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RIDGE VINEYARDS & THE DROUGHT YEARS 2012-2015

John Tilson • 12/10/15        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 ridge monte bello map

A RECENT VISIT AND SOME REALLY STUNNING WINES

I have been visiting Ridge Vineyards since the 60s and writing about them since just before the launch of  The Underground Wineletter in 1979. During this entire period I have been buying, cellaring, and drinking Ridge Vineyards wines. They have always given me immense pleasure and I cannot recommend them more highly. Since the launch of the new on line Underground Wineletter I have written seven previous articles featuring Ridge Vineyards. They are listed below in chronological order (click to read):
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Retrospective Dinner 12/15/09
Ridge Vineyards – Uncompromising Quality 12/17/11
Ridge Vineyards 10/19/12
World Class Central Coast Wineries… 1/19/14
Ridge Vineyards And Tablas Creek Vineyard 5/15/14
Ridge Vineyards 9/7/14
Ridge Vineyards – Spring 2015 Releases

If you are still not familiar with Ridge Vineyards, I would recommend to everyone, as I have for over 4o years, that you
waste no more time and get on board. There are many great things still ahead as Ridge seems to go from strength to strength!

This year, two days after my August 11th visit, Ridge began harvesting grapes. It is the earliest harvest in its 53 year history.
Here is what Eric Baugher, Vice  President Winemaking Monte Bello, had to say about the 2015 harvest: … It’s another fantastic quality vintage, but with yields that are sharply lower than average.  We are down 40% from last year in cabernet, down 30% in chardonnay, and easily down 40% in zinfandel….Along with 1977, 2015 looks to be the lowest yields in the history of Ridge Vineyards. Next year I will have a look at the 2015s. But, make no mistake; the last few years have reflected drought conditions and Ridge has crafted some of the best wines in their long history. And, as mentioned earlier, I do have a very  long time perspective with Ridge going back to the very early days in the 1960s. Following are notes on wines tasted from barrel and wines tasted from bottle including some stunning unreleased wines. There are many incredible wines that are being offered for sale this year and many more next year. Don’t miss them!

Wines Tasted From Barrel

Ridge Eric Baugher

I met with Eric Baugher, Vice President Winemaking Monte Bello, and tasted 2014 Ridge wines from barrel and 2013 Ridge wines from bottle. Eric, along with John Olney, Vice President Winemaking at Lytton Springs, and legendary Winemaker and CEO Paul Draper are in charge of the winemaking. And, along with David Gates, Vice President of Vineyard Operations, this outstanding team is primarily responsible for the terrific Ridge wines. In the challenging drought vintages, they have come through with flying colors making some of the best wines in the long, storied history of Ridge Vineyards!

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The 2014 vintage was a very early vintage (only to be exceeded by the 2015) with all the grapes ripening in a period of 3½ weeks. There are some potentially great wines as indicated in the following notes:

