Ridge Vineyards celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, which is also winemaker Paul Draper’s 40th year at the helm—a pair of remarkable achievements. Aside from making one of the world’s great Cabernet Sauvignons, Ridge Monte Bello, Paul has always set a high standard for poised and polished Zinfandel, one I wish more people would follow.
One reason has always been that he lets them speak for themselves, without interceding, imposing his ego and amping them up. Here’s an example: Years ago, I drove up the long and winding road to the weathered wooden buildings (once nicely described by Charlie Olken as
looking more like a place that produced moonshine whiskey than fine wine) overlooking what was then the Santa Clara Valley, full of fruit and vegetable farms and free of the smog that would persist when it became the Silicon Valley. Draper gave me the tour, which consisted of standing in the barrel room and looking this way and that before going out on to a small porch and looking up at the vineyard stretching across the hillside. He explained just a little about the cultivation of the vines, mentioned that they used a minimum of sulphur and other chemicals in the winemaking, and that the wines were fermented on their own wild yeast (a practice severely frowned on by the winemaking school at the University of California at Davis).
“We’ll taste some wine in the laboratory, shall we?” he said with a smile, and I followed him meekly across the barrel room. To a sink, the sort of old-fashioned, deep sink people once used to do a load of washing in by hand. There was a shelf above it, with a few tools--a hydrometer, glass pipettes, just basic stuff—and some coffee cups. “This is the lab,” Draper said, with a wide grin. “I think there’s some commercial yeast around here that we bought years ago and never used, but I don’t know where it’s gotten to. And we try not to get the coffee grounds in the wine. Other than that, we just get out of the wine’s way. . .”