In 1989, Jim and Carolyn Pride purchased the Historic Summit Ranch situated right on the Napa -Sonoma county line atop Spring Mountain establishing Pride Mountain Vineyards. As retirement was upon them, the Prides initially wanted to buy a vineyard from which they could sell grapes locally. They quickly realized growing grapes was a full time job. As part of that transition to the next phase of their lives, Carolyn would stay up at the property and manage the operations during the week while Jim traveled and taught classes for Pride Institute, the international practice management firm he founded for dentists, returning on weekends to help run the property.
Photos Courtesy of Wine Routes / Pride Mountain Vineyards
Things quickly evolved as the Prides bought every viticulture textbook from the UC Davis bookstore to learn how to build and scale their venture. By 1998, the Prides began welcoming guests and word had gotten out that they were making some amazing wines. The rest is history and today the Prides are making some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley.
In 2004, a new chapter began. Unfortunately, Jim had passed away and his children Steve and Suzanne purchased the property. This was a critical inflection point as the key tenets were still in place, high quality grapes and crafting the best possible wines, but the process completely shifted with regards to the overall approach.
In the vineyards, they have experimented, studied and changed every aspect of how they grow grapes. “That means getting the right amount of sunlight on the grapes, getting the shoots to stop growing earlier rather than later each summer, replanting blocks to get the right rootstocks and clones onto each of our 60 growing blocks and stewarding a healthy ecosystem in the vine rows,” said Steve.
Pride Mountain Vineyards is at over 2,000 feet in elevation, oriented on gentle slopes with a temperature swing during the main growing season that is quite mild of about 10 to 20 degrees. Their grapes are above the fog line and get sunshine from sunrise to sunset resulting in darker flavors and a richer texture in their red wines than sites that do not receive as much sunlight. The cool afternoons allow for a slower ripening giving way to more complex flavors in both their whites and reds.
For their Cabernet Sauvignon, they often do a comparison of their mountain top wines with those grown on the surrounding valley floor in the Napa Valley as well as sending the wines out to the lab to do a quantitative comparison. The mountain top Cabernet Sauvignons always have the highest levels of phenolic compounds, which are things like tannins that give the wines texture and richness, resulting in a weighty and dense mouthfeel, but they never bite on the finish. They also tend to have authentic flavors like cedar and fresh tobacco, giving the Cabernet Sauvignons distinction. “They never cross over into the candied overripe nature of so many expensive Cabernet Sauvignons and I attribute that first and foremost to our growing site and second to our winemaking decisions,” said Steve.
Photos Courtesy of Wine Routes / Pride Mountain Vineyards
The Prides also make a high elevation Viognier. For Steve, the choreography the grape displays as it transitions from the rich attack to the building verve with a fresh and lively finish keeps things interesting. The thrilling textural dance with the subtle floral and lovely stone fruit flavors offers a unique tasting that he wishes all wine enthusiasts got to experience.
Growing grapes has not always been easy as the 2020 Glass Fire ravaged the Spring Mountain community as well as Napa at large. The Pride family had about 60% of their fruit in. Although they harvested all their grapes, they ended up destroying all the 2020 wines that were harvested after the fire. “The good news about the 2020 reds is that they are gorgeous. The bad news is that we have a lot less of them,” said Steve. “I think our Spring Mountain community up here, which has always been close, became even closer and more supportive of each other as we collectively navigated the devastation wrought by the fire.”
As the Prides look toward the future, the goal is not necessarily to grow in size, but to constantly improve across all facets of the business. One interesting development: they will plant one to two acres of Syrah on a north-facing rocky slope as they have found it provides for an interesting complex wine hopefully to rival some of the best Syrahs in California.
“Here in California, if you plant Syrah on south facing slopes that get a lot of sun, it ripens too quickly and those complex flavors do not have time to develop. Thus my conviction [ok hope] is that the Glass Fire has revealed the most perfect location in the world to grow Syrah. Always having small ongoing projects like this keeps the enthusiasm level up for all of us,” said Steve.
The final piece of the puzzle with Pride Mountain Vineyards is world class hospitality. They are constantly thinking about the customer and reimagining the guest experience – doing everything in their power to ensure that guests drive away happier after their visit than when they arrived. The goal is to provide a tasting experience that is in tune with the needs of each customer or group, put the guests at ease, and make learning about wine fun and unpretentious.
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon- Fruit sourced from 65% Sonoma County and 35% Napa County. Dense flavors of blackberry, and boysenberry along with cedar and a touch of tobacco. With a silky texture and nice complexity, this wine leaves you with a nice long finish.
2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon- Dark, deep and mysterious are the first impressions of this seamless weighty Reserve Cab that is remarkable both for its satisfying density from the attack through the middle and for its silky soothing texture on the long persistent finish, which again is typical of all our 2018 reds. Concentrated flavors of dark cherry, cacao nibs, anise, cedar and rose flower infuse this strikingly smooth, balanced and rich Reserve Cab, which can be enjoyed early but, as always, has the gravitas for long-term cellaring.
2019 Syrah- Flavors of blackberry, licorice and a touch of lingering black pepper. Showcasing great acidity this wine closes with a smooth finish all the way through.
2020 Merlot- Fruit sourced from 70% Napa County and 30% Sonoma County. This lush wine has flavors of black currant, black cherry and chocolate. 91% Merlot & 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavors of blackberry, licorice and a touch of lingering black pepper. Showcasing great acidity this wine closes with a smooth finish all the way through.
Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at joe at winebulletin.net
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