On 22 February 2016, Town & Country magazine published an in-depth profile of winemaker Paul Draper written by Jay McInerney. A few excerpts follow.
“The more you go off into virtual reality, the more you need that connection to earth and the seasons,” Paul Draper was saying over a recent lunch at Café Boulud. Draper, the erudite dean of American winemakers, turns 80 this month. He was reminiscing about the early days of Ridge Vineyards, where he has been making wine since 1969, when he was hired by the owners, a group of Stanford Research Institute engineers who had bought an abandoned vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains as a getaway. “These guys were in high tech, and they wanted something connected to the earth. They didn’t want to go into high-tech winemaking. They wanted the real thing.”
Ridge’s Monte Bello cabernets tend to resemble Left Bank Bordeaux more than Napa cabernets, being leaner, lower in alcohol, and less overtly fruity. They also take a long time to show their potential and seem to age forever. Case in point: the ’71, which was selected by Steven Spurrier for the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris, at which several California wines bested their French counterparts in blind tastings. The ’71 Monte Bello placed fifth out of 10 reds, not a bad showing against first growths such as Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild. Thirty years later that tasting was reenacted, with prominent judges from both sides of the Atlantic, and this time the ’71 Ridge came in first.
In addition to its flagship cabernet, Ridge makes a range of zinfandels from heritage vineyards, including Lytton Springs, a 115-year-old property in Sonoma that Ridge bought in 1991. Zinfandel was little known when the original owners produced their first vintage, in 1964, and the subsequent success of the grape owes much to Ridge and its excellent renditions, which are exuberant, fruity, and more precocious than the Monte Bello cab, although more balanced than some of the monster zins of recent years. I like to think of Ridge zins as bikini models with graduate degrees, whereas the Monte Bellos remind me more of, say, a Julian Barnes novel: taut, allusive, and complex. In fact, Barnes, an oenophile, is a big fan of Draper’s. “I think of him as the man who introduced California wines to Europe, and European winemaking to California,” the Booker Prize–winning author wrote to me. “Also as one of those determined and rigorous winemakers who has never bowed to fashion—a philosopher-prince of wine!” (The fact that Barnes, never one for hyperbole, resorted to an exclamation point says a lot.)