2014 Ridge Vineyards Estate Chardonnay
Light yellow color great perfume great floral perfume with tinges of vanilla and spice with a faint underlying tropical nuance this wine has very pure fruit with lots of flavor and a nice crispness – Outstanding Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay
This Chardonnay will be bottled in April 2016 and held in bottle until release in September of 2017. It shows the intensity and balance that has exemplified the Monte Bello Chardonnays in recent vintages. The wine is loaded with layers of very pure fruit and is beautifully balanced and should develop more complexity as it ages – Outstanding Plus Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles
With a dark color this Zinfandel made from old vines fruit grown on the Dusi Ranch shows a great purity in this vintage. As usual, it is rich and full is very well defined with lots of structure and flavor – Outstanding Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Mazzoni Home Ranch Zinfandel
This wine is made from grapes grown in Alexander Valley. The wine is composed of 60% Zinfandel grown on very old vines up to 150 years old and 35% Carignane with the remaining 5% mixed varietals. It will be sold only to ATP (Advanced Tasting Program) members (to read about that program click here).  The wine is dark in color with lots of fruit and flavor yet even with the richness it maintains a sense of elegance. The fruit is lush and rounded and shows an intriguing exotic tinge. Harmonious and balanced with well integrated tannins, this should make a wonderful wine – Outstanding Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Carmichael Ranch Zinfandel
Made from grapes grown on 70 year old vines this is the 10th year that Ridge has made this wine. It is a winner and will be sold only to ATP members. This Zinfandel is made from 85% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah, and 3% mixed varietals with yields only 1 ton per acre. Ridge began farming this vineyard in 2000 and this 2014 looks to be a real winner. The color is dark and the wine exhibits a deep berry perfume and layers of berry fruit showing a faintly briary quality on the palate. It is rich and supple with very well integrated tannins and has great depth and balance – Outstanding Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel
Always a rich and flavorful wine with heaps of fruit and wonderful complexity, this 2014 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel is true to form. Made with 83% Zinfandel, 14% Alicante Bouche, and 3% mixed varietals, it has a dark color and a gorgeous blackberry perfume with exotic nuances. Lush, rounded and supple there is a myriad of black fruit exhibiting a faintly briary and exotic quality. Harmonious and supple with wonderful balance this should be yet another in the great line of Pagani Ranch Zinfandels – Outstanding Plus Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville
What can be said about Geyserville? Well let’s start with the fact that Ridge has been making wine from this vineyard each year since 1966. And, for this entire period, there have been so many great Geyservilles it is hard to keep track. The wines age beautifully and, over time, develop a claret like character and complexity. It consistently is one of my favorite Ridge wines. I love to go into my cellar and pull out an old Geyserville. I am never disappointed. This 2014 looks to be yet another terrific Geyserville. Production was down 17% from 2013 and the wine is made from 60% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 15% Petite Sirah and 3% miscellaneous varietals. Dark in color it has a great perfume showing berry fruit with spice tinges. Very flavorful and brimming with fruit showing a faint spice and an underlying briary quality this Geyserville has well integrated tannins and great structure – Outstanding Plus Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Jimsomare Zinfandel.
Made from 100% Zinfandel grown on vines planted in the nineteenth century, Jimsomare was first made in 1968. Ridge took over the farming in 1996 and today Jimsomare is considered the “lower” (1400’ – 2000’) Monte Bello vineyard. The quantities produced each year are small (typically 100 to 400 cases) and the wine is characterized by a firm acidity which gives the wine great longevity. Please consider the following: The day after Thanksgiving 2011 I opened a bottle of 1977 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel. Here is my note on that wine: Made from the second drought year in a row with yields of under 3/4 ton per acre, less than 500 cases were made. There cannot be much of it left on the planet. This bottle and one other have been in my cellar since release over 30 years ago. And who said that Zinfandel does not age?  The wine consists of 100% Zinfandel grapes sourced from two great vineyards on Monte Bello Ridge, Jimsomare and Picchetti. The fruit was very similar from both vineyards so it was combined from the very beginning. The wine was described early on as having deep fruit and firm acidity. The alcohol was 12.8%. Paul Draper, in his very understated way, commented at bottling in April, 1979 that the wine would ‘open within six months and improve with 3-4 years bottle age.’ The aging ability and tremendous quality of this wine surely is something that no one could have predicted. So, with that in mind, this wine gets my vote as the best old “Under The Radar” red wine of all time. With a deep color showing a faint amber tone and an amber edge, the wine has a simply fabulous perfume that is intense and complex with floral and spice nuances and a faint cedar, forest, and exotic berry undertone. The flavors are intense, complex and balanced with subtle floral, spice, foresty, and dark cherry nuances. Supple, lush, and rounded the finish goes on and on and has a gorgeous underlying crispness that carries the wine beautifully. This wine defies comparison, but I would say it is more Burgundian than anything else. And, as great as the wine is now, it shows absolutely no sign of fatigue – Extraordinary(To read the entire article click here). This 2014 looks to be a classic Jimsomare. The production was only 190 cases. The color is very dark and the wine has an intense perfume of black fruits. With very concentrated sweet fruit showing black plums and cherries it is supple and lush with well integrated tannins and a firm underlying core. This is a wine that will repay aging and should improve over decades – Extraordinary Potential.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
I tasted this wine before the final blend had been made and there was still Merlot and Cabernet Franc to be added. It is impossible to be precise about the final wine, but what is easy to tell is that this is potentially a terrific Cabernet. It has a great color and perfume and is very flavorful and loaded with fruit that already shows a wonderful balance. This, for sure, looks to be yet another great Estate Cabernet and I look forward to tasting it after the final blend is made.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
I tasted the first blend of this wine (74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot) from 2 different barrels. It is difficult to be very precise at this stage in the wines evolution, but what can be easily discerned is that this wine has the potential to be neck and neck with the very great 2012 and 2013 Monte Bellos. The wine has gorgeous fruit and great intensity with seemingly softer tannins than the 2012 and 2013. It is very flavorful with beautiful structure and balance and has great length on the palate. I look forward to tasting this wine again after the final blend is made.

