A fifth generation first-class team producing amazing wines from their family-owned vineyards
Not many wineries can boast of having fourth or fifth generation owners. One who can is Calistoga’s Switchback Ridge that is owned by current generations of the Peterson Family.
The original plantings of the 100-acre Napa Valley vineyard occurred back in 1914 and have remained in the family since that time. The prime property rests at the mouth of Dutch Henry Canyon and is located at the northeastern end of the famed valley. Currently there are 26 acres under vine.
Kelly Peterson, 49, is the fourth generation of her family to be involved in the wine industry. She grew up on the Peterson Family Vineyard and eventually decided that the much sought after grapes the vineyard annually produced should fall under the Peterson family’s own aegis. In 1999, Kelly founded Switchback Ridge and the rest of the story is history.
“We call it Switchback Ridge due to the winding trails in the hills above the vineyard that my father, John Peterson, explored as a child. We have always planned to cut a switchback road to a visitor’s center and tasting facility that would be built sometime in the future,” she explained.
Switchback Ridge’s first release of around 600 cases occurred around the turn of the century and was met with instant successes and accolades. The winery’s production has grown steadily and is currently around the 2,500-case level. “That is a comfortable level for us at this time,” Kelly continued. “And, it will probably remain around that number unless we decide to plant additional vines. We share our estate fruit with Bob, so we are limited to the amount of cases we can actually produce.”
“Bob” is none other than iconic winemaker Bob Foley of Robert Foley Vineyards, Pride Mountain Vineyards, and of late Padis Vineyards - and he is Switchback Ridge’s head winemaker. Foley’s career began in 1977 and has ascended to the top ranks of Napa Valley winemakers under the labels of a number of different Napa Valley wineries. Food and Wine magazine named Foley its Winemaker of the Year in 2007 and many of his wines have produced exceptional scores and medals in the highest competitions. He is most known for his marvelous reds and Cabernet Sauvignons, in particular. He is also an accomplished musician and tours throughout the country with the Robert Foley Band.
Switchback Ridge is the vehicle that Kelly Peterson believes will insure her family’s participation in the wine industry for another 100+ years. She is particularly proud of a small block of Old Vine Petite Sirah that was planted in 1956. “This is our foundation block that my Aunt Caroline treasured and gave me the inspiration to start a winery. We even produce a small amount of Estate Old Vine Petite Sirah, only 25 or 30 cases each year. But we had enough of this marvelous juice to allow for 28% in the Petite Sirah your club is featuring. It makes for an exceptional wine that we are happy to share.”
Was it a surprise to garner the attention and awards that Switchback Ridge has achieved?
“Not really,” confessed Kelly Peterson. “When you put great vineyard fruit and a talented winemaker together, it’s a no brainer. Such magic happens each vintage and our wines have earned the plaudits that we can point to.”
Switchback Ridge’s imaginative label is another interesting story. Kelly worked with a high school friend, Adam Sullivan, to develop a serpentine style label that reflects the trails that inspired Switchback Ridge. The labels stand out on shelves and provide an interesting twist to the mostly classical stickers used by many wineries.
Another reason Switchback Ridge figures to endure is the fact that the family’s fifth generation is right behind the current owners. Kelly’s daughter Ashley, 32, and son Devon, 22, are both involved with the winery. Ashley is involved with the winery’s sales and marketing while Devon is currently completing his schooling in viticulture and enology.
The entire team at Switchback Ridge is first class. In addition to Kelly Peterson and Bob Foley, renowned Vineyard Manager Hector Lopez of Lopez Vineyard Management controls the company’s farming. His former and current clients include Caymus Vineyards, Rombauer Vineyards and Garguilo Vineyards, in addition to Robert Foley Vineyards and Peterson Family Vineyards.
Switchback Ridge is one of the boutique wineries that produces amazing wines from its own vineyards. Many insiders feel these wineries are the backbone of the Napa Valley wine industry and offer consumers incredibly viable alternatives to larger production wineries. Join us in saluting Switchback Ridge and its fine wines.
Map of the area
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
I am honored to have our 2013 Petite Sirah included in this month’s wine club shipment!
Switchback Ridge produces handcrafted estate grown Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah sourced exclusively from the Peterson Family Vineyard in Calistoga. The property has been in our family since 1914 and encompasses nearly 100 acres, 21 acres of which are currently under vine. Our family friend and veteran winemaker, Bob Foley, has been making the wines since our first vintage in 1999.
The Petite Sirah is perhaps the most special wine we make - to me, this wine is our family’s heritage in a bottle. I was inspired to start a family wine project by my great aunt, Carrie. “Auntie” emphatically insisted that her old vine block of Petite Sirah, or “Pets” as she called them, “not be touched” when the property was replanted in 1990. At the time, there was little respect or interest in Petite Sirah and total acreage in California was at an all-time low. Soon after her death in late 1994, there was a renewed interest in the variety - Petite Sirah was fashionable again! It was at this time of retrospect that I vowed to make a Petite Sirah in her honor. The old vine block is about 3 acres, head trained, dry farmed, and we are lucky if we get 5 tons of fruit off of the entire block. My dad remembers having to help plant the block as a young child, so we estimate the vines are now 60+ years old. We took the bud wood from the old block and planted a second block of Petite Sirah in 1995. This newer block is just shy of 2 acres, also head trained, but unlike the old block, it is irrigated and our yields are much more tolerable. Our 2013 Petite Sirah is a blend of these two blocks: 72% from the newer block and 28% from the old block - what I call the “secret sauce” of the blend!
I sincerely hope you enjoy this special wine. I hope it evokes a sense of place and a family’s love and dedication to one another and to this beautiful piece of land and community that our family has been so blessed to be a part of for over 100 years. Drink in good health and happiness!