Celebrating 50 Years of Ridge
With the 2012 vintage Ridge Vineyards is celebrating 50 years as a bonded winery.
The first vines were planted and our historic winery built in 1886. The first vintage
of Monte Bello was in 1892, one hundred and twenty years ago. However, the winery
closed during Prohibition, reopened with repeal, but closed definitively in the
early 1940s. The Ridge partners re-bonded 50 years ago for the superb vintage of
Back in the 1880s the climate on Monte Bello was too cool, as it is today, to consistently
ripen zinfandel, the dominant California varietal of that era. The grapes chosen
instead were principally the Bordeaux varietals. The vines and their deep roots
have been transforming the fractured limestone sub-soils of Monte Bello Ridge for
much of the last one hundred years. The original vineyards were abandoned by the
1940s, but a limited number were re-planted to cabernet in 1949. Those vines produced
the very first Ridge Monte Bello in 1959 whose quality convinced the partners to
re-bond the winery three years later. They began re-planting more of the abandoned
old blocks in the 1960s, but not until the mid-seventies were those vines mature
enough to be included. Over the years, we have been able to lease or purchase a
number of the remaining nineteenth-century parcels and continue re-planting.
Our appellation, the Santa Cruz Mountains, separates the North Coast from the Central
Coast, but is not a part of either and is cut in two by the San Andreas fault. The
climate of the eastern segment, on the North American plate, where the Monte Bello
vineyards are located, is influenced primarily by San Francisco Bay. The western
segment, on the Pacific plate, is influenced entirely by the Pacific Ocean. Though
both are cool, the eastern is above the Bay's inversion layer and warm enough to
ripen the Bordeaux varietals. The western segment, however, is deeply affected by
the ocean's summer fogs; it has proved most suited to pinot noir and chardonnay.
Monte Bello's higher vineyards (2000' - 2700') are within sight of the Pacific fifteen
miles to the west, and cooled by winds off the ocean.
We made our first Geyserville Zinfandel in 1966, from vines planted in 1882 on the
gravelly western edge of Alexander Valley. In 1990, we took over the vineyard, replanting
non-zinfandel blocks to their original zinfandel and its nineteenth-century complementary
varietals. Our first Lytton Springs Zinfandel was the 1972, from vines planted in
1902 on the benchland above Dry Creek Valley. In 1990, we purchased the eastern
vineyard, which includes the oldest vines; in 1995, we purchased the western vineyard,
which had also been owned by Captain Litton who had first planted both in the 1860s.
Ridge traces its lineage to San Francisco physician Osea Perrone, who established
the Monte Bello vineyard and winery in 1886, and to Emmett Rixford who planted the
nearby La Cuesta vineyard. In 1883, Rixford published a book describing the best
growing and winemaking techniques that became the basic text for fine winemaking
in California for the next forty years. Those traditional practices, and those described
by Rixford's mentor Raimond Boireau (Two volumes, pub. Bordeaux, 1876/7) form the
basis for the approach we have followed for fifty years. Within the bounds of these
practices, we continue to refine our approach through experience, and our ever-deepening
understanding of our vineyards. In replanting Monte Bello, our main source of cabernet
has been a selection massale originally from Rixford's La Cuesta vineyard. That selection
came from the commune of Margaux in the early 1880s. (Unsubstantiated reports name
the source as Chateau Margaux, which Rixford greatly admired.)
Our viticulture is sustainable and almost entirely organic. From the beginning,
we have kept all vineyards separate, seeking those sites that show distinct, individual
character and quality. In the cellar, we avoid additions other than the minimum
effective SO2. There is no mechanical processing except for gentle filtration at
bottling and traditional desteming and pressing. Both primary and secondary fermentations
are natural. Our estate wines that together make up over seventy five percent of
our production are from the Monte Bello, Geyserville, and Lytton Springs vineyards.
We work with nine smaller vineyards as well.
We consider ourselves caretakers of the land. We own most of our vineyards, hold
long-term leases on others, and have agricultural easements in perpetuity. We collaborate
with the Regional Open Space District - maintaining the original vineyard land as
they preserve the wild space - assuring the land will be kept free from future development.
Monte Bello Ridge, 2012
to read about our retrospective event in 2010 celebrating Paul Draper’s 40 years
at Ridge and our founding in 1959.