Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pride At Harvest

This morning as I groggily made my way into my kitchen, I noticed the calendar staring right at me. It's almost October...I looked out the window at the misty rain and grey clouds and I started thinking about where I was a year ago at this time. I remember it was quite the adventure. The weather was exactly the same, dark clouds, misty rain...Only the scenery was gorgeous, the leaves were starting to turn orange and "Harvest" was in full swing! That day, a group of friends and I trekked up a mountain in Napa Valley for a visit to one of our favorite places to be, Pride Mountain Vineyards. Pride Mountain Vineyards sits up at high elevation, near the top of Spring Mountain near St. Helena. The view from up there is absolutely breathtaking and there are so many great photo opportunities. It's magnificent!

The first time I visited Pride was in September of 2006. A friend of mine here in Iowa had grown up in Northern California and knew all the great places to visit. She set up a tour and tasting for us at Pride. It was my first trip out and a memorable one. I remember feeling light-headed and dizzy as we went around the crazy hairpin turns on that mountain! My friend Jennifer would yell out, "Weeee!!!" as we made our way up and I was sitting there turning blue and wanting to put my head in a toilet! I was relieved when we finally arrived and I stepped out of the van and into one of the most peaceful places I'd ever seen. At that time, they were still conducting tastings from their tiny tasting room and there wasn't a whole lot of room to move. Our tour guide took us outside in the beautiful sunny weather for a vineyard tour. I was completely in awe of the place, taking my time, looking at all the detail. I picked and tasted the different varietals, looked at the soil and the ground, even bringing back some "terroir" in a baggie. Back in those days, Robert Foley was still the winemaker and I couldn't wait to try all those highly sought-after wines. When I look back at the photos we took, every single one of mine has me with a glass up to my nose. At one point, someone brought us one glass of Reserve Claret and we all shared it. It blew my head off! It was an amazing wine and although we were newbies and got to taste it, we were not able to purchase any. Guess you have to be on their mailing list for a very long time before that can happen. I did, however, purchase several bottles of what were current release wines at the time. I still have a bottle of 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon left and plan to open it on a special occasion.

When it came time to make winery appointments on our last group trip, we all agreed we wanted to go back to Pride. This time, our experience was completely different, but equally as enjoyable. As mentioned previously, the weather was not so good! It was raining--- something I thought I would never see on that trip. None of us were interested in doing the driving, so we hired a trustworthy limo company to get us there. The ride didn't seem as scary. A lot had happened to the winery since our first visit. They had remodeled and opened a brand new, much bigger tasting room. Robert Foley left to be replaced by a new winemaker, Sally Johnson, who joined in 2007. (See below--standing on the equipment). I think she's doing an excellent job considering the big shoes she had to fill! The day we arrived, it was crush time and they happened to be crushing Syrah. It was really great to watch them doing this. Our tour guide explained all the machinery and the process.

After watching them crush, he took us into the vineyards for a look and also into their barrel room where we were all served a late harvest Viognier that was absolutely to die for! I'm not a big dessert wine fan, but I would definitely drink that one! We tasted many varietals that day: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a Sangiovese (which is a limited production wine). We really enjoyed the tasting and many of us left with several bottles. I collect wine labels and they were gracious enough to take me to the room where they keep all of theirs and let me grab whatever I felt like taking home. I'm excited to say I now own a lot of their labels from the past fifteen years! We ended our visit with a picnic lunch that we supplied ourselves, courtesy of a pre-visit stop at Sunshine Grocery in St. Helena. We had wanted to do that since our first trip up. We wished the weather would have been nicer but it was interesting to be up there on a rainy, foggy day. It gives you a completely different perspective.

The next time you are planning a day or two in Napa Valley, plan to spend a day up at some of the mountain wineries. Visit a couple of them that day and take your time taking in the views and the atmosphere. And all the great wines! It's a whole other world up there and so worth looking into... Please remember many of these wineries are appointment only and some are not open all the time. Please check their websites for winery hours. (The website for Pride is Everyone have a fun and prosperous Harvest season!!

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