It is pre-season for us and we still have a few weeks left where we can sneak out for the afternoon and go wine tasting. Many of our guests last summer raved about Pride Vineyards and we decided to take the trek up Spring Mountain for the afternoon to visit them. The entrance to the mountain top is out of St. Helena, and then it is a 15 minute windy trek up the hillside road. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who has already been tasting and is driving. You will want all of your faculties firmly in place as you meander up that mountain.
Coming into the vineyards we could see some picnic tables on the hillside overlooking the gorgeous vista of the surrounding mountain ranges. We knew right away that the view alone was worth the drive. As the winery is “by appointment only” (a requirement of federal law for many wineries) there were few people in the tasting room. Their focus, we found out, is on personalized service to for each appointment. The bad news was that the Chardonnay had sold out and they had nothing left to taste; the good news was that they were breaking open the Reserve Chardonnay in its place until the next release. Boo-hoo! That Reserve was crisp, clean, with lots of fruit and floral aromas. We enjoyed it. I think of it less as a food pairing wine, but rather as a cocktail wine, or sitting around the pool wine.
We moved onto the Cabernet Franc, discovering that this grape is usually used for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, but that they were so pleased with the Cab Franc’s appeal, they bottled it as is. We were happy they did. We loved the full bodied smell that came off the glass and were instructed that Cab Franc is known for its aromatic nature, and that is why they blend it with Cab Sauvignon. They next poured the Merlot and my mouth did a little dance of joy as the cherries and berries, tart and full, hit my palate. We both fell in love with that wine. Tim, our host, then offered to show us the caves and the new storage facility they are building. We jumped at the chance and as we entered the cave he gave us an opportunity to try the Syrah from the barrel and also the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh boy, did that Reserve Cab do me in. I could have rolled the barrel home and put in a hose on top and been satisfied with that wine for a very long time. It is not overly complex, but it is supple and soft in the mouth with a very, very slight tannic finish, leaving you with essence of chocolate and berries. Don’t berate me for the descriptors! These winemakers really do strive to put flavors into their wines, using the skins, the stems, the type of wood for the barrel, the length of time in the barrel, the blending, etc. Some flavors I love (chocolate, dark cherry), others won’t turn me away (tobacco, leather), and then some just send me screaming from the winery (green bell pepper- herbaceousness, they call it!). Some people love what I hate, and others hate what I love. That is why there is so much wine produced, because we all have different palates and need to find what we like to drink. Honestly, I enjoyed everything I drank at Pride and my wallet is the poorer because of it.
As for visiting, because it is by appointment they book early (2 to 4 weeks prior in normal season; 6 to 8 weeks prior in high season) as they only take 10 people in the tasting room every 30 minutes. They produce about 22,000 cases of wine total, and most of it never hits the market. Some of their smaller lots are only 200 cases which means it goes quickly, especially when it is tasty. They also have great picnic grounds, either on the hilltop overlooking all the vineyards (no shade), or down by the guest house and the old winery ruins (shaded and grassy). They even provide you with a chilled bucket if you purchase and want to drink a bottle of chilled Chardonnay with your picnic. They will even do private group tastings in a separate room with enough advance reservation notice. They do one tour in the morning for 60 to 90 minutes, and it includes a visit to the vineyards, a walk through the caves, and if there is time and availability, some barrel tasting. Tasting fees run about $15 per person, and most of the time those are waived when you purchase wine from them.
I highly recommend this winery, but not for those trying to taste a lot of different wines in a short period of time. This is a half-day event and meant for those who want a more relaxing tasting day experience: an hour’s drive, an hour or more of tasting and touring, and a recommendation of a picnic (buy your food in St. Helena before you trek up the mountain) before returning to the valley floor. Their wines average $60 bottle and you will definitely want to take the experience home with you.