“In 2000, Decanter named Paul Draper “Man of the Year.” Paul Draper is only the third Californian to receive the Decanter Man of the Year accolade, following in the footsteps of legends such as Robert Mondavi and Andre Tchelistcheff. John Stimpfig looks back at Paul’s 30-year career at Ridge Vineyards.”
The doyen of the California wine world, though a less stuffy doyen you could not find. A classicist and an innovator. A modest but determined man talking about ‘European’ terroir, natural yeasts and minimum intervention. A recent vertical of Monte Bello back to 1969, his first vintage, confirmed for me that Paul is in a class of his own.
Know the wine; know the man. Big egos and block-buster wines are all too familiar. Think of a wine that’s balanced, ages slowly, is modest, generous, thoughtful, good-humoured-yes, it’s Paul Draper. Paul is (I hope he’ll forgive me) the most European of Californians. Which makes the Ridge range, from classical, almost immortal Monte Bello, to the world’s most toothsome Zins, all the more of an achievement.
He has gone his own magnificent way-making and tasting wine-at Ridge for more than 30 years. It seems wonderfully appropriate that way up on the Monte Bello Ridge he operates on a different plane from other California producers.
From the start, his wines reflected the philosophy that a wine’s most significant characteristics come from the soil. He was interested in producing quality wines, even when there was little market for them.
In early 1976, choosing the wines for what was to become the Paris Tasting, I was given Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 1971 blind and took it for a Chateau Beychevelle 1970. At the recent Masters of Wine tasting of California Cabernets, the Monte Bello 1994 stole the show, proving that the hallmark of a great winemaker is not brilliance but consistency.
Paul Draper has enhanced the quality and reputation of Zinfandel as no one else has done. Others, initially, may have dismissed it in favour of seemingly more commercial wines, but Paul’s commitment is an example of his wisdom and strength of personality. Quality always wins-with wine and people.’Christian Mouiex-‘I have always admired Paul Draper for his dedication to his wines and his classic style of winemaking. Consequently, his wines are wonderful to drink with a finish as long as a sentence of Marcel Proust, the French author for whom he and I share an admiration.
Paul Draper has always set himself the highest standards which can be thought of as typically Burgundian: the importance of terroir, expressed through a unique grape variety and adhering to the strict rules which result from this. He is a friend that I see rarely but meet daily through the
‘philosophy’ that we both practice.