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13 November 2018

An Evening at Ridge: Back to the summer of ’65

They say that all tastings are not created equal. This was decidedly proven true during our recent MW trip to California; it was confirmed by the thorough tasting of old vintages at Ridge Winery, located at the top of the Santa Cruz mountains, at an altitude of 800 meters.

Paul Draper (pictured below) welcomed 48 Masters of Wine, and after a detailed tour of the old and young cellar, together with an explanation about the use of American oak, it was time to taste. And, what a treat that was! Before I go into the tasting let me put down a short note about the use of American oak. Ridge is one the very few premium wineries that employ American oak, exclusively.  “We taste every year and we treat American oak with respect, and we save money, as well’’ says Paul Draper, as we stand in what must be the biggest room of American oak in the world (pictured below). He continues by saying that: “we use 3% Demptos and Taransaud coopers French oak as our control, just for the sake of comparison.” To set the record straight, I am not particularly fond of American oak, but Ridge is one of the few wineries that makes you wonder if this is the absolute ''truth'' or not. 

Draper talks a little about the history of Ridge vineyards, which produce wine since 1962. He, himself, joined Ridge in 1969. The famous Monte Bello vineyard is located right on the ridge (10 X 2 miles); it has a rare type of limestone and is overlaid with green friable stone. From the 2002 vintage, 42 parcels have been separated into Estate and Monte Bello wines. Extraction is framed around these styles. The iconic Monte Bello is designed for aging, whereas the Estate wine is crafted for earlier consumption. Draper and his winemaker describe their winemaking technique as one that is taken from the early 19th century, since the wines are treated as naturally as possible. 

The wines show both ripeness and luxurious oak, during the early stages of their life. However, they are very fresh, with high natural acidity; For the whites the pH is at 3.2, and for the reds it is usually around 3.42 (it would have been lower, but calcium carbonate is added, so that the pH lies within the normal range for red wines). Total SO2 is 80 mg/lt. Since 2011 they have launched ingredient labeling listing on the back label, which is a list of actions and ingredients, so as to demonstrate that very minimal intervention is needed, in order to produce a fine, terroir-driven wine, from distinctive fruit.

The Geyserville and Lytton Springs wines (Zinfandel based)

Geyserville 2013
Cherry jam, black tea, spicy with exotic aromas. Focused and savoury with firm tannins and abundant black fruit. For long ageing of up to two decades. ****

Geyserville 1995
Like a Barolo, in appearance. Vegetal, earthy, dried roses, a complete wine. Harmonious with a very polished palate.  *****

Lytton Springs 2013
Full throttled Zinfandel 70%, with Petite Sirah and Carignan. This is broader and bigger. ***

Lytton Springs 1999
Fantastic nose with sandalwood, black fruit and exotic spice. Still firm on the palate, lacking only in midpalate concentration. ****

Paul Draper concludes that the belief that Zinfandel can age for a maximum of 5 years does not hold, provided one is referring to exceptional quality Zins.

The Monte Bello wines

Μonte Bello 2015
Deep ruby colour. Intoxicating cedar, mint, oak, coffee on the nose. Oak on the palate, with evident baby fat leading to a coconut finish. 2015 experienced a mild summertime, optimal ripeness was achieved. Classic blend with very fresh acid and minty finish. Too young at this point. ****

Monte Bello 2005
Ripe and focused nose. Oak has beautifully integrated. Needs time to open up though. Layered palate, very firm with blackberry fruit. There was rain during flowering, so production was low. Press wine was important for this vintage to achieve balance. ****

Monte Bello 1995 
Very classy Bordeaux nose with cassis and cedar. Complete wine combining power with freshness. From a cool year, this is mainly Cab and Merlot. A great wine. *****

Monte Bello 1985
Intense graphite nose, aromatic with pencil shavings Cab Franc nuances. Exceptional, classic and complete. A wine flirting with perfection. ****** (six stars)

Monte Bello 1975 
More vegetal and with old wood scents on nose having lost a bit of its definition. Meaty on the palate with intense black fruit and black tea notes. From a very cool vintage. *****

Monte Bello 1965
Like old lace fragile. Still delivering lots of freshness though. ****

Monte Bello is an iconic wine; a classic value in time. These are wines though not meant to be drunk young. They need time; at least 15 or more years of age to resolve tannins and to lose the baby fat of their youth revealing their true personality and complexity. Wines such as the 75, 85 and 95 do prove this point. 

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Submitted on 11/16/2018 - 14:38 by Ronald Pace
Excited to be making my way to Ridge Vineyards today. First visit. Your article helps to resolve my thoughts about the estate wines and MonteBello in my cellar. Hoping to learn more today. Interested to taste MonteBello chardonnay today. Thank you for your informative article.
Submitted on 11/15/2018 - 20:11 by Nick Pappas
Thanks for a well written article on one of California’s great wineries. So many of these founding father wineries are overshadowed by the numerous new kids on the block. Your descriptions of all the Monte Bellos going back to 1965 had me salivating. What a once in a lifetime opportunity. Appreciate the share.
Submitted on 11/15/2018 - 14:46 by Helen Suddards (Oenophilos)
Absolutely one of my favourite wineries and well worth a trip to Santa Cruz mountains....driving up the hill you feel a true sympathy with the changes in terroir....sounds a wonderful tasting with an icon of Californian winemaking!
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