Hidden Ridge Vineyard is technically in Sonoma County, though it’s a stone’s throw from Pride Mountain Winery and is pretty close to Napa, as the crow flies.
But in order to actually get to Hidden Ridge’s insanely, almost Mosel-esque steep vineyards in any reasonable amount of time, you’d need to travel as the crow flies. As in, by helicopter (not that I’ve seen any crows flying helicopters… but it could happen, right?). Or, you can do what I did on a recent press trip, which is visit Hidden Ridge Vineyards by way of Lynn Hofacket’s four-wheel-drive truck.
Which is to say, you can be tossed around like a rag doll in the back seat of Lynn Hofacket’s four-wheel-drive truck while traversing the rocky, twisting and winding “roads” that lead you to the vineyard owned by Lynn & Casidy Ward. I’d love to provide directions, but I’m pretty sure my memory of the trip was compromised by the multiple concussions I endured during the drive.
The vineyards at Hidden Ridge might be elevated (some as high as 1700 feet), but the winemaking approach of consulting winemakers Marco DiGiulio and Timothy Milos is fairly down to earth. Several years ago, Lynn was advised to “throw that damn thing away” when he tried to produce a refractometer in the vineyard to measure grape ripeness. Now, he and the winemaking team simply taste the grapes to determine the best time to pick. “Brix aren’t measured until the wine is in the tank” Timothy told me when we toured the ridiculously steep (on up to 55 degree slopes) rows of vines on the Hidden Ridge property.
Lynn is fond of telling stories, most of which are about California wine industry types and aren’t really fit for “printing” here, but the most interesting story when it comes to Hidden Ridge, for me, is the wine itself – most notably, it’s price. Or I should say, its prices…
The 2004 Hidden Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon is rich, dense, and balanced with deep black cherry and licorice aromas. The 2005 is just as intense, and just as good (and bursting with more secondary aromas of spices, green pepper, and espresso) – it’s also almost half the price of the 2004. The 2004 is selling for $75. The 2005? $40. As in, a 47% lower cost than its slightly older sibling.
I’m hardly the first person to highlight the quality of the fruit and subsequent wines produced by Hidden Ridge – my friend and Wine Enthusiast editor Steve Heimoff highlighted them on his blog back in October, and Wine Spectator and uber-wine-pro Mary Ewing-Mulligan both rated the 2005 release in the above-90-points-range. But I might be one of the first to talk about the decision to slash the price.
Why, if you’re wine is garnering 92-95 point ratings from recognized wine critics, would you make a crazy move like that?
Lynn’s answer to that question is pretty straightforward: “Because it’s Sonoma.”
In other words, another $75 Napa Cab. isn’t necessarily going to sell in this tough market, and if the fruit is from Sonoma there’s even less chance of it selling at $75, even though you could spit into a stiff breeze from Napa and you might hit fruit at Hidden Ridge (presuming, of course, that you could spit that high).
But, you can’t just do it because you have to; to be successful, you also need to do it because you can. And the crouching price decision appears to be paying off. Hidden Ridge’s 2005 Cab is now a by-the-glass selection nationwide at Morton’s Steakhouse. Sorry, Morton’s The Steakhouse (whatever).
Future plans for Lynn and Casidy and their team? Keep making Cab. They feel it’s about the only variety suited to the mountainous terrain of their vineyard, in which they take great pains to maintain a “modified sprawl” to provide dappled sunlight to the grapes and prevent sunburn on the fruit. I don’t know if they’re right, but I do think their Cab, while still expensive at $40, is practically a bargain for what it delivers at that price.
I got a relatively early peek at the 2006 Hidden Ridge Cab during my visit (it was released in May). It’s a big, big wine, similar to the 2004 and the 2005 in its dense, dark, black cherry fruit profile but with very tight tannins. It’s lush, and I suspect it will unfold nicely into a bold, tasty steak wine with enough spicy overtones to be really pleasing at the dinner table with that steak.
Oh, yeah – it’s still (probably underpriced) at $40.
I’ll leave you with some shots of the crazy vineyard, which are a poor substitute for actually visiting the place but should give you a good idea of the steep madness.
(images: 1winedude.com, except where noted)