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No One Does It Any Better Than Pride Mountain Vineyards
Preiser’s Reserve: Something a little different today, in that we feature the grapes rather than simply a wine, though we don’t ignore the juice either. Hugh Tietjen’s namesake vineyard (Tietjen), located in Rutherford on Niebaum Lane just west of Highway 29, produces some of the most killer fruit in California. Sadly, there are only 7.5 acres, so only so much crop can be harvested. Happily, the two primary producers using this fruit are the Corley family’s Monticello Vineyards (Kevin Corley, winemaker) and Ray Courson’s Elyse Winery (Ray himself is the winemaker). While Ray is much more the veteran, both men are crafting simply fantastic Cabernet Sauvignons from the Tietjen property. We highly recommend the 2002 vintage from both producers, and this year the Monticello gets the nod as our first choice for two reasons. Firstly, we believe it to be slightly better balanced, with the fruit on the Elyse perhaps a smidgen too ripe. Secondly, you can buy the Monticello for $45, while Ray charges $65. The difference in quality is minor by any measurement, and so the price differential becomes an important factor.
No One Does It Any Better Than
Pride Mountain Vineyards
It is no scoop to report that one of the truly great wine houses in California is Pride Mountain Vineyards. Since its founding by the late Jim Pride and his wife Carolyn only 15 years ago (a relatively short time by wine industry standards), this producer has consistently made products that best represent both Napa and Sonoma, while showing off its amazing fruit, talented winemaking team, professional staff, and stylish family.
Both Jim and Carolyn were born into farming families in California. Jim obtained a dental degree, and, in conjunction with his talent for teaching and speaking, later founded the Pride Institute, one of the nation's premier dental practice management organizations. An independent woman in her own right, Carolyn possessed a background in banking and retail. Yet neither of the Prides could get farming out of their systems, and so they purchased the historic winery property at the top of Spring Mountain in 1990. Jim passed away in August of 2004 after a long battle with cancer, yet his commitment to quality and his vision for Pride Mountain Vineyards remains embedded in his family.
Last month we attended a high profile luncheon which Pride hosted to help raise funds for charity. In attendance, and doing all they could to be sure their guests had a marvelous event, were Carolyn herself, owner/son Steve (a geophysics Ph.D. teaching at Berkeley who now heads the business), owner/daughter Suzanne Pride Bryan, son in law Stuart Bryan (director of distribution), and assistant winemaker Romel Rivera. All that was missing was soon-to-attain-semi-iconic-status winemaker Bob Foley, who was participating in another function in Chicago.
Seated between Carolyn and Steve, we were not only regaled by stories about Jim, the family, and the winery, but these exceptional people were genuinely interested in their guests who had made the trek up Spring Mountain to escape the heat of the Valley floors and enjoy the beauty of the wines and property that sits at the literal crest of the hill. One side of Pride’s land is situated in Napa County, and on the other in Sonoma. This geography creates some interesting, but little known, requirements and limitations.
For example, it is generally conceded that placing the term “Estate” on a wine is good marketing strategy because it somehow implies that if a winery actually uses the fruit off its own property there is a guarantee of increased quality (though in reality estate fruit can be, and too often is, no better or worse than grapes bought elsewhere). Since antiquated California law requires any wine that is labeled as “Estate” to be comprised of grapes from only one county, Pride, which uses the fruit from its entire estate sitting in two counties, is precluded from using the advantageous term. Thus, you see the phrase “Vintner’s Select” on their best wines.
Another quirky requirement says that since state regulations also specify that if the winery uses enough fruit to refer to a bottle as being from either Napa or Sonoma, the wine must be made and bottled in that County. How does it affect Pride? Well, they don’t want the expense of having two of every machine involved in de-stemming, crushing, bottling, etc., so they have a line of demarcation at the boundary between the two counties and, depending on what is being made, move the machinery literally from one county to the other (often just a few feet).
