As turnarounds go, and there are many of late, Pine Ridge barely registers on most wine Richter scales. It has not been among Napa’s best producers in years, yet its new wines show considerable improvement.
Pine Ridge’s rejuvenation is certainly not as significant as what has transpired at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, its neighbor in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. SLWC has gone from the dumps to proving it knows what good wine should taste like.
That wasn’t the problem at Pine Ridge. Its wines in recent vintages fall into the good to very good category (80 to 89 points), but given all the exciting Cabernets (and other wines) coming out of Napa these days, Pine Ridge’s have been by and large boring.
The wine that has impressed me most in recent years is its $14 Chenin Blanc-Viognier, which has carried both a California and Clarksburg appellation.
But with 2009, and a new winemaking regime in place, Pine Ridge has released a trio of outstanding Cabernets that are a cut or two above what’s been made in recent vintages. Not all of the 2009s are as exciting, but it’s evident from the trio, and a note from winemaker Michael Beaulac, that the team is both pleased by the progress and aware of past shortcomings. 2009 was Beaulac's first harvest with Pine Ridge.
What prompts these kinds of turnarounds? It begins with an awareness of the level of quality. That assessment can come from within the winery, or from the outside, be it from consumers, critics or sommeliers. Critique from within is rare; too many wineries have tunnel vision when it comes to their own wines—witness what happened with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The staff didn’t pick up the issues of flawed or iffy wines there (or if it did, the problem wasn’t addressed). SLWC got mixed reviews for its wines, with some critics hailing the quality. Yet one suspects that the reaction from wine drinkers fell in line with those of us who didn’t like the wines, and worse, given the prices and options, realized quality didn’t merit the price or attention.
The three Pine Ridge Cabernets that impressed me in recent blind tastings were the Howell Mountain ($90, 492 cases), Fortis ($150, 790 cases) and the Napa Valley bottling ($54, 6,000 cases). The Howell Mountain offers a fine expression of that appellation, with a broad mix of dark berry, green olive, tobacco and cigar box. Fortis, a Cabernet blend, shows more muscle and density and a Bordeaux-like graphite and crushed rock edge. The Napa Valley offers the most fruit and grace, elegant when tasted alongside the others.
Three other Pine Ridge Cabernets, one each from Stags Leap ($85), Oakville ($80) and Rutherford ($80), were also very good and brighter than they’ve been in recent years, but expensive for what’s in the bottle. The winery has also added a label called Forefront, a Napa-San Luis Obispo-Lake Counties Cabernet, with a 2009 ($24, 15,800 cases) that is OK.
Pine Ridge is owned by Crimson Wine Group, a unit of Leucadia International, which also owns Seghesio in Sonoma and Archery Summit in Oregon. The winery, founded in 1978, owns several hundred acres of vineyards in Napa, including Cabernet in Oakville, Rutherford and Stags Leap. And that's one reason it has great potential for improvement and growth.
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — August 29, 2012 1:59pm ET
John Fujii — Stockton, CA — August 29, 2012 4:18pm ET
Leslie Smith — Vacaville, CA — August 30, 2012 4:01pm ET
Mike Supple — Kansas City — August 31, 2012 11:21am ET
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