About five years ago, during a visit to Flowers Winery on the Sonoma Coast, I heard Walt and Joan Flowers describe their venture as “extreme winemaking.”
The description fits Hidden Ridge perfectly, perhaps more so. The vineyard is located several miles over the Napa county line into Sonoma, off Spring Mountain Road, at an elevation of 2400 and a slope of 55 degrees. It is accessible only by helicopter, four-wheel drive vehicle, or on foot.
This improbable location was purchased in 1990 by Casidy Ward and Lyn Hofacket, who originally intended to build a house on it. Toward the end of the decade, after Lyn had studied winemaking, they planted a vineyard on their “island in the sky.” After selling their grapes for several years they decided to produce their own wine, and hired the celebrated Marco DiGiulio as consulting winemaker.
Hidden Ridge is a powerful expression of mountain-grown Cabernet. The 2006 is full-bodied and powerful, with tart blackberry fruit and dusty tannins; sweet notes of powdered cocoa emerge on the long finish. The 2007 is potentially even better. It will take some time to emerge, but already displays very good balance and excellent integration of fruit, tannins and oak. Best of all, the wine is a bargain (for its quality level) at $40.
Drinking a bottle of Hidden Ridge is nowhere near as challenging as visiting the vineyard, but there are rewards for making the trip. After spending nearly an hour snaking along mountain roads and dirt trails, the visitor is rewarded with a panoramic view of Spring Mountain and the Mayacamas range. Nor is it as treacherous as working among the vines, situated on a slope as steep as the banks of Germany’s Mosel River; after harvesting these grapes, there’s the additional dilemma of how to get them down the mountain. Hofacket designed special tractors to work the land, as well as customized grape transports that are actually converted lumber trucks. Every aspect of this vineyard demands concentration and dedication, and is truly an exercise in extreme winemaking.