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RIDGE VINEYARDS

John Tilson • 9/7/14        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

Ridge entrance

Without question, Ridge consistently produces some of the best red wines in California. They have been doing it for over 50 years and have a record that is unmatched by anyone in the state. Here is a history of Ridge taken from one of my earlier Ridge articles:

The history of Ridge Vineyards begins in 1885, when Osea Perrone, a doctor who became a prominent member of San Francisco’s Italian community, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. He terraced the slopes and planted vineyards; using native limestone, he constructed the Monte Bello Winery, producing the first vintage under that name in 1892. This unique cellar, built into the mountainside on three levels, is Ridge’s production facility.

At 2,600 feet of altitude, Monte Bello is surrounded by the “upper vineyard.” In the 1940s, William Short, a theologian, bought the abandoned winery and vineyard just below the Perrone property; he replanted several parcels to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1940s. From these vines – now the “middle vineyard” – new owners Dave Bennion and his three partners, all Stanford Research Institute engineers, made a quarter-barrel of “Estate” Cabernet in 1959. That Monte Bello Cabernet was among California’s finest wines of the era. Its quality and distinctive character, and the wines produced from these same vines in 1960 and 1961 (the grapes were sold to other wineries), convinced the partners to re-bond the winery in time for the 1962 vintage, Ridge’s first commercial vintage.

The first Zinfandel was made in 1964, from a small 19th Century vineyard farther down the ridge. This was followed in 1966 by the first Geyserville Zinfandel. The founding families reclaimed the Monte Bello terraces, increasing vineyard size from 15 to 45 acres. Working on weekends, they made wines of regional character and unprecedented intensity.

By 1968, production had increased to just fewer than 3,000 cases per year, and in 1969, Paul Draper joined the partnership. A Stanford graduate in philosophy, recently returned from setting up a winery in Chile’s coast range, Paul was a practical winemaker, not an enologist. His knowledge of fine wines and traditional methods complemented the straightforward “hands off” approach pioneered at Ridge. Under his guidance, the old Perrone winery (acquired the previous year) was restored; the finest vineyard lands leased or purchased, and the consistent quality and international reputation of the wines established. In fact, early on in 1970, the late English wine writer, Harry Waugh, a former director of Chateau Latour, visited Ridge and, on tasting the 1959 Monte Bello, called Ridge “the Chateau Latour of California.” I was privileged to have known Harry. He was one of the greatest tasters of all time and one of the most honest. In addition he was a very kind and unpretentious man. He wrote about wine in a way you could understand. Quite unlike the new wave of 100 point boys, whose writing is as extracted and over the top as the wines they profess to love, he was straight from the “what you see is what you get” mold. Harry, to use a play on his own words, was a Latour/Ridge of a man. His opinion was widely respected by my friends and me at that time and it is one that continues to this day. The world could use more Harry Waughs!

In 1986 Ridge was purchased by the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company. This was the beginning of a partnership that has worked beautifully. Paul Draper was named CEO shortly after the purchase and was given the mandate to make Ridge the best it could be. This partnership allowed Ridge, under Paul’s direction, the freedom and financial resources to expand and become the great organization that it is today. Today Paul Draper continues as CEO and Winemaker. He is joined by Eric Braugher, Vice President – Winemaking Monte Bello; John Olney, Vice President – Winemaking Lytton Springs; and David Gates, Vice President Vineyard Operations. Together this outstanding team is responsible for the wine from the vine to the bottle.

The Ridge Monte Bello (originally Monte Bello Cabernet; until 1975, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) is the wine that introduced Ridge to the world; and the world to Ridge. Today it is a blend of Bordeaux varietals in which Cabernet Sauvignon still predominates. Exhaustive tasting of test blends during assemblage determines how much, if any, Merlot, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc will be included with the Cabernet Sauvignon in the finished wine. Almost every vintage (an unbroken chain from 1962 on) has something substantive to recommend it. Each decade has its high points, but year after year Monte Bello proves to be a consistently outstanding wine, with great structure, complexity and balance. And the wine develops for a very long time.

Ridge Monte Bello’s original prominence worldwide came when the 1971 vintage was entered in the famous Judgment of Paris Tasting of 1976. In this blind tasting, it came in 5th out of 10 wines, behind Stag’s Leap, Mouton Rothschild, Montrose and Haut-Brion. In the Paris Tasting 30th Anniversary Reenactment that took place in the Napa Valley and in London on May 24, 2006, again in blind tasting format, judges on both continents awarded top honors to the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello.

(To read the entire article from which the above quote was taken click here and to read an article on new releases from earlier this year click here  and here.   And to read earlier articles on Ridge and its history  click here and here).

I first visited Ridge over 40 years ago. Since that time I have been there many times and I have been buying, cellaring, and drinking the wines for this entire period. After all, I am a believer in eating my own cooking! Ridge wines have a remarkable ability to age and I have had many incredible bottles dating back into the 1960s. Recently, I once again visited Ridge and spent a day with Paul Draper, the CEO of Ridge, and the man most responsible for its incredible success. As always, it was a great visit. We talked wine from many perspectives including the issue of ingredient labeling (to read articles on this subject click here.  And here.  And here).

