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.
As winemaker for Pine Ridge, I constantly look for ways to improve the quality of our wines. Don’t get me wrong, I think our wines are fantastic. But not being one to rest on my (our) laurels, I’m always exploring how to make each release even better.
That’s why I’m excited about a new project at Pine Ridge: remodeling the winery! It’s an undertaking we’ve been contemplating and planning for since I arrived. Like many Napa Valley wineries founded in the 1970s, Pine Ridge’s winemaking facilities have morphed and grown along with our needs. And while they have served us well, the remodel – which will eventually encompass all of our production areas – gives us the opportunity to engineer and build a bespoke winery entirely suited to our estate vineyards and our goal of crafting high end Napa Valley red and white wines.
Phase 1 of the project began earlier this year when we razed the structure on the north side of the winery where we bring in the fruit. We’re laying a brand-new concrete crush pad and we’ve purchased a new receiving hopper and destemmer (which removes grapes from the clusters) for processing the grapes. In the last couple of decades there have been big improvements in this type of equipment, and these upgrades will ensure that the fruit we send to the tanks for fermentation is as clean (i.e. no stems, leaves, etc.) as possible. Our crew does a great job picking clean fruit in the vineyard, but this equipment will take it up another notch.
In the coming months (and years) we’ll turn our attention to the Napa Cabernet Cellar and the room with the working title of the Fortis Winemaking Studio. Both areas will be custom designed to accommodate our Napa Valley Cabernet and high-end reserve, appellation and single vineyard wines, with tanks right-sized for these smaller, vineyard-driven lots. The Fortis Winemaking Studio will also be a place of experimentation, where we’ll explore different fermentation methods and aging vessels. I always say that if you don’t conduct a few experiments each vintage you’ve missed an opportunity. It’s part of continually striving to improve the quality of our wines. A fun factoid about the Fortis Winemaking Studio is that it also happens to be the original Pine Ridge Vineyards tank room from back in 1979!
Down the line we’ll also take a look at rejuvenating our caves, increasing ventilation and cooling. This is the place, after all, where our wines rest in barrels, and we want to ensure we provide an ideal environment for our vintages as they progress through barrel elevage.
We are hoping the entire remodel project will take only 3 years (although it could take more), which seems like a long time until you consider how long it takes to bring a wine from vine to bottle. And while I wish I could wave a magic wand and have the project completed, I know that doing things with thoughtfulness and purpose is the right way to proceed. Like wine, great things take time, and I know our patience will be rewarded.
Josh Widaman Estate Winemaker
When I’m asked about what makes the Stags Leap District special, there’s always one thought that comes to mind. While there’s no doubt that other Napa Valley appellations produce excellent, even world-class wines, I’ve found that most AVAs also have certain areas that aren’t as conducive to growing the highest quality grapes. Stags Leap, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any “subpar” sites. Simply put, it’s hard to find a mediocre vineyard – or wine – from this appellation.
It’s my experience with our vineyards in the Stags Leap District that leads me to this conviction. Pine Ridge has four distinct vineyards in the AVA totaling 47 acres, land we have owned and farmed for decades. In fact, we were one of the first wineries to plant grapes here, back in the 1970s when Pine Ridge was founded by Gary Andrus.
Most of you are familiar with our Pine Ridge Estate, which surrounds the winery close to the center of the Stags Leap District. At 24 acres encompassing terraces, hills and flats, the Estate is one of our most prized and varied vineyards. Two more Stags Leap vineyards, Cornerstone and Circle Hill, are about a half mile up the Silverado Trail, close to the border of the Yountville AVA. Just to the south of our estate is our Locked Horn Vineyard, which sits adjacent to the famed FAY Vineyard (one of the first sites to be planted to Cabernet in Stags Leap). Aside from a small amount of Malbec, all our Stags Leap District vineyards are planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Although these four vineyards are within two miles of each other at most, they are distinctly different, especially when it comes to soils. To ensure the highest quality fruit, we tailor our irrigation regimes to each vineyard and its soil types. For example, the Pine Ridge Estate has volcanically derived rocky, sandy soils that drain water easily. We water this site frequently, but at a relatively low volume, partly due to this drainage and partly because of the vineyard’s steep terraces, which might erode if we applied too much water at once. Cornerstone and Circle Hill are flat sites with deeper clay soils that tend to retain water; we irrigate these vineyards less frequently but with higher volumes. Locked Horns, also a flat site, features fertile, loamy soils and doesn’t require much water at all.
I count myself as very fortunate to be farming vineyards in what is truly one of the finest AVAs in Napa Valley. The people who first planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the Stags Leap District, including Pine Ridge’s founder, were true visionaries, and I’m honored to carry on this legacy.
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