Priest Ranch Wines Tasting Room.

Priest Ranch Wines in Yountville, Napa Valley

By Published On: March 8th, 2024

Interview with Winemaker Cody Hurd.

Experience the perfect pairing of food and wine at their tasting room in Yountville. Try the Bacon and wine Experience or indulge in caviar with bubbles. Priest Ranch has a variety of wine flights to suit every taste. Their wines are crafted from the grapes of their Somerston Estate in Napa Valley and are limited in quantity – many wines can only be found at their Yountville location. We interview Cody Hurd, Priest Ranch’s winemaker to learn more.

Tell us about your wine offerings.

Priest Ranch is particularly renowned for our bold and expressive Cabernet Sauvignon, which truly captures the essence of our unique estate, however, our portfolio is not limited to this varietal alone. We also take pride in producing a range of other wines, including several Bordeaux Variety blends.

Our Sauvignon Blanc is also notable for its vibrant flavors and distinct character, and our Brut Rosé is crafted with a focus on elegance and finesse, perfect for special occasions or enjoying the simple pleasures of life. 

Priest Ranch Wines Brut Rosé.
Brut Rosé. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

We are constantly evaluating our varietal mix to ensure optimal alignment with our terroir and winemaking goals. While Cabernet Sauvignon remains a key focus, we’re also exploring other varietals that can thrive in our diverse microclimates.

Priest Ranch Wines Snake Oil Cabernet Sauvignon wine.
Snake Oil Cabernet Sauvignon. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

This includes considering different clones and rootstocks that can best express the unique characteristics of our estate. The replanting process is an opportunity to innovate and enhance the complexity and distinctiveness of our wine portfolio.

Our offerings go beyond traditional tastings. Our goal is to celebrate the connection between wine, food, and the people who enjoy them.

My personal favorite tasting is our Bacon Experience. There’s something very unexpected about the way the rich flavors of the pork belly intertwine with the complexities of our wines. Guests are often surprised by how these robust flavors complement each other.

Priest Ranch Wines bacon and wine tasting experience.
Bacon experience. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

Next to our tasting room in Yountville, The Kitchen at Priest Ranch (KPR) is a place where my passion for wine and food finds a perfect home. Chef Dan Solomon’s creations, paired with our wines, tell a story that’s close to my heart.

The Kitchen at Priest Ranch.
The Kitchen at Priest Ranch. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

People love the relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere at KPR. It’s a reflection of what I love most about Priest Ranch – our ability to combine elegance with a down-to-earth approach.

Priest Ranch Wines tasting room.
Tasting Room. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

Finally, our regularly hosted Winemaker Lunches at the Somerston Estate are special to me. Here, I get the opportunity to share the beauty of our estate and the stories behind our wines in an intimate setting. Guests often express how these lunches provide them with a deeper understanding and appreciation of our wines, and for me, that’s incredibly rewarding.

What makes your wine unique?

Each bottle we make is a true representation of our land. Stories in a bottle expressed through the lens of Priest Ranch. This involves an intricate interplay between our estate and our mindful winemaking approach.

Our wines are the culmination of a particular place, thoughtful stewardship of the land, and a team dedicated to expressing the true character of our estate in every glass. The diversity of the Somerston Estate allows us to grow grapes which flourish in each individual block to make wines that are complex and multifaceted.

Vineyard at Somerston Estate.
Somerston Estate. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

We employ sustainable vineyard practices, and a winemaking philosophy that allows the grapes to speak for themselves. Our winemaking respects traditional practices, but we’re not afraid to innovate. This allows us to make wines that are both classic and contemporary. Lastly, the passion and expertise of our team, from the vineyard to the cellar, play a crucial role.

Priest Ranch Wines Coach Gun Red Blend wine.
Coach Gun Red Blend. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Priest Ranch?

At Priest Ranch, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a core principle that guides every decision we make, from the vineyard to the bottle. We strive to maintain a balance between producing high-quality wines and preserving the natural ecosystem of our estate. This includes practices like water conservation, using natural pest control methods, and fostering biodiversity in our vineyards.

