hills: their own Le Petit Clos Stags’ Leap Chardonnay -vs- Dijon Clones Carneros Chardonnay
Dijon Clones Carneros looks a bright lemon with gold glitter. Aromas smell pronounced of guava, kiwi, shaved lemon peel, and almond. It is dry, with medium lemony acid, extra alcohol (14.7), and a medium body. But aromas dominate other concerns.
Meanwhile, Le Petit Clos comes from the hill above us:
That “unfortunately” is because Cabernet will soon replace Chardonnay in Le Petite Clos vineyard. Regardless, 2014 also shows a pronounced but nuttier nose of marzipan, vanilla, white melon. The palate seems similar enough, again with an oomph of alcohol, but this feels more mellow, viscous, less precise than Dijon Clones. Fresh low toasted oak (50% new French) and nuts lead to lemon pith, vanilla, light musk, and minerality.
Le Petit Clos is more complex, rich, lengthy, and wooded than the Dijon Clones. Cooler climate Carneros also gives Dijon Clones a sharper acidic edge, that I personally prefer. At $38 Dijon Clones is very good (4 of 5), but you can pay $75 for winery exclusivity and rarity with Le Petit Clos, which is also very good (4 of 5).
We head into the winery:
These tanks all tie to an app on the winemaker’s iPhone. With a text Michael Beaulac can tweak temperatures or start a pump-over. Just past the stainless cathedral are the caves:
As with Beringer (read here), Chris samples us on a barrel of 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. It looks a dark purple. Acid, tannin, and body all feel medium, balanced, but portioned. 18 months in oak have lent dominant cedar, tobacco aromas backed by bright but deep, black fruit, cassis, orange peel, light clove, vanilla and ending dusty wood. 40% of the final wine’s oak influence will come from new Pennsylvania staves.
A cost shaving and interesting choice, when Napa lives and dies by French barrels. But don’t think Pine Ridge cuts corners. They have a two mile long pump hose. Our walk through the Bat Cave also finds a high tech racking machine.
This pump sucks barrel juice off of its dead yeasts and skins into that tank, and then back into fresh barrels, all under the gentle, anaerobic environment of Nitrogen. Science means your Cabs look clear, feel smooth, and taste fresh.
At the tunnel’s heart we find the posh dining cave.
Thirsty again, we taste 2012’s Napa Valley Petite Verdot (mostly from here in Stags Leap). The color looks a rich ruby with a short clear rim. Aromas of blackberry skin and jam, blueberry, baking spices, cardamon are clear and clean. The palate feels tannic and big. Flavors turn from bright orange peel to blackberry juice, vanilla dust. 2012’s Petite Verdot is approachable but has years ahead of it. Very good (4 of 5). We buy one for variety’s sake.
Chris then pits 2013 versus 2012 Oakville Cabernet against each other.
’13 looks deep and purple, is dustier than ’12, slightly gamey with a notable tinge of Brett, flinty, toasty tobacco, black berried cocoa powdered with great acidity, great tannins, and great body.
’12 looks lighter, ruby-tinged, with bright, up front redder fruits like raspberry, red apple, and plum, candied orange, mint, and fringes of vanilla, blue cheese, and caramel sauce. Tannins feel softer, acidity a wedge higher.
Nonetheless, 2012 and 2013 Oakville Cabernets are like teenage twins: similar yet now different enough when side by side. ’13 is too young but has a fab tinge of wildness about it that could mature into something quite interesting. ’12 is showing most of its cards, but could roll with them for another decade. Both are outstanding (5 of 5) and $85.
We return to this hobbit-dwelling land, tree-lined 47 acre estate with Pine Ridge’s Stags Leap Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
The core looks a clear but deeeep ruby, with brick-colored fringe, and sticky legs. Medium plus aromas of tobacco (18 months 60% new French oak), lavender, mint fold into black and blue berries. Acids feel mild, but intense tannins and alcohol (14.7 abv), make for an ash dusted, warm, textured drink. Strangely, one could drink this now (with a steak or serious mushroom risotto to handle the tannins) but in five years it will be ideal. It costs $125 and is outstanding cab (5 of 5).
Starved and teeth-stained, Chris grabs us boxed lunches and we quietly munch away, watching a cat sun itself in the courtyard.
Pine Ridge does what Napa does well: make clean, premium Chardonnay and Cabernet that demand high scores. Most wines show a bit less body, more finesse and delicate touch than say Beringer or others. Their 47 acre amphitheater of vines charm us. The wines from it are stellar. However, offerings from throughout the valley and beyond, although quite good, muddle the house image (we also tried their Washington Cab). This is more a philosophical complaint about wineries creating “brand extensions” to please more people with a growing array of options.
Quibbles aside, Pine Ridge is a lovely spot.