Napa Valley AVA
93 Points - Wine Enthusiast magazine
For Peter Snowden, now a young 62, his doorway into the wine industry occurred at a very early age. After an early childhood spent in both the Bay Area and Southern California, Peter’s aunt Virginia purchased a ranch in Napa Valley in 1954 that became Peter’s second home on his family’s frequent visits. His cousins were cellar rats at Beaulieu and Inglenook and invited their respective winemakers to gather around their mother’s inviting country style kitchen table for tasting and stories.
On one such occasion, while he was an economics student at UC-Berkeley in his early twenties, Peter Snowden suddenly realized it would someday be quite cool to own his own winery and attempt to duplicate the feats of the professional winemakers that had become his friends around the table.
He graduated and next garnered a law degree and set down to practice law for the next few years. Snowden eventually drifted into the commercial real estate business and specialized in restoring distressed properties. He would play the cycle game, buy properties when the prices were down, repair them, and wait for the prices to rise. The real estate investment business proved quite successful and in 1988, Snowden was approached by his cousin Scott (one of the former cellar rats) about a piece of property that had recently come on the market.
The property was 42 hilly acres that bordered the prestigious Joseph Phelps vineyards on Napa Valley’s Eastern mountainside that contained a spectacular view of the valley. Peter Snowden jumped at the chance and found himself fulfilling his long time dream. The land was planted and Snowden began farming the property.
In the late 1990’s, Snowden and his wife Linda began producing the first Rockledge Vineyards wines, named after a street the couple lived on in Laguna Beach and also for the fact that their property sits on a ledge in very rocky terrain above Napa Valley.
The first release of 1999 consisted of about 2,000 cases that included cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and primitivo. Since that time, Rockledge has actually downsized its production to its present level of just over 800 cases, somewhat unique in the wine industry.
“We have always envisioned making the finest wine possible from the soils we have to work with,” commented Snowden. “When we first began, we tried some home winemaking and learned from that. Both Linda and I enjoyed the farming aspect of the business but the winemaking was something else. It reaches some finite points, and the differences in quality can be enormous.”
Winemaker Mike Hirby joined the Rockledge team in 2004 and the brand was able to develop to a new level. “Mike brought some wonderful expertise to Rockledge,” Snowden continued. “He also taught us some things about growing that really helped the quality of fruit we were producing. He suggested small changes in the canopy we employ and other improvements that make better use of the rocky soils. From the improved fruit that resulted, Mike was able to make even higher quality wines. Linda and I had spent almost ten years in the vineyards and had really learned only the basics. Mike opened our eyes to a number of farming possibilities while always improving the quality of the fruit.”
Since its inception, consistent accolades and awards have always accrued for Rockledge Vineyards. The winery’s varietal production has changed with mostly cabernet sauvignon (600 cases) and chardonnay (200 cases) the current winery mix.
“We told Mike to source the best chardonnay grapes he could find and make the best wine he could imagine,” Snowden added. “By having the Chardonnay, we add a bit of diversity to the Rockledge portfolio. But, by no means will we be sidetracked from our main goal of producing the finest quality cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley.”
In 2002, a home site was cleared in the middle of the property and Linda and Peter moved to Napa. The view from their deck is as spectacular as any that exists in the entire valley.
“We are quite fortunate to be living our dream,” Snowden finalized. “We have our wines in nine states and sell about all we can produce. We don’t intent to make much more than we are presently making, so all we have to do is continue improving what we have on hand. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but the end makes it all worthwhile.”