Ritchie Creek Vineyard is one of the oldest and seemingly most isolated wineries in the Spring Mountain District. There are in fact a number of wineries in the immediate vicinity – but much of their property is heavily wooded and you don’t sense there are any winery neighbors during a visit here. Their approximately 8 acres of vineyards are located at about 2000 feet and are separated into two vineyard blocks – the lower and the upper block; sometimes they receive snow in the winter. The vineyards are planted in soils that are extremely thin and rocky and as a result stresses the vines more than say the valley floor grown fruit. This produces rich concentrated flavors as well as much lower yields. Combine that with the age of some of their vines (over 30 years) and the yields become small indeed.
Pete Minor, formerly a dentist from Berkeley began making wine in his garage. Looking for remote hillside land, he purchased this 50 acre hillside property in 1966. Part of the reason he purchased this particular property is that it backs right up against Bothe State Park – which will remain undeveloped. He started planting grapes on site in the late 1960’s; this is a time when there were less than 30 wineries in all of Napa Valley. Their first vintage is from 1974.
Pete and his wife Maggie are still owners. Production has dropped off as they are well up in years and and Pete is no longer making the wine. Their son, André – who grew up on the property and assisted his father in the winery as well as in the vineyard – has returned after a number of years away at school to continue managing the vineyard and eventually start making wine again. André has overseen the replanting of part of their vineyard to new Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
The property is located off of Spring Mountain Road on a side road used by other area wineries and residences that winds its way along a ridge near the Napa/Sonoma County line. The actual winery is located below their residence down a very narrow somewhat overgrown gravel and dirt road. There is parking for 1 or maybe 2 cars and the turn around is somewhat tight. Their production is very low and due to their location, transition in wine making and little wine left from a previous vintage – they are currently not setup for tastings.
The small winery that Pete built is surrounded by native vegetation, often chirping birds and tall fir trees; you are in a forest! The natural vegetation of the nearby State Park only adds to the quiet and peacefulness of this area – sometimes the only noise you hear is the wind blowing through the trees. The actual Ritchie Creek starts on their property and flows all the way down to the Napa Valley floor.
When we first visited we sat down at a table next to the actual winery with Pete and tasted his 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is blended with Merlot, is all estate grown and is very well balanced. Like their other wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon is refreshingly kept at more traditional alcohol levels – in this case in the mid 13% range. And in a nod to these lower alcohol food friendly wines his father made – André plans to continue to keep making wines in this style.
From tasting a few older vintages, their wines tend to age quite well. We tried the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon sixteen years after vintage – the color had turned more brickish red but there was still plenty of fruit showing both on the bouquet and palate. Darker fruit aromas are present including blackberry and boysenberry – interwoven nicely with appealing notes of brown chocolate and a subtle almost smoky dustiness that shows as the wine opens. This wine has a very pretty bouquet. The palate is extremely well balanced with both earthy tannins and fruit lasting for quite some time on the finish. This wine still has plenty of life 16 years after harvest.
Ritchie Creek has also made a robust Pinot Noir in the past; this is not an elegant Pinot Noir that you might often find in the Russian River Valley, or Sonoma Coast of neighboring Sonoma. Rather this is a mountain grown Pinot – with structure, spices – and deeper darker berry fruit flavor. Historically Pete tended to pick this variety somewhat early. We challenge you to name other Spring Mountain wineries growing Pinot Noir (we know of at least 3 others)!
One variety you will not find in Napa outside of this winery is Blaufränkisch which is most associated with Austria but is also produced in other countries including Germany and Hungary among others. Ritchie Creek only has a few rows of this variety (less then a 1/4 acre) and as a result the case production is extremely limited. Pete budded over some Viognier vines to this variety many years ago. André has been experimenting with this variety – rather then the tannic wines it often makes in Austria, the small production lot non commercial wine we tried (2015) has a pleasing mouth feel, was somewhat light in body with good acidity.
For more information about this unique and treasured winery, please visit: www.ritchiecreek.com