One of the other wineries I visited on my Napa trip that had donated wine to my grandson Adler’s benefit was Switchback Ridge. This was also my last winery visit of my March trip.
As I have mentioned in a past blog article, I had the opportunity to meet Kelly Peterson-Holmes, co-founder, managing partner and driving force behind Switchback Ridge, on my 2015 Napa trip. Switchback Ridge wines consistently receive scores in the mid 90s and are considered one of the top wineries in Napa Valley. I was excited to have the opportunity to visit with Kelly and hear the Switchback Ridge story, and yes, to taste some of the wines they produce.
Kelly and her father John started the wine business back in the late 90s, producing several hundred cases of their first vintage in 1999. Today they produce, on average, around 2,500 cases per year depending on the annual harvest and their wine is distributed in 15 states.
Long-time family friend Bob Foley continues today as the winemaker, having started with the very first vintage. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Foley, he is thought of as one of the most experienced and influential winemakers, not only in Napa Valley, but in the overall world of wine. Foley also produces wines under his own label “Robert Foley,” located on Howell Mountain.
Switchback Ridge Vineyards is located off Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga, about a half hour’s drive from Napa. The property is a 100-acre site with about 25 acres of vineyards. There isn’t a winery or tasting room on the property as of yet. Kelly told me that she envisions a small winery and tasting room being built sometime in the future. Currently they have tasting rooms at two other locations. A tasting room and office is located at 1104 Adams Street in St. Helena and they share the tasting room at Phifer Pavitt Wine just a few miles north of the vineyard on Silverado Trail.
I met Kelly at the Switchback Ridge property on Thursday afternoon of my trip. We walked the vineyards while Kelly told me the story of Switchback Ridge and her vision of the property. Switchback Ridge is a great family-led entrepreneurial story. They have built this operation into a successful wine company, and as I mentioned earlier are one of the top-rated wineries in Napa Valley. It was great fun to hear Kelly speak of their success and the future. Kelly’s daughter, Ashley Peterson, is now involved in the operation as a partner and head of sales and marketing. Kelly’s son is in college studying the wine business and she hopes he’ll join the business as well. We left the vineyard and headed to taste some wines at the Phifer Pavitt winery tasting room.
Luke Speer, the tasting room manager, was on hand and had everything ready for our tasting. When I do a tasting like this I am there to do more than taste the wines (although it is an important factor in my educational process on wines). I am also there to build a relationship with the person I taste with and the winery in general. That was certainly the case on this afternoon. Kelly and I had a great discussion about wines, the wine business in general, both of our operations, families, etc. What a delightful afternoon!
The Wines We Tasted
2013 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100% French Oak barrels for 16 months. This wine had a stubborn and tight nose with aromas of black fruit. It is a full-bodied wine that is rich and mildly tannic. It has a balanced finish with a warmth of alcohol and of a good length. The wine will benefit from four to five more years of aging. The release price from the winery was $90.00 per bottle.
2013 Switchback Ridge Merlot
This is a lush and rich Merlot with aromas of chocolate and dark fruit. As with the aromas on the nose, the wine tastes of black fruit and is full-bodied with mild tannins, good balance and a good strong finish. This wine will drink well for years to come. This wine, like most Switchback Ridge wines, will benefit from two to three years of additional aging.
2010 Switchback Ridge Anniversary Blend
This is a very limited release wine, sold only to mailing list customers (that would be me). It was produced to celebrate the Peterson family’s 100-year anniversary in Napa Valley. They produced only about 335 cases and when those are gone, they are gone and they will not produce the wine again.
The Petersons are proud of this wine as they should be. Not only is it their anniversary wine, winemaker Robert Foley did a great job of producing it.
Personally, I think the wine is very tight (like all of Foley’s young wines) and will require four to five years of aging. Opening this wine now is wasting it, as it is so young.
I would like to share with you a couple items. First, Robert Foley’s tasting notes of this special wine:
“A deeply concentrated Cabernet/Merlot blend with the perfect balance of power, structure and finesse. Ripe blackberry and black cherry fruits are beautifully integrated with spice, sweet tobacco, coffee bean and toasty oak. The fine, silky tannins are slightly gripping, giving way to a long, lasting finish.” – Bob Foley, Winemaker
Secondly, I would like to share the original release letter Kelly Peterson sent out to the mailing list members upon release of this special anniversary wine:
“I am so proud and excited to announce the release of a very special wine we created to honor our family’s 100-Year Anniversary in the Napa Valley! My great grandparents, Mads and Eliza Jane Peterson, purchased our vineyard property in Calistoga on August 24, 1914. My sister discovered the original purchase agreement about a year and a half ago as she was rummaging through an old wood trunk in my dad’s attic. The document finally confirmed there were, in fact, grape vines on the property at the time of purchase. The following are excerpts from the agreement:
Containing about One Hundred (100) acres of land and being the same premises conveyed by David Rose to Frank Ashton. Together with three cows, two heifer calves, two pigs, five hundred white leghorn hens, two hundred and fifty young chickens, three horses, some ducks and geese, harnesses, one buggy, and one heavy Studebaker wagon…The present fruit grape crop which is to be harvested this fall is to be picked and sold by us according to our present contract and the proceeds of the same to revert to us, also all wood which is cut on the place excepting that which is at the house for stove wood; this wood amounts to about fifty (50) cords… It is further understood and agreed that the present owner of the Napa County ranch has a grape contract for the sale of his grapes with F. Salmina & Co. This grape contract he hereby agrees to transfer to M.P. Peterson.