Wines Tasted From Bottle

Ridge 2012 Monte Bello Chardonnay

2012 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay
The Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnays have shown great improvement in recent years. This one from the first year of the drought years is a fine example. It is light yellow in color and has a complex perfume that is faintly honied with hints of hazelnut and grapefruit. With very pure fruit showing hints of peach, floral nuances, a touch of honey and faint exotic nuance this is a very flavorful Chardonnay with great balance and a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding Plus. $70

2013 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Zinfandel
Ridge has been making Zinfandel from Lytton Springs since 1972 from grapes grown on vines planted in the late 1800s/early 1900s in the eastern part of the vineyard. In the early 1990s Ridge bought the eastern and western parts of the vineyard. It is a very large property and Ridge makes a selection to use in this bottling. A large part of the crop also goes into the Three Valleys Zinfandel. During this period of over 40 years, Lytton Springs Zinfandel has been amazing consistent and this is yet another winner. It is made from 74% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane, and 2% Mataro and shows a dark color and a lovely complex perfume with hints of mulberry and black pepper accented by a tinge of vanilla. The wine has great fruit, flavor and balance in a claret like style. Approachable now, this should make a really lovely bottle with a few years bottle age and keep for a very long time – Outstanding.
$38

2013 Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel
A personal favorite for many years, the Pagani Ranch Zinfandel is consistently first rate and ages beautifully. This 2013 is made with 83% Zinfandel, 16% Alicante Bouchet, and 1% Petite Sirah and is again stunning. It has a dark color and a deep perfume of black plums with a faint exotic spice tinge. With great sweet fruit it is lush and rounded with opulence and great underlying structure and shows impressive length. Like all Pagani Ranch Zinfandels the wine has a lot of early appeal for the lush fruit and will age gracefully for many years – Outstanding Plus.   $38

2013 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah is one of California’s most under rated varietals. They can sometimes be a bit closed or tannic in the beginning, but with age they blossom into something very special. Ridge has made some great ones over the years. The 1971 Ridge Vineyards York Creek Petite Sirah was the first Petite Sirah made by Ridge. It is a stunning wine today (to read my note on this wine click here).

