Pride Mountain Vineyards is located high on the spine of the Mayacamas mountains, the geographical boundary between Napa and Sonoma Counties. The winery is about half way between eastern Santa Rosa (the largest city in Sonoma County) and the town of St. Helena in the Napa Valley. In fact half of their winery is in Sonoma County including their tasting room, and the other half is in Napa County; their vineyards grow in both counties with approximately 60% of their land in Sonoma County and 40% in Napa County. A row of bricks in the concrete between the tasting room and the winery visually identifies the county line. Wines that contain grapes from both Sonoma and Napa County are labeled with the percentages of each; as they say at Pride, “one ranch, two counties”.
Pride Mountain owns 235 acres with approximately 90 acres planted to vine. As a result, there is a nice balance between the native hillside vegetation and the vineyard blocks. The winery is one of the more recognizable wineries in the Spring Mountain District. Regardless of the direction you come from, you will be driving on narrow windy roads to reach the property.
Pride Mountain was founded by Jim (died in 2004) and Carolyn Pride; today the winery is still very much family run – Carolyn’s two children Suzanne and Steve are the co-owners.
The earliest vineyard plantings on site were from 1869 – the property was originally called the Summit Ranch by locals and was deeded to its original owners in 1872 from the US Government. Over the years we have seen several photographs of wooden wagons making the trip up from St. Helena to the top of Spring Mountain (one such photo shows a wagon in between two redwood trees on the lower part of Spring Mountain before the road becomes much steeper (these redwoods are still there). Electricity did not arrive to the top of Spring Mountain until the 1940’s and Spring Mountain Road was not paved until the 1950’s.
Prior to the Pride’s purchase of the property in 1989, grapes from the vineyards were being sold to Robert Mondavi Winery (grapes have been growing continuously on site since the 1950s). However when the Pride’s purchased the property, much of the existing vineyards needed to be revitalized or replanted – initially overseen by noted Napa viticulturist, “Laurie” Wood. The original winery on the property, Summit Winery was founded in 1890 – today only parts of the old stone walls are standing as the winery burned down sometime during Prohibition.
The first Pride wines were made at what is now Frank Family and then Rombauer Winery from 1991 through 1996; the current winery was built in 1997 and later 23,000 square feet of caves were drilled into the hillside. Early winemaker and for a number of years was Robert Foley (he used to produce his own wines at Pride until he built his own winery on Howell Mountain).
Jim was the founder of the well-known Pride Institute (headquartered at Hamilton Landing in Novato about a 70 minute drive south of the winery). Ask most dentists about this institute and they will have heard of it. They introduced many now common practices in the dental industry and currently provide management and consulting services for dental offices. After Jim’s death, Pride Institute was sold to its employees.
This winery has been the reason a lot of folks make the short trip up to Spring Mountain from the town of St Helena – both for the quality of wines and their exceptional hospitality. Due to their popularity, an auxiliary benefit has been additional recognition for the Spring Mountain District. There are 20+ other small premium producers on ‘the mountain’ – all appointment only. Many of these wineries are only within a 10 minute or less drive of each other.
Due to its fantastic location at about 2,000 feet in elevation there are excellent views and on a clear day you can see into parts of several counties including all the way to Snow Mountain (often covered in snow in the winter) – about 80 miles airline to the north.
We highly recommend their Estate Tasting – allow about 60 minutes for this educational experience including the tasting and tour through part of the cave. Alternatively, the Summit Tasting is a private seated tasting within the cave and lasts about 90 minutes. Both tastings include an overview of the Pride Mountain history and information about their vineyards and wine making.
In the past Pride used Belgian draft horses to help with vineyard work among their steeper vineyard blocks as well as pull visitors through the vineyards while seated on a wooden wagon. These original horses have since died but smaller Belgian Draft horses are still kept on site although they aren’t setup to haul visitors anymore (due to their size). An employee has even taught one of the horses how to dance, Mexican style!
Pride’s philosophy is that the majority of wine making occurs in the vineyards and that blending grapes from multiple vineyard blocks add complexity to wine. Individual blocks are harvested only as they ripen. Fruit from these blocks are then fermented and aged separate from each other until the final blends are put together. Unlike many area vintners, they believe in using all neutral oak during the initial stages of aging the red wines – then based on each barrel and flavor profile they will add in individual new oak barrels as necessary. The wine making team wants to highlight the true expressions of the vintage and varieties rather than have the new oak take over in the early stages of aging.
