Switchback Ridge Wine: Paving A Legacy in Calistoga

Switchback Ridge Wine

The history of Switchback Ridge wine is the story of the oldest continuously owned winery in Calistoga and on the Silverado Trail. The Petersons legacy chronicles the Napa Valley region from the early 1900s to the present day. It also reveals some of the first women in wine and their role in sustaining a vineyard and, later, a winery. They were true pioneers of the region.

Family History

Eliza and Mads Peterson immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. Driven west like so many people, they purchased the 100-acre property between St Helena and Calistoga adjacent to the Silverado Trail in 1914. The property included a Zinfandel vineyard, but soon Prohibition reared its head, and Napa Valley became the source for prunes. A plum orchard was planted to help the family survive during this era.

The property passed down to Eliza and Mads daughters, Vera, Carrie, and Mae. Later, Vera’s son John took over, and he taught his kids to cherish the land. John planted Petite Syrah in 1956. Today, the old vine Petite Syrah may be some of the oldest in the Napa area.

Old Vine Petite Sirah
Old Vine Petite Sirah. Photo Courtesy of Switchback Ridge

The family legacy started over 100 years ago and still carries on through the 4th and 5th generations, with John’s daughter Kelly running the winery and her daughter Ashley sharing in many responsibilities.

When Kelly took over the helm in the 1990s, they planted Cabernet and Merlot on the property in 1995. Today, 21 acres are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. The Cabernet is clone 337 from Bordeaux cuttings the Peterson’s brought to Napa Valley. The Petite Sirah vines date back over 60 plus years. It is a grape close to the Peterson’s heart and one they can hang their hat on, especially since the family promised Carrie they would not rip out the Pets as she called the Petit Sirah vines.

The Petersons named the property Switchback Ridge after the winding trails that lie in the hills behind the vineyards, an area John Peterson spent hiking.

Kelly and Ashely Peterson
Kelly and Ashely Peterson. Photo Courtesy of Switchback Ridge

Switchback Ridge Winery and Vineyard

The vineyard lies in a portion of Calastoga that sees a great diurnal shift from day to night. The soils are loamy.

Switchback Ridge’s first vintage was in 1999. Bob Foley was the winemaker from 1999 to 2018. Mike Smith became winemaker in 2019. Today, the winemaker is Thomas Rivers Brown. I have had the privilege to sample wine created by all three winemakers.

Current winemaker, Thomas Rivers Brown’s pedigree, makes him an outstanding choice for taking the helm of Switchback Ridge wine. His accolades include Food and Wine Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” in 2010, and he has earned twenty-five 100-point scores From both Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

Thomas’ philosophy is a minimalist approach, letting the vineyard and terroir speak for itself.

Switchback Ridge Winemaker Thomas Rivers-Brown
Winemaker Thomas Rivers-Brown. Photo Courtesy of Switchback Ridge.

Switchback Ridge Wine Luncheon And Tasting

I have been to several tastings with Switchback Ridge. I learned about the winery at a tasting in 2020 and sampled the wines again in 2021. Recently, I revisited the wines again at a tasting presented at AOC Brentwood at an LA Wine Writers luncheon. Pierson Ryan represented Switchback Ridge wines.

Pierson Ryan
Pierson Ryan

Switchback Ridge Sauvignon Blanc

This 2022 Sauvignon Blanc incorporates 5% Semillon, which creates a rounder wine. The grapes are sourced from the McGah Family Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley.

The wine displays aromas of stone fruit, citrus, and apple and continues to the palate, enhancing this wine’s crisp and refreshing body.

Switchback Ridge Sauvignon Blanc
Switchback Ridge Sauvignon Blanc

Switchback Ridge Merlot

I sampled the 2015 and 2016 Merlot in the past. This time, we were presented with the 2021 Merlot. Although young, I found the savory qualities that accent the dark fruit made it one of the most outstanding Merlots. The Merlot blends with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petite Sirah.

Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Again, I sampled the 2015 and 2016 in the past. The 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon combines primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a smidgeon of Petit Sirah. With aromas of dark fruit and hints of tobacco, this silky wine brings out the dark fruit and licorice on the palate.

Switchback Ridge Petite Sirah

I also sampled the Petit Sirah in the past. As a Switchback Ridge wine closer, this yummy wine is ideal for finishing a tasting. The wine consists of 100% Petit Sirah that utilizes 13% old vine. My first thought was a blueberry pie. Think of a compote created with blackberry, blueberry, and boysenberry. With velvety tannins, it makes a well-balanced wine. The Petit Sirah was the perfect ending to our Switchback Ridge wine tasting and luncheon.

The family legacy represents a farming family whose roots began with plums and moved to selling grapes and finally producing wine that signifies the Peterson family name and those of Switchback Ridge wine. Unique to the time were the women who kept this legacy alive.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted winetasting. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.