At Ridge we call our approach to winemaking “pre-industrial”. We believe that for anyone attempting to make fine wine, modern additives and invasive processing limit true quality and do not allow the distinctive character of a fine vineyard to determine the character of the wine.
Several years ago we began adding to our labels a list of actions and ingredients to demonstrate how little intervention is necessary to produce a fine, terroir-driven wine from distinctive fruit. Although an ingredient list is not required by the TTB, if a winery chooses to add a list of ingredients to its back label it must list ALL ingredients.
Click here to read more on this topic from Paul Draper.
Winemaking practices differ not only by country and region, but also by individual winemakers. Here’s what some of those different winemaking practices might look like?
The following ingredients are the basics of what you can expect from most wineries, although other additives, concentrates, and flavors may be added depending on the practices of individual winemakers:
The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) in the US, and the government authorities in all major wine-producing countries, have approved over 60 additives for use in wine. See TTB’s website. Two of the most invasive are:
The TTB (and other governments) have also approved more than 10 invasive industrial processes for winemaking. See TTB’s website. Some of the machines, variations on reverse osmosis, can lower alcohol, increase alcohol, eliminate vinegar, Brett, cork taint, smoke taint, and even sugar from wines intended to be dry by forcing the wine through a membrane under very high pressure. Other machines include:
Given that these modern processing machines and invasive additives are not needed in making fine wine, Ridge has opted to voluntarily include an ingredient list on its labels. Besides sustainably-grown grapes and their natural yeasts and malolactic bacteria, we list everything added. These are limited to the few non-invasive additives that have been in use for well over a hundred years. We hope to encourage others making fine wine to entrust their customers with their list of ingredients.
Following is an example or our listed ingredients and their meanings:
Cutting of each cluster by hand and eliminating damaged fruit.
Farming practices free of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which protect the environment, workers, and community.
Yeasts brought to wine grapes by bees and wasps.
Bacteria naturally present on fruit, such as grapes, that contain malic acid.
Minor complement of oak extracted from the barrels during aging.
Smallest SO2 addition needed to maintain vineyard character in a wine.
Small addition during fermentation, only used to moderate unusually high natural acidity.
When temperatures during a zinfandel harvest rise significantly, this variety can over-ripen quickly before there is time to pick all of the blocks. If that occurs, we make a small addition of water to those fermentors to rehydrate grapes that lost water to the vine in protecting it from the excessive heat.
The most gentle of all fining agents, fresh egg whites have been used for at least two hundred years to clarify fine wine and/or moderate tannins. Virtually every Bordeaux from the first growths to its lesser classifications have been fined with five or six fresh egg whites per barrel in the majority of vintages for at least one hundred years. For Ridge, clarity is never an issue, but fining can moderate the texture of the tannins in the wines from a few of the parcels, typically of cabernet or merlot, that in a given vintage might be too tough. The egg whites precipitate and the wine is racked off and filtered leaving virtually no trace of the egg white behind.
Acidity in Zinfandel (Geyserville being an exception) is, on occasion, not as high as would be ideal but is better than Syrah. To achieve balance in those few parcels lacking acidity, small amounts of tartaric acid, the natural acid in wine, are added.