A variety of soil types are on site including noticeably red rocky soils. In addition, afternoon breezes help keep delay the onset of mildew and keep other diseases at bay.
Because of the elevation of the property, the vineyards are often above the fog line – with a long moderate growing season, plenty of sunshine with harvest often occurring in late October.
Their wines have performed well at a variety of wine competitions over the years and have also been a favorite in the White House; a wall next to the tasting room is decorated with Presidential certificates for when their wine was served at White House functions.
The tasting room is elegantly furnished with a hand painted mural above the mirror behind the tasting counter. Tastings usually include at least one white wine among all the red wines.
All wines produced are from their estate vineyards – their focus is on Bordeaux style reds but they also make several enticing white wines including Viognier (one of Carolyn’s favorite varieties). The 2017 Viognier (from the Sonoma County side of their property) was entirely aged in barrel (neutral oak) with battonage lasting for about 6 weeks. This stirring of the lees is done to “build up the stuffing of the mid palate,” accordingly to winemaker Sally Johnson. One soon notices the roundness and weight on the palate that she is referring to. Also immediately noticeable is the extremely aromatic bouquet with its sweet tropical and floral aromas. Summertime stone fruit – with ripe aromas of nectarine and peach. These aromas continue as flavors – rich on the palate there is a perception this wine might be sweet due to the intensity of the fruit but in reality there is no residual sugar.
Pride Mountain used to produce a Mistelle de Viognier (may still be able to find this online), this was a very unique wine. It was created with juice from Viognier grapes and fortified with white brandy.
Some wines are produced in such limited quantities that they are typically only available to mailing list members on a first come first serve basis. One is their estate Vintner’s select Chardonnay – we tried the 2006 vintage. This wine is golden color with honeysuckle and lime aromas along with notes of caramel on the palate with nuances of toasted nuts and assorted spices on the finish. Often a vertical of two vintages of Chardonnay will be tasted side by side.
Pride’s red wines age very well and it is interesting to note the differences both in aroma and flavor even with just a year extra of bottle aging. The 2015 Merlot (12% Cabernet Sauvignon and a dollop of Petit Verdot) shows an elegant bouquet with a hint of smokiness showing through the bright red fruit aromatics (strawberry and plum). Their Merlot vines tend to produce clusters with very small berries (a high skin to juice ratio) – and as a result their Merlots tend to retain excellent structure. This vintage is no different in that regard, showing ripe and robust tannins on the finish – lingering also with a darker spice nuance. This wine has very good acidity.
The 2015 Reserve Claret is a Merlot dominated wine (60% Merlot) with 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot. Fruit for this wine comes from their best block of Merlot plus fruit from the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon block on site (planted in 1982 – the only original block that the Pride’s did not replant). This old vine Cab block is named the Rock Arch Block after a rock arch that used to be located on this part of the property but was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The 2015 shows aromas of dark cherry and blueberry with nuances of dust and cedar box. As the wine opens reveals hints of mocha on the bouquet. A good mix of both darker and red fruits show on the palate including red cherry and black currant. Very approachable in its youth but has plenty of ‘oomph’ and character to last quite some time if aged properly.
The 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon with very small percentages of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Even in the dimly lit cave light one can see this wine is quite dark in the glass. An aromatic gem, it is somewhat savory on the bouquet showing pretty aromas of ripe blackberry and black fig along with cinnamon and brown sugar. The palate shows incredible depth; this is a powerful wine with long lasting robust tannins and hints of lingering mocha. Like for the Reserve Claret, this Cabernet Sauvignon was also sourced from the Rock Arch Vineyard.
Note that their tours are especially popular around and during harvest time, so be sure to reserve well in advance if you are planning a visit to the valley during this time of year. Several nice spots on the property are available for picnics including up the hill beyond the winery and what is our favorite spot, the tables next to stone walls of the old Summit Winery (for tour guests usually following a tour, let the tasting room staff know before you setup your picinic).
Based on their location straddling the county line – Pride Mountain often participates in tasting events in both Sonoma and Napa County – including the Napa Wine Auction, Premiere Napa Valley and the Sonoma County Barrel Auction.
For more information, to schedule a visit or to join their wine club, visit: www.pridewines.com
Summit Winery (founded 1890)
Pride Institute, Novato