13 April 2009

Green Winemaking Tour: Ridge

While I was puttering around the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, I had a list of places I should check out, and I allowed myself some time for discovery. I was driving down a little two-lane road and saw a sign for Ridge. I had to stop, pull over, and confirm that this was the Ridge, specifically the western operation. One of the legends of Sonoma wine history, and I basically tripped over it.

I was a bit early, but I marked the location on my map and came back a couple of hours later. This proved to be a wise decision, as I got to take a tour of the facility with a pair of lovely young women from Springfield, Missouri, led by Ridge Winemaker John Olney.

We walked through the whole process, starting with the Lytton Springs vineyards where the wine is blended "in the field", i.e. grapes are planted in a certain ratio, harvested, and made into wine, rather than gathering the separate varieties and mixing after the juice is pressed or the wine is made. This is a wonderful Old World technique that has been developed over decades at Ridge, and the results are spectacular. I asked Olney about the different ripening schedules of the various grapes, and it turns out that they harvest when there's an ideal balance in sugar levels between the Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and other grapes. Some have more sugar, some have less, but they've learned to plant a harmonious proportion that produces a great wine.

It's often easy to spot organic vineyards. Conventional ones have a lot of bare dirt between plants and rows (look at the far background of this photo), and organic ones have lots of native flora (the foreground of this photo). Ridge is just now getting its Organic Certification, but has been using sustainable methods for some time. We toured the barrel room, where stacks of Missouri oak barrels reach heights of 30-40 feet. It's nice and cool in the barrel room, making it a popular spot during the summer months.

What was my favorite part of the tour, even including a look at a library of bottles going back three decades, all set in the glorious Bauhaus style using my beloved Optima? Meeting the winery dog, a loving Rhodesian Ridgeback who doesn't have a ridge. She was a sweet dog and it was fun to scratch her head while drinking wine. Since much of my own wine consumption is done in close proximity to my own dogs at home, it marked a special point in the trip.

Once I got home, I dug around in the cellar and pulled out a Ridge that had been hiding for a while. This is from the vineyards east of the area I visited, and is a Bordeaux-style blend than a Zinfandel blends I sampled at the winery, but I was still excited to open it. The 2000 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains is from the Monte Bello Vineyards and is comprised of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot. Green bell pepper, leather, spice, touch of coffee and cherry. Complex, yet smooth as silk. It's a fascinating wine that will go with any well-prepared red meat you can cook, but itt's almost better after dinner, when you can relax and appreciate it while winding down. From my experience, Ridge wines tend to age fairly well under less-than-ideal circumstances, and if you're in a smaller wine shop looking for hidden treasures, Ridge bottles are generally a good bet.

You can stop by at either of their properties to visit and taste, but check the link for times and dates.

Wines Sampled at the Vineyard

More detailed tasting notes, prices, and online ordering information can be found at the Ridge website.

2006 Chardonnay - Santa Cruz Mountains Estate. Jasmine, floral, mineral. Restrained and delicious.

2005 Buchignani Ranch. 96% Zinfandel and 4% Carignane. Plum aromas and a touch of ash. Lovely.

2006 Pagani Ranch. 88% Zinfandel, 7% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah, and 2% Carignane. Nice touch of spice, with elements of raw bacon. A good meaty wine that begs for lamb, and my favorite of the tasting. Highly recommended.

2006 Lytton Springs. 80% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 4% Carignane. A bit vegetal, with black cherry aromas and a hint of spice.

2006 Dusi Ranch. 100% Zinfandel. Red apple, cherry, plum, and cinnamon. Stock up on this for Thanksgiving.

2007 Geyserville. 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mourvèdre). Bright and crisp. Tart raspberry profile, lots of plucky flavor here.

2007 Three Valleys. 76% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 6% Grenache. Fruit forward, with a firm strawberry jam aroma and flavor.


fredric koeppel said...

well, yer a lucky duck! what a great experience. i'm particularly a big fan of the Ridge Chardonnay, which I haven't tried in years; it's very hard to find. in Nashville quite some time ago, I guess in the early 1990s, i was able to attend a vertical tasting of most of the Ridge red wines led by Paul Draper. a great event, and he was a prince, self-effacing and decorous, a real gentleman.

Benito said...


All the Ridge staff that I met were warm, friendly, and lots of fun. Particularly the dog.

It's hard not to be starstruck in a winery that you've admired for years, but the whole experience was pretty laid back and fun. It's like those articles in which a reporter visits a famous author and they spend the afternoon painting the house or looking at a collection of Hummel figurines.

Samantha Dugan said...

Even this French wine freak has a soft spot and admiration for the wines from Ridge. They are so well made, balanced and produced in a way that will give them a long life in the cellar. Each time I try them I am knoced out by their reserved fruit and balance of fruit to oak.
So glad you had a great time there and loved the wines.