‘Pretty cool, huh? So while we have only been making Switchback Ridge wines for the last 15 years, our family roots run deep. Next month marks the 100th year our family has been farming in the Napa Valley! To celebrate this historic milestone, we created a special, limited release wine (be glad the chickens and prunes are gone! 😉 Our 2010 Anniversary Blend is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. The wine received extended barrel aging for 24 months in French oak from the Center of France. The wine was then blended and given an additional three months to “marry.” This allowed the flavors to condense and integrate prior to bottling. The wine received an additional 16 months of bottle age prior to its upcoming release. The extra time and care has created a wine that is deeply concentrated, powerful, has great structure, while also being perfectly balanced with sweet, ripe fruit, great vibrant acidity and silky tannins. It will age beautifully for the next 20 years, but it is incredibly enjoyable to drink in its youth. Only 335 cases were produced and we are making the wine available exclusively to our mailing list friends. There are also 150 signed magnums available, first come, first served.
‘Thank you in advance for your continued support. It is my hope that this wine will evoke a sense of place and a family’s love and dedication to one another, and to this beautiful piece of land and valley that we have been so blessed to be a part of. With a heart full of gratitude, I thank each and every one of you who have supported Switchback Ridge over the years. It truly has made a difference in the lives of our entire family. Here’s to the next 100!” – Kelly Peterson-Holmes
I can’t wait to try this wine again in three to four years.
2013 Switchback Ridge Petite Sirah – Old Vine Block
As with the 2010 Anniversary Wine, the 2013 Old Vine Block Petite Sirah is a very limited release wine. Only 62 cases were produced. Again, I would like to share with you winemaker Robert Foley’s tasting notes on the wine:
“A medley of ripe blackberry and blueberry aromas. Round, rich and huge on the mid-palate with rich berry pie flavors and mouth coating, yet gentle tannin. The beautiful balance of this wine makes all of its dynamics harmonize. A massive wine for the true Petite Sirah fanatic!” – Bob Foley, Winemaker
Also, the Petersons’ release letter of this very special wine:
“2013 Old Vine Block Petite Sirah – Limited Release: The heart and soul of Peterson Family Vineyard lies in the beautiful old, gnarly block of Petite Sirah that we lovingly refer to as Auntie’s Block. The Petite Sirah, and my Aunt Carolyn in particular, were my initial inspiration for wanting to start a family wine company so I am always extremely proud and excited when it comes time to release our Old Vine Petite Sirah. To me, this wine is our family’s heritage in a bottle! The old block is about 3 acres, head-trained and dry farmed. It’s really an old field blend, but the other varieties in the block are yet to be identified. My dad remembers having to help plant the block as a young child but he could not say for sure exactly when the vines were planted. However, I recently found a document that indicates the block was planted in 1956. If this is accurate, the vines are turning 60 years old this year. If we are lucky we typically get 5 tons of fruit off of the entire block and in 2013 we were especially blessed—we harvested a whopping 6.7 tons! The majority of the fruit from the old block is blended into our regular Petite Sirah, representing approximately 25% to 30% of the finished blend. Beginning in 2008, we started bottling a small amount of the old vine block separately. Since we had more fruit in 2013 we were able to bottle 62 cases, versus 49 cases last vintage. This incredibly special wine is not distributed outside of our mailing list. We limit allocations, but it’s still not enough for everyone so please understand allocations are first come, first served and may be available only on a wish list basis.” – Kelly Peterson-Holmes
2013 Switchback Ridge Petite Sirah
This was the last Switchback Ridge wine we tasted and as with the others it was clearly a youngster.
On the nose it had lots of black fruit which carried over to the palate. This wine is mouth coating and very balanced between acidity and tannins. It has a nice lingering finish. There were 728 cases produced and the release price from the winery was $60.00 per bottle.
As I was sitting with Kelly and Luke chatting about wines, the discussion turned to Phifer Pavitt Wines. Luke suggested I taste their Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon, which I did.
2012 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon
The wine has a nose of chocolate and licorice and a palate of silky, velvety mouth feel with black fruits, cocoa and hints of tobacco. The finish is rich and of good length. This wine is young and will improve with some age. Average price is $85.00 a bottle.
My gratitude goes out to Kelly Peterson-Holmes for creating a great afternoon of conversation and wine tasting. Kelly was a gracious host and, of course, a source of information on Switchback Ridge, wine in general and the happenings of Napa Valley. Stay tuned for information on a possible Switchback Ridge wine tasting here in our area sometime in the future. You never know.
As always I appreciate your support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with family and friends. If you care to share your comments on this blog posting or other topics please do so in the comments section below.
Until next week,
Please join us for these Upcoming Tiedemann On Wines Wine Club dinners:
August 25, Uptown Kitchen Wine Dinner, Uptown Kitchen in Granger, 6:30 p.m.
October 13, Old World Versus New World Wines, Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.
November 10, Spanish Wine Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.