This 2013 Lytton  Springs Petite Sirah will also repay aging. It is made with 97% Petite Sirah and 3% Zinfandel and is very dark in color with a great perfume of black plum fruit showing exotic floral nuances. On the palate the wine has layers of very pure black fruit tinged with spice and showing a faint exotic quality. Rounded and intense with well integrated tannins, there is a lot of appeal and complexity for such a young Petite Sirah, but with time the texture will round out more and the complexity will become even more pronounced. This is a great wine for the cellar and it represents great value – Outstanding Plus.   $32

For the 2013 vintage, the decision was made to separate grapes from some of the parcels of Monte Bello and produce several separate bottlings. These include 2 separate vineyard designated bottlings from the oldest Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The decision to bottle these 2 wines was based on several factors including the uniform quality of the vintage and the fact that many of the Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon vines are very old and may not be around for too much longer. Under this scenario, the separate bottlings would give an indication of the aging potential of the different parcels over the course of several generations. This is long term thinking and absolutely brilliant.
And, here is how Eric Baugher described why the 2 old blocks were kept separate from the Monte Bello: It’s a chance for customers to taste the wine made from the two old vineyard blocks that made the famous historic 1971 Monte Bello. It is our hope that these vines continue to live, we’re nursing them along and keeping them going.  They actually have a wonderful size crop this year and the fruit tastes so good.  I think we’ll be able to keep the vines going at least another 20 years and possibly make future bottlings of these two excellent vineyard blocks.   We have young vines replanted from cleaned up cuttings of the old vines, and they’re beginning to produce grapes that have made some of the most interesting wine of the vintage.  So as the old vines die, at least we have preserved the genetics of one of the great cabernet sauvignon clones at Monte Bello.
These 2 separate bottlings of Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the HistoricVineyard Series bottlings, the Estate bottlings, and the Monte Bello, are simply amazing. They represent some of the best young California wines I have ever tasted. The 2 separate vineyard designated bottlings along with the Historic Vineyard Series bottlings will be released some time in 2016, probably spring or fall. The Estate wines will be released for sale beginning in the spring of 2016. And, the Monte Bello will be released in September 2016. These are wines that are not to be missed!

2013 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello HistoricVines

Ridge MB historic 2013The production of this wine is 150 cases. The first Ridge Monte Bellos were made from these vines in 1962 to 1974. With vines planted in 1949, this is now one of California’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. The wine has only 12.6% alcohol, but has an intensity, depth, richness, and balance that is simply remarkable. Very dark in color the perfume is stunning with cassis and berries intermingled with spice and cedar. On the palate there is an amazing intensity of very pure fruit intermingled with cedar and spice and the finish is very long. This is a very great classic California Cabernet with a lot of elegance and wonderful flavor and balance– Extraordinary Plus.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Steep Terraces

Ridge MB 2013The production of this wine is 225 cases. The vines here were planted in 1967 and are located on a very steep slope just behind the Historic Vines plot. This plot produces the highest quality of any on the Monte Bello vineyard and it makes up the heart of the Monte Bello bottling. With 12.7% alcohol the wine has a very dark color and a great intense perfume with exotic nuances. Very lush, rounded, and concentrated it has amazing depth and great structure and balance. Tinges of exotic spice add to the complexity and the wine is simply remarkable – Extraordinary Plus.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Rousten Cabernet Franc Monte Bello Vineyard Historic Vineyard Series

RIDGE 2013 ROUSTENThe production of this wine is 150 cases and the alcohol is 13.4%. It is dark in color with a deep perfume of blackberry with a faint exotic tinge. Full, rich, rounded and flavorful with lots of blackberry fruit and a frim underlying structure this wine will evolve beautifully over many years – Outstanding Plus.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Perrone Merlot Monte Bello Vineyard Historic Vineyard Series

RIDGE 2013 MERLOT PERRONEThe production of this wine is 300 cases. In the 19th century the highest elevation vines on Monte Bello Ridge were on Dr. Osea Perrone’s ranch. For this special bottling some 2/3s of the grapes come from the West Block (replanted in 1996) with the other 1/3 coming from The Point (replanted in the 1960s). These vineyards are located next to Paul Draper’s house. The wine has 13.6% alcohol and has a great intense berry perfume intertwined with floral spice nuances and a touch of cedar. It is lush, supple and rounded and shows a lot of early charm, but will age beautifully – Outstanding Plus.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Torre Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard Historic Vineyard Series