As is common with us, we began our time at the winery tasting from the barrels, but our fun was enhanced this lovely afternoon by sharing this tasting with all 20 guests as well as the entire Pride family. We then were delighted to be served many of the current releases to accompany our meal. Finally, we reaped an extra benefit of being writers, and were taken by assistant winemaker Romel on a private tasting of a few wines not sampled by the larger group. A conclusion from this three hour event? Easy. Whatever they are doing 2000 feet above the Valley is certainly working. It is difficult to remember when we have experienced such magnificently intense fruit in varietal after varietal, and that was so whether the juice be in bottle or barrel, or harvested in 2000 or 2004. Of course, great fruit without balance and complexity means very little. Prides’ wines have it all.
We have already featured a barrel selection (a not yet released 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) as our Reserve wine in a previous column. Below we will take you through the wines we savored at lunch, and again in the tasting room a few weeks later.
-2003 Cabernet Franc ($58) -- Red fruit is prevalent up front, and the 25% Merlot blend adds structure. This beauty has a juicy and fruity mid palate, a big mouth feel, and finishes with blueberry and chocolate.
-2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($62) -- Enjoy big black fruit that easily slides into coffee and freshly cut wood flavors and aromas. The tannins here are subtle enough not to overwhelm the fruit, and, conversely, the fruit is well able to keep up with the tannins.
-2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($118) --A monster wine. As always with Pride, the red and dark fruit starts you out. But in this wine look for bittersweet chocolate and cream, followed by layers of apple and cherry cobbler with exotic spices.
-2004 Chardonnay ($37) and 2004 Chardonnay Vintner’s Select ($45) -- Recognizing that many of the best Chards come from Carneros, Pride employs the fruit of that appellation for both of its Chardonnays. The superb Vintner’s Select is 100% malolactic, and is thus creamy and huge with a hint of hazelnuts. The non Vintner’s Select has, for the first time, less than 100% malo and less new oak than its big brother. Nevertheless, it is outstanding in its own way as it exhibits pears and excellent crispness, while still taking advantage of the judicious use of malo and oak.
-2002 Merlot ($52) – An elegant, classically styled Merlot. We found it to be luscious with layers of ripe blackberries, chocolate, blueberries, and espresso.
-2002 Merlot Vintner’s Select ($75) -- We identified some interesting rum and raisin on nose, and layer after layer of such fruit that we called it “fruitcake.” The overall wine is dense, intense, and delicious.
-2003 Merlot ($54) -- Extracted, huge, and intense, you should not be embarrassed if you identify this as a Cab. The cassis and cocoa are easy to taste, and the layers leading to a super long finish are each superb.
-N/V Mistelle de Viognier ($48 for 375 ml) -- A stellar sweet entry with an integrated nose and taste of apples, pears, white peaches, plums, and apricots.
-2004 Viognier ($42) -- Lush aromatics of honeysuckle and gardenias precede a rich, round mid palate of white peaches and apricots. Refreshing acid and spice linger.
Note: The wines produced by Pride are in such demand that many are almost impossible to purchase unless you are a loyal customer. Many, such as the 2002 Cabernet and Merlot, are already sold out at the winery, though you may find them at retail. The Reserves are all sold immediately upon release. One of our favorite Pride wines is their Claret (the vintage doesn’t matter), where the richest lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are blended, given an extra six months in barrel, and blended with Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. Terrific! But you probably won’t get it unless you establish a relationship with the winery. We suggest you look into it.
Way To Go, Patty and Bob
Chateau Julien Wine Estate was recently named Hospitality/Tourism Business of the Year by the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “We are thrilled to receive such an honor,” commented Wine Estate Proprietor Patty Brower. “Our focus on hospitality and destination marketing has kept us very active with the local community and tourism businesses. We are proud to offer a unique experience for our wine tasting guests.” The Wine Estate welcomes guests daily, and highlights several programs to enjoy. These include wine tasting, group tours, corporate and private events, wine clubs, educational seminars, and picnic venues.
The Winery is family owned and operated by Robert and Patty Brower in Carmel Valley, California, and produces wines under three tiers: Chateau Julien Private Reserve, Estate Vineyard, and Barrel Select. Over 25% of the winery’s 246-acre South Monterey County vineyard is planted with its flagship varietal, Merlot, with additional acreage planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, Marsanne, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. For more information on Chateau Julien wines or the Wine Estate, please visit:
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.