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Pride Mountain Vineyards, or, Wait, I’m confused, is this Napa or Niagra?

March 23, 2011

Not that we were expecting it to be blisteringly hot in the valley that last week of February, but frost? SNOW? Seriously?

We left NYC right after a freakishly warm jeans-and-t-shirt style weekend to arrive in San Fran and rush off to our 10:30 am tasting at Pride Mountain. Driving through a freezing fog and icy roads, we pulled into Pride’s parking lot, replete with little mounds of the white stuff we missed so much after being dumped on incessantly in our New York winter. The popular refrain for our next few days in  the valley would be “Oh, New York? You should have come last week! It was 80 degrees!”. Thankfully, those folks were generally pouring us wine which allowed them to escape being clubbed by whatever hefty object I could find within arm’s reach.

But, back to Pride. I wanted to sample some of the wineries well above the valley floor, or that at least source some of their grapes from mountain vineyards. I tend to lean more towards the cooler climate attributes in wines I enjoy (not that others don’t have their place on my wine rack) and wanted to see what California had to offer in that regard. Pride fits the bill nicely with 83 planted acres (the family owns 235 in all) spread along the peaks of the Mayacamas Mountains at about 2,000 feet. The fun part wandering around Pride’s vineyards is that they span both Napa and Sonoma counties, with an obvious demarcation winding through the property keeping the vines far apart so they don’t have to associate with each other. Also, if you park on the Sonoma side of the lot you don’t have to make an appointment and there’s no fee for tasting. Just kidding.

The Pride family has done some serious research into the soil on their property, which varies surprisingly across relatively short distances. They’ve taken a number of core samples (on display near the tasting room), carefully mapped out the boundaries of differing soil formations, and planted according to what soils they theorized would ideally serve each varietal. A rather impressive endeavor which has been regularly refined through the years. Pride’s plantings are predominantly of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with a good amount of cab franc, petit verdot, viognier, and even some syrah.

The tasting begins with a glass of the viognier, which had a pleasantly bright acidity and relatively voluptuous mouth feel, which we carried into their caves. These “caves” are actually a massive, perpetually 59 degree, 23,000 square foot labyrinth of passageways and dead-ends stacked with barrels and more barrels. Our affable tasting guide was very knowledgeable and offered up a number of barrel tastings on our walk through. I always enjoy the experience of getting some insight into how wine develops so early in its life cycle. We were treated to some of their flagship merlot at various stages of barrel age, where the arranged marriage of oak and fruit grew into a bit of a love affair after 18 months. Their merlot is quite nice, with tremendous fruit but carrying the acidity I was looking for and along with enough tannin to suggest it will have a long and interesting life.

Exiting the caves we looked at the snow covered peaks to the not-so-distant north (“you almost never see that!” yeah, great) and returned to the tasting room to sample some of their current releases. Their syrah was unfortunately sold out, but the merlots and cabs were quite good.

By now the sun had burned through the ice fog, it had warmed up to a balmy 42 degrees, and it was time to head down into the valley for a bite. All in all, Pride impressed with some cool(er) climate wines that for me definitely tempered what was delicious fruit with a satisfying acidity.

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