The history of Ridge Vineyards begins in 1885, when Osea Perrone, a doctor who became a prominent
member of San Francisco's Italian community, bought 180 acres near the
top of Monte Bello Ridge. He terraced the slopes and planted vineyards;
using native limestone, he constructed the Monte Bello Winery, producing
the first vintage under that name in 1892. This unique cellar, built
into the mountainside on three levels, is Ridge's production facility.
At 2600', it is surrounded by the "upper vineyard."
In the 1940s, William Short, a theologian, bought the abandoned
winery and vineyard just below the Perrone property; he replanted several
parcels to cabernet sauvignon in the late 1940s. From these vines — now
the "middle vineyard"— new owners Dave Bennion and his three partners, all Stanford Research Institute
engineers, made a quarter-barrel of "estate" cabernet. That Monte Bello Cabernet was among California's finest wines of the
era. Its quality and distinctive character, and the wines produced from
these same vines in 1960 and '61, convinced the partners to re-bond the
winery in time for the 1962 vintage.
The first zinfandel was made in 1964, from a small nineteenth-century
vineyard farther down the ridge. This was followed in 1966 by the first
Geyserville zinfandel. The founding families reclaimed the Monte Bello
terraces, increasing vineyard size from fifteen to forty-five acres.
Working on weekends, they made wines of regional character and unprecedented
intensity. By 1968, production had increased to just under three thousand
cases per year, and in 1969, Paul Draper joined the partnership. A Stanford
graduate in philosophy—recently returned from setting up a winery in
Chile's coast range—he was a practical winemaker, not an enologist. His
knowledge of fine wines and traditional methods complemented the straightforward "hands off" approach pioneered at Ridge. Under his guidance the old Perrone winery (acquired
the previous year) was restored, the finest vineyard lands leased or
purchased, the consistent quality and international reputation of the
wines established. Cabernet and Zinfandel account for most of the production;
Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, and Petite Sirah constitute a small percentage.
Known primarily for its red wines, Ridge has also made limited amounts
of chardonnay since 1962.
Lytton Springs, in Sonoma County, became part of the Ridge
estate in 1991. A quarter century's experience with this vineyard had
convinced us that it was an exceptional piece of ground. Forty consecutive
vintages of Geyserville attest to yet another stunning combination of
location and varietals. Though born in the early sixties to the post-Prohibition
world of modern California winemaking, Ridge relies on nature and tradition
rather than technology. Our 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.