By Christian David, Managing Editor, Drinks International
Ridge retains its position as the top North American and Californian producer on the Most Admired list, keeping the number seven position for the second year running. Phrases such as “minimum intervention” are all the rage in winemaking these days, but Ridge was way ahead of the curve and it was largely by looking back to vineyard and winemaking techniques used in the Bordeaux and California of the 19th century that its glowing international reputation was formed.
Ridge’s fame started to be hewn when it was placed fifth in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting. At the 30th anniversary tasting in 2006 it went several steps further, with its 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet winning first place in the original vintage category and the 2000 ranking top for new vintages.
The driving force behind the accumulation of Ridge’s prestige points goes to Paul Draper, who stepped down as chief winemaker and CEO in 2016 after 47 years with the company, during which time he put old vine Zinfandel back on the world’s serious wine map and coined the phrase “pre-industrial winemaking” to describe Ridge’s organic and sustainable approach to viticulture and production.
Writing in 2011, he explained the ethos, which still endures at Ridge to this day. “Pre-industrial winemaking begins with respect for the natural process that transforms fresh grapes intowine, and the 19th-century model of minimum intervention,” he said. “When you have great vineyards that produce high-quality grapes of distinctive individual character, this is not only an environmentally and socially responsible approach, it’s also the best way to consistently make fine wine.”
Draper’s philosophy is ably carried forward by vineyard guru David Gates, Monte Bello site winemaker Eric Baugher and John Olney, in charge of production at Lytton Springs in Sonoma County.