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NM: Another unusual feature of Pride Mountain Vineyards, and one that I find really curious, is that your vineyards and your production facilities are both in Napa and in Sonoma — you literally straddle the county line! Tell me about that and how it has affected your marketing.
SJ: Most of our wines are actually a blend of wine from Napa and Sonoma, just because the vineyards are about 50/50. We make some that are 100% Sonoma, some 100% Napa, and most are a blend of the two where we'll break the percentage out on the label, whatever that happens to be. Logistically that means we have to be very accurate with our record-keeping and those percentages; there's no leeway. But we do straddle the county line and the biggest way that it affects us is that we can't label our wines as "Estate" or "Produced and Bottled by" even though they are, because according to the TTB our wines are transferred in bond from one winery to another, so we're treated as if we were negociants buying bulk wine and blending it up. But that's another great thing about having our facility here and having 75% of our business being direct-to-consumer: we can tell story and show people the county line and show them the property. It becomes something that's fun and unique.
NM: And how have consumers come to know Pride Mountain as a brand? What would you say really established its reputation and how has that evolved?
"Merlot was our flagship wine in the beginning and what the winery's reputation was really built on."
SJ: Merlot was our flagship wine in the beginning and what the winery's reputation was really built on. It was the first wine that was on the Wine Spectator's top 100 list and it earned high scores from Robert Parker, creating a good deal of interest in Pride. But really, both Merlot and Cabernet have always been our larger production wines — though each one is under 5,000 cases, so we're pretty small. Those were the two main varieties that consumers came to associate with us initially, with Merlot being the one that got people very excited. I would say that now our Cabernet and Merlot have a dual flagship role. We also make a very small amount of Cabernet Franc, which is a wine that's highly sought-after — I think we have a great spot for that variety. And so, generally, we're a red wine house and our mountaintop estate really drives the way the wines turn out. They're very concentrated, big, and tannic — but they have a ton of fruit to really back that up, so I don't think they're one-dimensional in terms of being unapproachable early on. We try to take a dual approach of making wines that are ready to drink now but are also very ageworthy. We also make some reserve wines that have given Pride its cult status among some people who seek out those types of wines, which we sell through our mailing list and have helped build the mystique of Pride.
NM: Even as the red wines comprise the flagship of Pride, the white wine program seems to have really developed in recent years. Would you say that part of the portfolio is going through an evolution?
SJ: The Chardonnays have never been a huge part of the Pride portfolio; they're in very small production since we've always been known as a red wine house. But now we're trying to elevate the level of the whites. Although the Viognier has always been phenomenal in my opinion, with the Chardonnays we feel that there are some things we can do to add some complexity and make them a bit more modern in their approach — they used to be pretty heavily oaked and with full ML, whereas now we're moving towards slightly higher acid, using some Burgundy-isolate yeasts and just really trying to make wines with a bit more finesse. We make two Chardonnays and there's a real contrast between them, where you'll see opposite ends of the style spectrum. One is the only one not from our estate, our Napa Chardonnay (100% Carneros fruit). This is the wine that we wanted to make in a more floral, fruit-driven and higher acid style with less new oak and less malolactic; it's a bit more Burgundian. We really felt that Carneros was the place to go for that type of fruit, since we're just a little too warm up here to make wines in that style. It's so much warmer up here that we get more richness and more flavors of banana, nectarine, and pear — like in our Vintner's Select Chardonnay, which is from our estate. And that's a wine that's released later since it's intended to be bottle aged more before consumption. It's a wine with added barrel fermentation and a higher level of ML, so it's bigger, richer, more hearty, and seems to need to bit more time to come together.