Pine Ridge Vineyards, in the Stags Leap District, lies tucked beneath a ridge of pines, with a full view of the rugged palisades that speak to the dramatic geologic origins of our home and its world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon soils.
Your shipment this month includes our 2019 Locked Horns Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine we’re excited to share with you as the first release from our new series of single vineyard Cabernets. You could say this is a project over forty years in the making. Since our founding in 1978 and beginning with our Andrus Estate Vineyard in the Stags Leap District, Pine Ridge has amassed 160 acres of vines in five different Napa Valley sub-appellations. As Viticulture Director Gustavo Aviña knows well, each site is different, with its own geography, mesoclimate and soils, and correspondingly, different clones, rootstocks and farming requirements. These variations create the conditions for unique wines, and our new single vineyard program allows us to highlight and share these fascinating forces of nature with you.
In 2019 we produced two single vineyard Cabernets from the Stags Leap District, the Locked Horns in your shipment and one from our Circle Hill Vineyard, which will be released at a future date. Perhaps it’s natural we would debut this program with wines from our home appellation. As Gustavo described in our September newsletter, despite their proximity the four vineyards we own and farm in Stags Leap are quite different from one another, especially when it comes to soil types. With the 2021 vintage you’ll have the opportunity to taste single vineyard Cabernets from each of these sites.
Our Locked Horns Vineyard is a great place to start. When our founders purchased this 6.5 acre site in 1985 they knew it represented hallowed ground. After all, Locked Horns is immediately adjacent to one of Napa Valley’s most famous vineyards, FAY, a site planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1960s by Nathan Fay, who wisely ignored the naysayers who warned that Cabernet would not grow well in the cooler environs of the Stags Leap District. Today, an old river rock wall is all that separates Locked Horns from FAY (now owned by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars), making the two vineyards literally a stone’s throw apart. And there you have the reason for the name Locked Horns; just as two young stags might lock horns in rivalry, our Locked Horns and their FAY Cabernet Sauvignon could be said to engage in similar competition, although ours is entirely friendly!
Gustavo goes into more detail about Locked Horns in his article this month, and you’ll learn that the site is one that requires a gentle touch and relatively little irrigation. I’ve learned that a soft touch in the winery with the gentle extraction of color, tannin and flavor is also the best way to handle the grapes from Locked Horns. In fact, the lesson with Locked Horns might just be to let well enough alone. After 35 vintages we know what that piece of land can produce; we just need to let it do what it does best.
Josh Widaman Estate Winemaker
I’m very excited about our new single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon program at Pine Ridge, as described by Estate Winemaker Josh Widaman in this month’s newsletter. Having farmed our estate vineyards for the two decades I’ve been at Pine Ridge, it’s great to see the vineyards and sites I’m most proud of get the recognition they deserve.
Locked Horns Vineyard is certainly deserving. As Josh mentions the site is contiguous to the famed FAY Vineyard, towards the southeastern end of the Stags Leap District AVA at the base of the Stags Leap Palisades. It’s a flat vineyard, very uniform, 100% planted to the Cabernet Clone 7. The soils are loamy and well-drained, clearly an alluvial deposit resulting from millions of years of erosion on the east side of the valley.
Over my years farming Locked Horns, I’ve come to believe that less is more. I probably shouldn’t say this, but it’s actually a relatively easy vineyard to farm. It doesn’t need as much irrigation as our other Stags Leap District vineyards, just a few times a season. It’s one of those sites that just seems to know how to uniformly ripen grapes, it doesn’t need a lot of coaxing.
One practice I did start using at Locked Horns several years ago was to apply what’s called a “compost tea” to the vineyard. Compost teas, which contain nutrients and microbes, are known to improve soil quality. The microbes in particular are important, as they help break down organic matter into particles that can be taken up by the vines for additional nutrition. A couple of times a year I apply the compost tea to Locked Horns via irrigation, which directs it straight to the root zone. I immediately see the difference. The leaves become darker which helps with photosynthesis and ripening. I notice the vines are better able to handle heat stress, reducing even further the need for irrigation. Simply put, the compost tea puts life back into the soil, which is essential to our efforts to farm our vineyards in a sustainable manner.
I’ve long thought that Locked Horns had the potential to make a very high-quality single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I have every confidence that you will wholeheartedly agree!
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