Ridge 2013 torreThe production of this wine is 400 cases. It is made from 2 small parcels on Monte Bello Estate’s Torre Ranch. All of the Camp Hill production was put into this wine and account for about 90% of the wine. The other 10% was added from Steep Terraces. With 13.2% alcohol the wine has a very dark color and great deep perfume showing a myriad of blackfruits intermingled with a touch of cedar and spice. Full, rich and rounded it has layers of fruit with plum and blackberry intermingled with touches of cedar and spice. The underlying tannins are well integrated and the finish is long and lingering. This is very special and should age effortlessly – Extraordinary.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Merlot Estate

RIDGE 2013 MERLOTThe production of this wine is just under 1200 cases representing a yield of just over 2 tons per acre. With 13.8% alcohol the wine has a dark color and a gorgeous plummy perfume with tinges of spice. Rounded and supple there is lots of plummy fruit and the wine exhibits a lot of flavor with great charm. Forward and delicious to drink now, the wine will also keep for many years – Outstanding.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate

RIDGE 2013 CSThe production of this wine is just over 2400 cases representing a yield of about 1.1 tons per acre. It is made with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabenet Franc. This is a complex and wonderfully rich wine that should represent very good value. With 13.8% alcohol the color is very dark and the perfume is lovely with cassis and cedar intermingled with hints of spice. There is depth and structure and the wine has a lot of intensity and flavor. The tannins are well integrated and the wine will be very enjoyable young but will keep for a very long time – Outstanding Plus.

2013 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello

2013 Ridge MBAlways made from a selection of the best Monte Bello lots, 19 lots of 26 were selected for the 2013 Monte Bello including only 1 of Merlot. Representing yields of just over 1.2 tons per acre, the wine is made with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Merlot. Is this the best young Monte Bello ever? Time will tell. But for now, out of all the great young Monte Bellos that I have tasted (and that is nearly all of them back into the late 60s) I don’t recall ever having tasted a young Monte Bello better than this. With 13.6% alcohol the wine has a very dark color and a great intense perfume with cassis and blackberry fruit accented by cedar and a faint exotic quality. Rich, concentrated, and lush, it is loaded with fruit that is complex and beguiling with an exotic nuance. The structure is there with well integrated tannins wrapped in layers of fruit. Already this Monte Bello shows incredible balance and exhibits great complexity. One can only imagine what a wine it will be as it starts to hit its stride in 10 years – Extraordinary Plus.

In addition to the current release 2012 Monte Bello Chardonnay and the 2013s , we also tasted the 2012 Monte Bello and the 2005 Monte Bello. Those notes are below:

2012 RIDGE MB2012 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
This is the 5oth anniversary bottling of Monte Bello and it is a remarkable wine (to read a note from Paul Draper on the 50th  anniversary,  his history with Ridge, and the next 50 years click here). 2012 was the first of the drought years which have continued through 2015. There were 19 of 24 Monte Bello parcels selected for this wine and the yield was just over 1.3 tons per acre. The wine is comprised of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot and the alcohol is 13.8%. The color is very dark and there is a gorgeous perfume of cassis and plum with cedar nuances. Loaded with fruit the wine is intensely flavored and has great structure and balance. This is a great Monte Bello that will age effortlessly for decades. Extraordinary. $170

2005 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
Now at 10 years of age this 2005 Monte Bello is just hitting its stride. The 2005 vintage was excellent with a lot of early rain then very good weather and a crop that was early ripening with low yields of under 1 ton per acre. The color is dark and there is a deep plummy perfume tinged with cedar. Very lush and supple with a lot of intensity and flavor there is also lots of fruit and the structure to carry the wine for decades into the future. This is classic Monte Bello – Extraordinary.

That’s it for now. Amazing wines! What more can I say? If you have not yet discovered Ridge Vineyards, you are really missing the boat!

 

Ridge Monte Bello Vineyard

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