With 500 options in Napa Valley, many wineries find creative ways to stand out and lure in visitors. Some will invite you into their wine caves, for instance, while others might offer a cheese pairing, or even a multi-course wine and food experience. Pine Ridge Vineyards does all three.
Tucked away from the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley’s famous Stags Leap District — most known for putting Napa Valley wine on the world map in the 1976 Judgment of Paris — Pine Ridge Vineyards welcomes guests on two of the most informative and memorable wine tasting experiences in all of Northern California’s Wine Country. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience both of their elevated offerings: the Wine Tasting and Cave Tour (complete with a cheese pairing) and Savor Pine Ridge, which pairs five wines with gourmet bites. Both are fantastic and priced at a great value, so read on to decide which one is right for you.
These Pine Ridge experiences begin with a welcome splash of wine and a tour of the estate vineyard, cellar, and caves. The Wine Tasting and Cave Tour is the most extensive, roughly 90 minutes and includes a barrel sample. The Savor tour is an abridged version, as there’s a greater focus on the food and wine pairing to come.
Starting in front of the estate vineyard, we learned about the soils, how Pine Ridge Vineyards has vines planted on some of the steepest slopes in the valley, the grape growing process, and the history of the winery dating back to 1978. We weren’t empty handed either, soaking in this knowledge while sipping a delightful chardonnay; it was a perfect balance between light and crisp and elegant and rich.
One main theme that stood out to me throughout both tours was technology. Winemaker Michael Beaulac clearly cares about not just maintaining the wine quality but also improving it. He and his team are on top of the latest and greatest advancements in the industry and are even running their own experiments to benefit the region as a whole.
In the vineyard, for example, vineyard manager Gustavo Avina, who has been with Pine Ridge Vineyards since 2003, has installed innovative, vineyard climate stations. These enable him to remotely control things like irrigation right from his smartphone. In the cellar, Pine Ridge Vineyards has imported some very expensive concrete fermenters from Italy, which kind of look like Apollo spacecrafts. Beaulac mentioned he’s still experimenting with them, but that they should add an extra freshness to the wine. I could go on and on, but I don’t want to give it all away.
The tours finish 130 feet underground in the 32,000-sq. ft. cave, home to 3,000 barrels and composed of just over three-quarters of a mile of tunnels (that’s pretty big for a wine cave). I’ve personally lost count of the wine caves I’ve seen all over the world, everything from damp, hand-dug caves built centuries ago to perfectly manicured ones covered in marble. Because of this, I’m not easily moved by what a winery has underground, but Pine Ridge Vineyards’ cool cave truly stuck out for the experience offered within it.
This isn’t the standard cave walk through; we actually got to stay awhile, sit down, and taste the wines. The sound of working forklifts in the background wasn’t so much distracting, as a cool and authentic addition to the experience.
Pine Ridge Vineyards is the definition of a Napa Cab House. Yes, they produce some other wines, like chardonnay and rosé, but cabernet is undeniably their signature grape.
The winemaking team produces single-appellation cabs from the best producing regions (AVAs) around Napa Valley: Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville, and Howell Mountain. All of the wines provide a unique opportunity to sip your way through Napa Valley, identify the differences in the varying terroirs, and then determine which AVA you fancy the most. My favorite AVA has consistently been Rutherford, known for its unique “Rutherford Dust” soil, which was reaffirmed during my Pine Ridge Vineyards visit.
The wine and cheese pairing occurs at an intimate round table in the cave, set in front of a gorgeous Chihuly glass sculpture. At my seat, there were three wine glasses and a plate with a trio of cheeses, dried fruits, and house-made, savory biscotti. For this tasting, we tried the Rutherford, Oakville, and Stags Leap cabs, each matched with a cheese.
When I’ve done cheese pairings before, more often than not, it’s with local cheeses. I’m all for supporting the local farmers, but I also really appreciate that Pine Ridge Vineyards prioritizes quality and choosing the perfect match to showcase their wines. They’ve carefully selected dynamite cheeses (two hard, one soft) from France, Spain, and Holland, and they were so delicious that I actually wrote down their names so I could attempt to seek them out later.
The cheese pairing is truly delightful, but if you want the ultimate, VIP experience, book Savor. It takes place in a chic and cozy cave lounge called Cellar 47 — the kind of place you’d hope to hide out in during an apocalypse; think, chic, colorful furniture and rugs, with multiple nooks for lounging and sipping — and we got to sip the full gamut of wines. One-by-one, we tasted through five cabernets: the four single-appellation cabs, plus FORTIS, the winery’s flagship cabernet made with the best grapes from the best blocks (it’s big and bold like its name suggests). Priced at $225 a bottle, it’s a real treat to taste this. Each wine was paired with a substantial, gourmet bite prepared by winery chef Susan Lassalette. The menu stays consistent, only changing up when a new vintage is released.
Despite what you might expect for cabernet pairings, just one of the pairings was beef. Lassalette gets creative with unconventional pairings, proving that wine and food pairing rules are made to be broken. My favorite bite was the savory, Parmesan panna cotta, though I ultimately felt that the best pairing of the day was the Niman Ranch beef empanada with a spicy pimento dolce. As for the rest of the bites, I’ll let you find out for yourself.
Just when we thought we were finished with Savor, we were given a bonus surprise: a pair of custom made chocolates for dessert.
Cover image courtesy of Facebook: Pine Ridge Vineyards