Pine Ridge Vineyards: At the Forefront
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Gary and Nancy Andrus founded Napa Valley stalwart Pine Ridge Winery more than 30 years ago. In the time they ran that winery, they not only produced a steady stream of excellent wine, but they also were on the precipice of innovation. Long before the public at large was aware of the potential in Napa Valley they introduced quality initiatives in planting and cooperage that were ahead of most of their peers. They were even among the first to hire a female winemaker, long before it was commonplace. Their offerings range from high production wines like their Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend that sells for around $10, to site-specific wines that consistently deliver on quality and rake in high scores as well.
The Winery was sold a few years ago but the current owners have maintained the quality. In recent years Pine Ridge has branched out. Their most recent project is Forefront, an offshoot of Pine Ridge Vineyards.. What differentiates the Forefront Wines from the others in the portfolio is they’re not limited by regional boundaries. They’re sourcing fruit from various regions, looking for the best growing conditions and areas for the varietals in question. The first wines from this project have recently been released. I just had the chance to taste them, and was duly impressed; today I’ll look at three wines from Forefront.
The first wine is the Forefront 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit for this offering was sourced in two regions: 67 percent came from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, the balance from Napa County. This wine was fermented in stainless steel and never saw any oak. This offering was finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $16.
Bright and effusive are the first words that come to mind, with the aromas emerging from the nose of this wine. Citrus, melon and hints of grass are present and really shine. The palate of this wine is loaded with a remarkable array of stunning fresh fruit flavors. Tangerine, nectarine, honeydew, gooseberry and a hint of lemon are the boldest. White pepper, minerals and lingering citrus characteristics make up the tremendous finish on this wine. This Sauvignon Blanc has well-balanced acidity, and will pair well with light foods. It’ll also work as an aperitif wine.
This 2008 wine is a world class Sauvignon Blanc and a heck of a good deal for $16. It’s no surprise to me that two thirds of the fruit is from Dry Creek Valley. For me that’s the ideal spot in California for Sauvignon Blanc. The Napa fruit gives it an added dimension, and together they form a delicious wine you don’t want to miss.
The next wine from Forefront is the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Most of the fruit for this wine is from the Dundee Hills area of Willamette Valley. Oak aging was accomplished over 10 months in a combination of one and two-year-old French oak. This wine was finished with natural cork and the suggested retail price is $24.
Wild strawberry, hints of clay, mushroom and rhubarb are the most prominent aromas in the nose of this young Pinot Noir. The middle of this wine is loaded with lean, dry fruit flavors, and red fruit flavors dominate -- cherry, raspberry and cranberry lead the charge. A host of mineral notes, as well as sour cherry, graphite, earth and cola, emerge on the impressively lengthy finish. This Pinot has terrific acidity and will pair with a wide range of cuisines.
This wine would fit in nicely with the group I looked at last month. The difference being it’s a new entry, so it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves from vintage to vintage. For $24 though, this is a fine example of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. It’s delicious now but I think it’ll be quite a bit better in six to eight months.
The final wine from Forefront is the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is made predominately from fruit sourced in Napa (87 percent), with the balance coming form El Dorado (10 percent) and San Luis Obispo Counties (3 percent). In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (78 percent), Syrah (13 percent), Merlot (5 percent), Petit Verdot (2 percent), Cabernet Franc (1 percent) and Malbec (1 percent) are also blended in. Oak aging was accomplished over 15 months in French oak. This wine was finished with a natural cork closure and the suggested retail price is $25.
Tobacco, leather, and dark, brooding fruit notes lead the nose of this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re balanced by an underlying layer of brighter red fruits. Baked blackberries, black raspberries, dark plum and some subtler rich berry fruit flavors are all part of the persistent palate of this wine. Chicory, espresso, earth and black pepper comprise the finish, which has good length. This wine has firm but yielding tannins and good acidity.
There’s a lot to like about this Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s got the characteristics you want in a Napa Cabernet. But it’s built to drink over the next few years, unlike some, that are made to cellar. The 13 percent Syrah in this wine adds a brighter aspect that starts in the nose and continues through the palate. Those things make this a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon to drink now, at a reasonable price point.
While these particular wines are the first efforts under the Forefront label, you also have to consider the formidable experience of the Andrus family. I gladly recommend all three of these wines and look forward to future vintages of them, when, considering their track record, I expect great things to continue. Here’s hoping they expand this line and provide us additional releases in the future.