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Switchback Ridge: A Cult Wine for the Rest of Us


Switchback Ridge: A Cult Wine for the Rest of Us

In 1999, at the height of the cult wine renaissance, a standout Napa Cabernet known as Switchback Ridge emerged from an exhaustingly overhyped market. A few years later, I attended a BYO wine dinner in Rutherford, New Jersey. In a sea of trophy wines, one wine stood out as the clear victor: the ’01 Switchback Ridge Cabernet. The impetus behind this wine is the Peterson Family and Winery. In the wine world, conventional wisdom suggests that you “buy the producer.” This means that in the hierarchy of wine buying, the producer takes priority over the grape, vintage, and sometimes, even the property. In the context of Switchback Ridge, you are buying the Peterson Family…a worthwhile investment.

The winery began when John Peterson began working with legendary winemaker, Robert Foley, famous for his work at Pride Mountain. Their collegial relationship continues today, with managing partner, Kelly Peterson and the rest of the Peterson family. The Peterson Family Winery is a legitimate family business (you can’t hear me, but I’m saying that in my best Don Corleone voice). 

Switchback Ridge is unapologetically robust, rooted in big fruit and high-alcohol percentages.

They are sometimes accused of being “Parkerized” (world-renowned wine critic Robert Parker is said to have a predilection towards bold wines), but it is dismissive to think that Switchback Ridge Cabernets and Merlots do not age gracefully. That said, their Petite Sirah is a monster and should be kept chained in the basement! It too, ages well, but it takes years to realize its full potential.

Why the hell would anyone grow old vine Petite Sirah anyway? It takes up valuable land, produces low yields, and is susceptible to rot and viruses. At Switchback Ridge, the answer is simple. The family cares more about making wine than they do making money–It’s conscientious winemaking at its best. The Peterson Family Winery is steeped in tradition and their block of old vine Petite Sirah serves as an homage to Kelly Peterson’s late Great Aunt, Carrie. I don’t know whose job it was to sell John Peterson (an old-school farmer) on the idea of cultivating a low-yielding crop, but I’m glad I didn’t draw the short straw!

Switchback Ridge is the perfect storm of wine production.

The first thing you need to make great wine is great land. Like the saying goes, “Buy real estate because they’re not making any more of it!” The Peterson Family Vineyard is located in the viticultural epicenter of Napa Valley. Unless your name is “Mr. Seagrams,” it’s virtually impossible to buy land there. You also need a great wine maker like Robert Foley. You may have a really good wine, but once Bob “tweaks it,” you have an exceptional wine! Foley’s relationship with the Peterson Family goes back many years. Suffice it to say that you can’t just call him up and have him make wine for you. Apropos of his musical background, he’s a “rockstar” in the industry. 

Despite its exceeding quality, Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon is less than a hundred dollars a bottle. When you consider the relative cost of Harlan Estate and Screaming “That’s not a telephone number, that’s the price!” Eagle, it’s a very fair price for a world-class wine. 

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