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Mountaintop Winery Takes Pride in its Command of Elevated Site Diversity
— An Interview with the Lead Winemaker of Pride Mountain Vineyards —
One striking fact with which visitors to Pride Mountain Vineyards are immediately met is that the 235-acre estate actually straddles the line between the two otherwise distinct appellations of Napa and Sonoma. But while having grapevines and production facilities located on either side of that border might present a logistical challenge or two, its position at the very top of Spring Mountain allows the winery to very clearly assert its identity by virtue of its unwavering focus on elevated terroir. The advantage of raising vines at that altitude, coupled with the inherent diversity of soil, aspect, and microclimate, empowers the winemaking team at Pride to craft wines with an alluring combination of character, richness, and longevity that few other producers can accomplish with estate vineyards. Along with its premium Merlot that first garnered media attention and established its name, Pride has since developed and distinguished its portfolio in further dedication to expressing a true sense of place. I met and spoke with Pride's lead winemaker, Sally Johnson, to get more of the story behind this producer's handcrafted wines of intensity and nuance.
Pride Mountain Vineyards began with the vision of Jim and Carolyn Pride who, in the hopes to indulge their fervor for farming, purchased the historic Summit Ranch in 1989. Their discovery of the site's capacity to produce extraordinary wine shifted their focus from a casual and secluded agricultural lifestyle to a focused and quality-driven winegrowing commitment. Even after Jim's death in 2004, the family continues his legacy — one steeped in his mantra to "participate in quality." In doing so, they've proven that Pride is not only a name, but an attitude arising from the very dedication that first earned the brand its recognition. And as I quickly discovered during my tour of the vineyards, caves, and cellar, pride is also a feeling that runs through the entire winemaking team whose leader managed to showcase not only these wines of distinction but also the very land from which they came.
NM: How would you characterize the terroir here at Pride and how does it compare to the rest of Spring Mountain as an appellation?
SJ: Spring Mountain District overall is a really diverse appellation, so it's hard to come up with rules that apply here in general. For one thing, there's the elevation. There's a huge difference between a winery located down at the bottom of the hill and where we are, which starts at 1,700 feet and goes all the way up to 2,200. We don't get the morning fog the way some lower wineries do, nor do we get the extreme heat in the middle of the day. The other thing about Spring Mountain as an appellation is that there's really not many vineyards planted here; there's still a lot of natural woodland in the district, with vineyards being just little pockets that peak out. As a result, those vineyards have many different exposures with all kinds of little dips and grades, making it a very diverse and unique place as a whole. Here at Pride, we have many different combinations of rootstock, clone, and variety to really take advantage of that diversity. There are basically two main families of soils here. One developed when this mountain range was originally created by plates colliding and thrusting up from what was once the ocean floor: quartz sandstone that's sandy and very well-draining. The other family of soils come from Mount Saint Helena, which erupted about 10,000 years ago; most of those are heavier red volcanic, moist, clay-based soils. And knowing these soils types is crucial because it's very important to match rootstock and variety to those soils, since vigor is extremely different in one versus the other.