Ridge Vineyards, the Californian iconic winery of Santa Cruz Mountains

Ridge Vineyards

Originally published in miamigoelvino.com 22/09/2016.

Being a long time reader of mine as you are, I know you are aware I love Californian wines. I have enjoyed so many bottles of great Cabernet Sauvignon wines, such as the Caymus Special Selection, Mayacamas, Chateau Montelena, Heitz Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars or Beringer, to name a few. When we talked about my view on wine prices, I said that there are just a few wines I would pay whatever they asked for them. One of those wines is the Ridge Monte Bello, from Ridge Vineyards. This is one of my all-time favorite wines.

Ridge Vineyards (@RidgeVineyards) is producing single-vineyard wines since 1962. The winery has a story dating back to 1885, when Osea Perrone bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. He constructed the Monte Bello Winery and produced its first vintage in 1892.

Over the next decades, the winery went from producing wines to being abandoned, yet still the vineyards survived the Prohibition years in the 1920s. In the 1940s, the old vineyards were bought by William Short whom with his partners started producing one of the best Californian Cabernets in that era. In the 1960 Charlie Rosen, Hew Crane and Dave Bennion founded what today is Ridge Vineyards. Their first vintage was 1962. In 1964 came the first Zinfandel wine and in 1966 (great vintage indeed) the first Geyserville Zinfandel. Lytton Springs, in Sonoma County, became part of the Ridge estate in 1991. Nowadays Ridge Vineyards is a fully-certified organic winery.

In 1969 Paul Draper was hired as Ridge’s chief winemaker. Then he became partner and CEO of the winery. He has been until this retirement the one giving Ridge wines their personality, though his philosophy is far from making wines. The best vineyard, he says, should make itself with just minimal intervention on his side. He has been in charge of 46 vintages at the House.

Their winemaking philosophy includes fermenting entirely with native yeasts from the vineyard, without using commercial enzymes, relative less use of clarification and filtration. We will talk more in depth about winemaking soon with Eric Baugher, the COO (Chief Operating Officer) and Winemaker at Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello Winery in Santa Cruz Mountains.

Ridge was one of the US wineries taking part in the famous The Paris Wine Tasting in 1976, also known as the Judgment of Paris. To celebrate the American Bicentennial, six wineries from California were chosen to compete in Paris in a blind tasting with four wines from Bordeaux and four wines from Bourgogne. The tasting consisted in Chardonnay wines and red wines. Its Ridge Monte Bello 1971 was chosen by a panel of top French judges as the second-best US wine in that tasting and fifth overall.

Ridge owns two facilities: Monte Bello is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Cupertino and Lytton Springs is located in Sonoma County in Healdsburg.

Ridge produces single-varietal wines using Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah in different areas:

  • East Bench Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
  • Lytton Estate Petite Sirah Lytton Springs Estate Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
  • Paso Robles Zinfandel (Benito Dusi Ranch) in Paso Robles.
  • Estate Merlot Monte Bello Estate Vineyard in Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Estate Chardonnay Monte Bello Estate Vineyard in Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Monte Bello Chardonnay Monte Bello Estate Vineyard in Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Torre Cabernet Sauvignon in Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Perrone Merlot in Santa Cruz Mountains.

With a major proportion of Zinfandel, they elaborate:

  • Lytton Springs Lytton Springs Estate Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County with 69% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 11% Carignane and 2% Mataro (Mourvedre).
  • Ponzo Zinfandel Russian River Valley, Sonoma County with 96% Zinfandel and 4% Petite Sirah.
  • Geyserville Alexander Valley, Sonoma County with 60% Zinfandel, 24% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah and 4% Mataro (Mourvedre).
  • Pagani Ranch Zinfandel The old Pagani Ranch in Sonoma Valley with 80% Zinfandel, 17% Alicante Bouschet and 3% Petite Sirah.
  • Three Valleys 65% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 14% Carignane and 4% Grenache.
  • Buchignani Ranch Zinfandel in Sonoma County 78% Zinfandel and 22% Carignane.
  • Mazzoni Home Ranch Zinfandel in Alexander Valley 58% Carignane, 41% Zinfandel and 1% Petite Sirah.

Finally, with a major proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, they elaborate: 

  • Monte Bello Monte Bello Estate Vineyard in Santa Cruz Mountains with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot.
  • Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Estate Vineyard in Santa Cruz Mountains with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.

Rigde Vineyards releases its wines two times a year: the Spring Release and the Fall Release. Each of them includes new wines of two different vintages. If we take a look at the 2016 releases, we can see than in the Spring they released Geyserville 2014, East Bench Zinfandel 2014, Paso Robles Zinfandel 2014, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Estate Merlot 2013, Estate Chardonnay 2014 and the Three Valleys 2014. Now, with the Fall coming upon us, Ridge Vineyards releases Monte Bello 2013, Monte Bello Chardonnay 2013, Lytton Estate Petite Sirah 2014, Lytton Springs 2014, Pagani Ranch Zinfandel 2014 and Ponzo Zinfandel 2014.

It is interesting to see how they distribute their production in these two releases including in each of them different varietals, areas and vintages.

Ridge also offers membership options for acquiring its wines and also having access to special rates, offers and events. Three different levels in which you can receive options to buy their current releases and wines for members only:

  • Advance Tasting Program with monthly shipments of their small production wines, Zinfandels, field blends and Rhône varietals.
  • Monte Bello Collector with access to their Estate Cabernet blend and Estate varietals.
  • Z List for the Zinfandel lover as myself.
  • Members In All Three Programs including all the above plus exclusive benefits.

As you can see, Ridge is a very special winery worth looking at and also pay a visit. Of course, tasting its wines is just an amazing experience in itself.

We will talk soon to Eric Baugher about their line of work. Stay tuned.

Photos © Ridge Vineyards