In 1971 Ridge Vineyards made their tenth vintage of a Cabernet Sauvignon called Monte Bello. Two years later this wine would go on to the famed Judgment of Paris, in which two American wines, the Monte Bello from Ridge and another Cabernet from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, outscored their Bordeaux competitors in a so-called blind panel of international experts. California, suddenly, was on the wine map.
In the same year of that iconic vintage, 1971, Don Hoefler wrote a series of articles for Electronic News entitled "Silicon Valley in the USA," coining the now metonymic term for Santa Clara County's high-tech industry, seated between Palo Alto and San Jose, California.
In 1962 four Stanford scientists, looking to connect with the land, to balance their high-tech lives with a low-tech passion, established Ridge Vineyards on a patch of land in the Santa Cruz Mountains that had first been planted to vine in the 1880s. In 1956 William Shockley, creator of the transistor, started the first semi-conductor company in Santa Clara County — semi-conductors made from silicon — where 103 years earlier "California first heard the click of a telegraph key."
Ridge Vineyards — now owned by Otsuko Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., maker of the world's highest grossing drug, an anti-psychotic named Ablify — lists its address as Cupertino, CA, 95014, nineteen miles west of San Jose on Montebello Road. Apple Inc., the world's largest technology company, founded in 1976, lists its address as Cupertino, CA, 95014, eleven miles west of San Jose at 1 Infinite Loop.
Given the history, one could surmise that Ridge Vineyards makes high-tech wine for a global market. Why then do they claim the opposite?
Ridge relies on nature and tradition rather than technology. Our pre-industrial approach is straightforward: find intense, flavorful grapes; intrude upon the process only when necessary; draw the fruit’s distinctive character and richness into the wine.
Paul Draper joined Ridge as winemaker in 1969, the year the Rolling Stones held a free show to end their American tour, originally scheduled at San Jose State University and later moved to Altamont Speedway, where the Hell's Angels provided security, paid for in beer. During the concert chaos ensued, violence erupted, and three people died or were killed — all of it caught on film by Albert and David Maysles for the documentary Gimme Shelter, called the greatest rock film of all time. This is the moment historians mark as the mass disillusionment of the Love Generation.
Paul Draper was born in 1936 and grew up on a farm in Illinois. He studied philosophy at Stanford University, graduating in 1959. He then joined the Army and went to Italy, studied French cuisine at the Sorbonne, joined the Peace Corps and moved to Chile where he leased vines and practiced making wine using 19th-century methods. In 1968 he apprenticed at Château Latour, one of the four Bordeaux houses designated in 1855 as an original Premier Cru, and one of the four French wines that would compete in the Judgment of Paris. He returned to America in the last year of the Sixties, having spent nearly the entire decade overseas.
Paul Draper has now made 46 vintages of Ridge Monte Bello. In the meantime, he has led the way with masterful zinfandels and created the Lytton Springs and Three Valleys lines, among others. Every vintage of every wine has been harvested by hand, fermented with native yeasts, stabilized with minimal amounts of sulfur (S02), and generally made in what Draper calls a "pre-industrial" approach. As Silicon Valley surged, so did Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and California wine brands at large. Wine and technology have grown up together in America, in the same neighborhood, generation after generation. So why this awesome disconnect at Ridge? Or better yet, how?
Ridge Vineyards is not a wine brand. They are a farm and a winery, simply, despite all the trappings of their environment, ownership, etcetera. How they managed to transcend their origins, eschew high-tech industrial winemaking (which, according to Jancis Robinson, now makes up 90% of global production), remains to me a mystery. I know it has to do with Paul Draper, but it can't be as simple as that. Too many factors are involved, too many people. And yet the truth stands. A new generation of winemakers in California has begun to reject the heavily manipulated, ham-handed "international style" of their mainstream elders, favoring the minimal intervention approach of the 19th-century. An approach that Ridge has championed in California, if not quite pioneered, for half a century. It seems Paul Draper could see the future in geologic time, looking out from Monte Bello over the sprawl of Silicon Valley, a future wherein technology remains only useful, not intrusive, and wherein wine is just wine, nothing more, nothing less.
Currently In-stock from Ridge Vineyards
Ridge Vineyards 2013 Lytton Springs Petite Sirah
Dry Creek Valley, CA
Petite Sirah, Carignane
Ridge Vineyards 2013 Lytton Springs
Dry Creek Valley, CA
Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mataro
Ridge Vineyards 2013 Three Valleys
Dry Creek, Alexander & Russian River Valleys, CA
Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet
Also check out other Ridge wines that we sometimes carry, i.e. Geyersville and Estate Cabernet.