And, of course, we tasted many wines beginning with some 2013s from barrel. There are always great wines in the pipeline at Ridge and in the last few vintages it seems like there may be more than ever. If you are looking for balanced wines that are food friendly and delicious and have the ability to age for a long period, Ridge should be at the top of your list just as it is on mine. Below are my notes:

Barrel

2013 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
The final assemblage of this wine had just been made before I tasted it. Paul compares it to the 1970 and 1992. It is a brooding giant and without question this is another legendary Monte Bello in the making.
Very dark in color the wine has a stunning perfume of cassis and blackberries with subtle spice nuances. It has great intensity and loads of fruit with a firm underlying structure and well integrated tannins. Powerful and very flavorful this is a classically proportioned Monte Bello that combines power and grace – Extraordinary Potential.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate
This wine was about 80% completed when I tasted it. The final blend will be finished shortly. It is a wine of intense fruit and is beautifully balanced and rounded. The final blend should produce yet another wonderful Cabernet.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville
Dark in color with a gorgeous perfume showing lots of plum and berry fruit with faint hints of spice and a floral undertone, this is a very concentrated and balanced Geyserville. It has intensity and depth and is packed with fruit. Very impressive – Outstanding Plus Potential.

Bottle

Bottle prices are shown for wines that are currently available. The other 2012s will be released later. And, to read my recent Ridge article with notes on other 2012s currently available for sale click here)

2011 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Monte Bello
Just released this Chardonnay is showing beautifully. It is light yellow in color with a faint golden hue and has a lovely floral perfume with hints of pineapple and tinges of citrus and spice. On the palate, the wine is lush and rounded with great pineapple and citrus tinged fruit with and underlying floral spiciness and a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding.    $70

2011 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
This wine has evolved beautifully. It is a very elegant wine with 12.8% alcohol, yet it has the characteristic Monte Bello intensity and depth. It is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 8% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. The color is very dark and the perfume is redolent of cassis and cedar. With lots of rich supple fruit, the wine is very pure with a complex exotic tinge and is well structured with impressive length. It will effortlessly evolve for decades – Outstanding Plus.     $165

2012 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
This is a stunning Monte Bello. The yields were about 1 1/3 tons per acre and the wine is 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petite Verdot. Very dark in color the wine has a stunning perfume with blackberry, cassis, and cedar intermingled with a floral spice tinge. With great balance and intense fruit, the wine is well structured and impressively rich. This is a great Monte Bello that will age effortlessly for decades – Extraordinary.

2012 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard
Made with 92% Zinfandel and 8% Petite Sirah this wine checks in at 15.2% alcohol. Yet there is no sense of heaviness or heat. The fruit is very pure and the wine is concentrated and supple with lots of intensity. This Zinfandel ranks very high on the scale of immediate appeal and is delicious to drink now and will age for many years as well – Outstanding.     $30

2012 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs
Made with 70% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignan, and 3% Mataro, this is a really delicious Lytton Springs. It is dark in color and has a deep perfume with subtle hints of black fruits with floral spice undertones. Very flavorful, structured and balanced, this wine will repay a bit of bottle age and evolve over a decade or more – Outstanding Plus.    $38

2012 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Pagani Ranch
The vines at Pagani Ranch date back to the 1890–1916 period with very little inter planting since. In 2012 the vines produced amazing fruit which resulted in this phenomenal Zinfandel. The wine is made from 90% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouchet, and 1% Mataro. The color is dark and the wine has a simply stunning perfume of black raspberry and black cherry fruit. The fruit carries over to the palate with great intensity and expression. Supple and lush there is a seamless quality that also makes the wine irresistibly seductive. This is an ultimate expression of very pure fruit. And, as impressive as it is now, the wine will keep for many years – Extraordinary.     $38

2012 Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah Lytton Estate
The oldest Petite Sirah vines here date back to 1901. In recent years a portion of the fruit has been used to make a varietal Petite Sirah. Blended with 10% Zinfandel, this is a stunning example. Very dark in color with a purple hue, the wine has a gorgeous blackberry perfume showing a touch of spice. It has loads of blackberry fruit accented by a tinge of spice and mint. Rich and full, the tannins are soft and well integrated, and the wine has a seamless quality with great intensity and balance – Outstanding Plus.     $32

So that’s the current Ridge line up. There are many great wines in the Ridge pipeline. Don’t miss them! Like I said earlier, I buy Ridge wines every year and I advise you to do the same.  Wines like these are the reason that Ridge was selected as the best winery in America in a recent poll conducted by The Daily Meal. (You can read the entire Daily Meal article by clicking on the name and to read my article click here).

Ridge Monte Bello Vineyard

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3 comments for “RIDGE VINEYARDS”

  1. Great article John. I completely agree with your statement to buy Ridge every year and with the poll position of #! winery in the US.

    The 96` Merlot we had last Friday was outstanding plus as you would denote.

    Posted by Blake Brown | September 8, 2014, 12:55 pm
  2. Hi Mr. Tilson,
    Thank you for this excellent historical perspective on Ridge vineyards. Thank you also for the new reviews. As I have said in my previous email, Ridge has been one of my favorite wineries for many years. What an experience it must be to talk wine with Mr. Draper.

    I do like how you describe wine. I have yet to drink a wine that tasted like pencil shavings or crushed rock.

    My best regards, Keith

    Posted by Keith Weyuker | September 9, 2014, 11:08 am
  3. Thanks Blake. You just can’t go wrong with Ridge. The 96 ATP Lytton Springs Merlot is an example of the breadth of what they do. Ridge is just amazing.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | September 9, 2014, 11:20 am

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