Pride Mountain Vineyards home
December 18, 2015
2015 in the Rearview Mirror

It is that time of year where we can relax, enjoy the holiday season and put the past year into perspective.  2015 was an interesting one for us at Pride Mountain Vineyards with many stand-out events that will make it a year that will be remembered. 

We began the year with one of the strangest events to have ever occurred at PMV:  some of the vines began to grow in January!   That is at least 6 weeks earlier than the previous record and well before the usual start in early April.  Normally, an early budbreak is a concern because there is still winter weather to get through and the tender shoots are quite susceptible to the ill effects of frost and rain.  But in 2015, all was seeming great with warm and record-dry winter weather provoking images of the earliest harvest ever up until … 30 minutes of hail showed up on April 14 that left an inch of pea-sized hail on the ground.  That brief event was fun for us but caused the vines to slow down and even stop growing as they repaired themselves after having taken a beating.  Growth resumed as normal in May but when bloom and fruit set occurred, many of the pre-bloom clusters that had been directly hit by hail either withered up and fell off the vine entirely or had less than the usual number of berries per cluster.  Thankfully, the hail was largely concentrated in only a few of the vineyard blocks so that the final crop load we brought in was only somewhat lower than normal.  In the end, because of the delay in April due to the hail event, the 2015 vintage ended up being tied with 2001 as the earliest harvest in our history. 

Now the good part of having less fruit on the vines compared to normal, especially in a drought year like 2015 where the vines had restrained canopy growth, is that the fruit easily gets ripe and each berry has its skin completely exposed to the warm summer air.  This results in concentrated and richly flavored wines which is exactly what we got in 2015. When the 2015 vintage blends are put together and sold in 2017, there is no need to worry; we will have enough of these beauties so that all of you will be able to try them.  Despite the unusual weather and different character of the growing season, 2015 now adds to 2012, 2013 and 2014 in a great run of standout vintages (though we thought the cool years of 2010 and 2011 made some pretty special wines as well).    

Sales were up nicely in 2015 since we produced a bit more 2013 vintage wines than we did of the 2012 vintage (which mostly sold in 2014).   Our 2013 reds are some of the most monumentally-structured and concentrated-in-flavor wines that we have ever made; the only vintage that comes close is 2001 and all of us who remember are thinking that 2013 kicks it up a notch compared to 2001.  The critics seem to be in agreement.  Speaking of which, in 2015 we received our first 100 pt perfect score from Robert Parker for our 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  We have received several 99 pt scores from Mr. Parker over the years and still more 98 pt scores, but it really felt nice to think that somebody, anybody, but especially someone as experienced as Robert Parker, thought that something we made was actually “perfect”.  Of course, we think there is always room to improve.  When we were putting the final blend together of the 2013 Reserve Cab this past November prior to the December bottling, we were comparing it side-by-side to the 2012 and every single one of us on the wine team thought the 2013 was even more compelling.  You will get to be the ultimate judge of that however.

In May of 2015, there was a security breach at our consumer-direct internet-sales provider Missing Link Networks.   Your credit card numbers, along with customers at scores of other wineries, may have been compromised and we were greatly concerned.  Fortunately, as is often the case with calamities, the upside was greater than the downside; Missing Link has vastly improved their security using the latest state-of-the-art technology and, in so doing, made the credit-card management on their system not only safer but much easier for the consumer.  Fortunately, when we released the 2013 Merlot and Cabernet Franc in August, sales were up compared to the year before which meant that all of you had responded to our little crisis with kindness and support!  We thank you sincerely for that.      

In late September, I was reading about an upcoming White House State Dinner honoring China's President Xi Jinping.  On a whim, I googled which wines were going to be served and it said 2012 Pride Vintner Select Merlot!  I then recalled we had been contacted by the White House in August to buy some of this wine and now we knew why.  Every time the White House uses your wine at one of their formal dinners, they send you the fancy printed menu.  We then put those menus on plaques and hang them on a wall next to our tasting room.  For fun, we counted the number of menus hanging there:  our wines have been served 32 times in the White House since 1999!  I had no idea it was that many; that is almost twice a year.  There is something deeply satisfying and even intriguing to think that our wines have been enjoyed by nearly all the top leaders from around the world.  It is a curious winding path that leads from our humble little merlot grapes happily growing on our isolated mountain top all the way to the belly of China’s President! 

Finally, in 2015 we had four personnel additions and one loss; long-time tasting room professional Scott Stooker, whom many of you have met during your visits to PMV, decided that it was time for his wife Gretchen and him to retire to the warm weather and golf courses of Arizona.  We wish them the best in their early retirement and thank Scott for all his years of passionate service in the domain of wine education and guest experience. He will be missed. When we were faced with finding his replacement, it just so happened that the restaurant Tra Vigne in St. Helena was not allowed to renew their lease and decided, after 30 fantastic years, to close their business at the end of 2015.   As a result, one of their top restaurant managers, Paul Smith, became available and we convinced him that his next calling was in the front end of the house at PMV.  Paul has been with us since early November and already seems like he has been with us for years.  He truly understands what guests need to feel at ease and what customer service is all about.  Please ask for him next time you visit and see for yourself.  We had the entire restaurant staff from Tra Vigne up for a special event last week to say good bye to them and everybody on that great staff was happy that Paul has found a new home with us.    

We also created a new full-time position called “enologist” and hired Margaux Lacoste to fill it.  Although Margaux grew up in Paris France, somehow her palate is geared toward the large-scaled full-throttle wines we make here in California.  She is an incredibly hard worker with lots of winemaking skill and an incredible palate and will do many of the winemaking logistical tasks that will allow winemaker Sally Johnson to spend more of her time with the wines themselves (instead of with a computer screen).  In addition to Margaux, we also brought on Erik Ayala full-time to the production team.  He is the son of our long-time production team member Ruben Ayala and another incredibly talented young person who will hopefully be with us for many years to come.  We now have more man hours dedicated to each bottle of wine, by far, than at any point in our history!  Last, my niece Kathryn Bryan was hired to work in the tasting room this fall.  Kathryn (or Katy to the family) had spent many years in New York City before deciding to return to California and try her hand at wine education.  It is a pleasure to see a next generation in the tasting room interacting with guests. 

Have a fantastic 2015 Holiday Season and may your 2016 be filled with love and prosperity,  

Steve Pride