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In 1914, Eliza and Mads Peterson purchased a 100-acre property located on the floor of the Napa Valley at the mouth of Dutch Henry Canyon. Both Eliza and Mads had immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s–Eliza from Ireland and Mads from Denmark–and headed westward as so many did at that time, seeking a place to call home.
The property, located just off the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga, hosted a small Zinfandel vineyard. With the onset of Prohibition in 1920, prunes quickly became the cash crop in Napa Valley, and the Petersons planted a plum orchard to help provide for their large family. Caring for the orchard, as well as a large vegetable garden and numerous farm animals, was a full-time job for the whole family, including the six boys and three girls.
When the time came to pass the property on, the daughters–and not the sons–took the responsibility. Vera, Carrie, and Mae worked to preserve the family legacy, maintaining the buildings, plum orchard, vegetable garden and livestock. Vera worked the land, Carrie managed the books and Mae returned each summer to help the harvest.
Eliza Jane Peterson
The old prune dipper, in operation until 1989.
Vera’s son, John Peterson, grew up working the farm and, in turn, taught his children, Trish, Kelly and Johnny, the reward of hard work. The inspiration sparked by Mads’s dream, set a true legacy in motion.
Slowly the plum orchards transitioned to vineyards, and by the 1990s grape vines were thriving on the property that once hosted plums. The soils with plenty of drainage and a warm, sunny climate made the area perfect for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Sirah. There are currently 21 acres under vine, which includes a sixty-plus year old block of dry farmed Petite Sirah that John Peterson helped plant as a young child.
The inspiration to embark upon a family wine project first came to Kelly in 1995 with the death of her great aunt, Carrie. Auntie, as she was affectionately called, 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 down to an all-time low of only 1,700 acres. After her death, there was a renewed interest in the variety and Kelly vowed to make a Petite Sirah varietal wine in her honor. That dream became a reality in 1999, with the help of family friend and winemaker Bob Foley, when Switchback Ridge produced its first vintage.
Switchback Ridge is named for the winding trails in the hills above the vineyard that John explored as a child. Today Kelly Peterson continues the legacy that began with her great-grandfather, Mads, over a hundred years ago.
Eliza Peterson and her daughter, Vera, 1939
Vera Peterson and her son, John, 1948; Carolyn Peterson, 1943