Somerston Estate and vineyard at sunrise
Somerston Estate at sunrise. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

How did you get started in the wine industry?

Initially, it was a simple fascination with the process of fermentation that drew me in. The transformation of grapes into wine piqued my interest in viticulture and enology. My first hands-on experience in winemaking was in Washington State, where I was lucky enough to start learning the craft at a young age.

When I realized that I wanted to get serious about winemaking, I moved to the Napa Valley, sight unseen. My first job was as a harvest intern at Hall Wines.  I was eventually hired onto the full-time year-round cellar team at Hall, and I stuck around for about a year. In June of 2010, I made the move over to Somerston Estate and Priest Ranch, and the rest is history.

Priest Ranch Wines Winemaker Cody Hurd barrel tasting.
Winemaker Cody Hurd barrel tasting. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?

I do remember falling in love with winemaking. Harvest 2008 in Grapeview, Washington, I was helping at a small winery that produced wine only to raise money for charities. This was a special place, with special people, and all for a special cause. I remember punching down bin fermentations with an old boat oar. Heading out to the winery and punching down the bins every 4 hours, all day, and all night. I loved the hard work.  I loved watching the transformation of the fruit into wine. 

Guests enjoying Brut Rosé at Priest Ranch Wines.
Guests enjoying Brut Rosé. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

Describe your winemaking approach.  

My winemaking philosophy is rooted in expressing the unique character of our estate, while maintaining a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. I believe that great wine is made in the vineyard, and my approach starts with a respect for the land, understanding each vineyard block, and recognizing that the subtlest nuances in soil, microclimate, and vine management can profoundly affect the wine’s character.

Collaboration with the vineyard team is crucial. We work together to ensure that the grapes are picked at the perfect moment, balancing acidity, tannins, and flavor development.

In the cellar we use techniques that allow the wine to develop its flavors and character naturally, without excessive manipulation. We use traditional methods where they work best and embrace modern techniques when they can enhance the wine’s quality.

A key aspect of my approach is patience. Wine cannot be rushed; it requires time to develop and reveal its full potential. This patience extends to every stage of the winemaking process, from the slow maturation of the grapes on the vine to the careful aging of the wine in barrels and bottles.

Priest Ranch Wines Winemaker Cody Hurd tasting wine.
Winemaker Cody Hurd. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

What do you love about winemaking?  

One of the most rewarding aspects is the connection to the land. Working with the vineyards throughout the seasons, observing the subtle changes in the vines, and finally seeing the culmination of all that effort in the harvest – there’s a profound sense of satisfaction in that process. It’s a relationship with the land that’s both nurturing and nurtured, and it instills a deep respect for the environment.

Do you have any winery traditions with your team? 

Our annual harvest party celebrates the hard work, dedication, and passion that goes into each vintage, and it’s a time for everyone involved – from the vineyard crew to the cellar team and hospitality staff – to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor, quite literally.

The harvest party is a family affair, where team members bring their loved ones to share stories and laughter. One of the highlights of the party is our salsa competition. Team members and their families bring their own homemade salsa, each with its unique recipe and flavor. The competition is always fierce but friendly. It’s not just about the spice and flavor; it’s about sharing a piece of our diverse cultures and histories.

As the evening progresses, music fills the air, and dancing inevitably follows. It’s a moment of pure joy and release after the intense and demanding period of harvest. Seeing everyone from vineyard workers to winemakers dancing together is a reminder of the bond we share, united by our love for winemaking and the pride we take in our collective work.

How does your team help you as a winemaker?  

Our team’s collaborative spirit is crucial. Winemaking is a complex art that benefits greatly from diverse perspectives and ideas. The vineyard crew is essential. Their intimate knowledge of our estate sets the stage for everything that follows in the winemaking process. Our cellar team handles the day-to-day tasks of winemaking.

Priest Ranch Wines Vineyard crew working during harvest season.
Vineyard crew during harvest season. Photo Courtesy: Priest Ranch Wines.

From managing fermentation to barrel aging, their ability to adapt and respond to the wine’s needs is essential. The hospitality team also plays a vital role. They are the face of Priest Ranch to the public, sharing our story and wines with guests.

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