Hidden Ridge Vineyard is the improbable creation of husband and wife team Lynn Hofacket and Casidy Ward. Improbable for three main reasons: 1) the Oklahoma couple never intended to get into the wine business; 2) neither had any prior experience in the wine industry; and 3) they chose a nearly impossible to access site for their vineyard. But against the odds, they have created a vineyard dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon and are producing from it some of California’s best wines from that grape variety. (More on that later.) With big scores from both the Wine Spectator and from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, they are going from hidden to being discovered.
Lynn and Casidy bought the property that is now Hidden Ridge Vineyard in 1991. It sits literally at the top of the Mayacamas Mountains that divide the Napa Valley from the Sonoma Valley. Situated on the Sonoma side of Spring Mountain its steep slopes (55 degrees) face south and west. The location is so remote that you can only access it by four wheel drive, by foot or by helicopter. The site was formerly a hunting lodge and Lynn and Casidy’s first thought was to make it a rural homesite. But lack of easy access cured them of that notion and so the vineyard idea was conceived. Lynn does have an agricultural background and a do-it-yourself attitude. He spent six years terracing the 55 acres and planting the vineyard while taking courses on viticulture at Santa Rosa University.
The vineyard sits at elevations of 900 – 1700 feet, making it among the highest elevation vineyards in either Napa or Sonoma. 20 – 25 feet of volcanic soils and sandy loam sit above the bedrock. These soils and the steep slope contribute to the vineyard’s drainage and to the tannic structure of the fruit, giving it that big, brawny structure that mountain vineyards are known for. 54 acres are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and one acre is planted to Petit Verdot.
To make their wines, Lynn and Casidy hired Timothy Milos as the consulting winemaker. We met Timothy at Luna Winery in Napa, where Hidden Ridge stores their barrels. Timothy is an instantly engaging person. He exudes energy, seems to always be smiling and is possessed of an excellent vocabulary, the kind that is only developed through lots of reading and a higher education. Terms like suis generis (latin, meaning in a class of its own) roll off his tongue effortlessly and without in any way trying to be showy. In fact he corrected us when we incorrectly used the term “varietal” referring to a particular grape. Timothy pointed out that, while used commonly enough, its use as such is actually incorrect, and “variety” was what we meant; varietal refers to a wine made from a single grape variety.
Timothy grew up in the Bay Area and then did his undergraduate studies in Cell Biology at U.C. Berkley and Sonoma State University and then a graduate degree in Plant Pathology at Cornell University. He also studied winemaking at the UC Davis Masters Program. He has worked at wineries across the US, getting his start in New York’s Finger Lakes district and then returning home to California where he has done past stints at such notable wineries as Opus One, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Cliff Lede.
Timothy took us on a fascinating trip through the barrel room, using the wine thief to extract samples from numerous different barrels. It was quite astonishing to note the difference that simply different barrels make to the wine. The Hidden Ridge Vineyard is divided into 21 separate blocks and we sampled from several of them to see just what it is that Timothy looks for to create the final blend. Hidden Ridge wine typically rests in barrel for 20 months, 75% of which is new. Since we only tasted barrel samples with him, and no finished wines, we will not include formal tasting notes from them, but we have included here our tasting note of the 2007 Hidden Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Impassable Mountain.
We can tell you that all of the barrel samples showed tremendous richness and depth. Tannins were certainly present, as you would expect from such young wines, but they were ripe and sweet. The fruit flavours and aromas were from the black fruit end of the spectrum and conjured up notes of cassis, blackberry pie with hints of earth and forest notes. These are big, viscous, mouth-filling wines that are a delight to drink. No doubt the real reward is many years down the road when bottle age will have allowed a greater integration of the separate components and more complexity to develop.
We were first introduced to Hidden Ridge wines by Marquis Wine Cellars in Vancouver. They brought in the 2007 Hidden Ridge Impassable Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and based upon their reviews we bought three bottles. That was a big mistake. At $100 a bottle the wine is not cheap, but for that quality it is a steal. We opened a bottle, absolutely adored it, and immediately called them up to buy whatever they had left. To our chagrin, it had all been sold. 96 point scores from Robert Parker and a place on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List will do that. We are sure hoping they will bring in future vintages, as this is truly outstanding Cabernet, up there with the very best from the State.
Very dark, not revealing anything like an 8 year old in colour. Beautiful nose of blackberry and blueberry, with hints of cedar and vanilla mixed in. This is a big, powerful, full-bodied wine that was custom made for a grilled steak! Despite its size, it retains balance and does not overwhelm you. The finish goes on and on as it offers up minerals and a touch of spice. Definitely in the top echelon of California Cabernet.
2012 Vintage available online from the winery at US $125.00 http://www.hiddenridgevineyard.com/