Virginie Boone of the Wine Enthusiast spotlights winemakers Eric Baugher and John Olney in her recent article, Wrecking Crew of Wine:
Eric Baugher and John Olney are Ridge’s Wrecking Crew of winemaking: Baugher in Monte Bello and Olney in Lytton Springs. Baugher recalls that in his early days at Ridge, starting in 1994, he was indeed in the shadows of the cellar. At the time, he was focused on balancing his family life and learning from Draper. He wasn’t interested in taking any of the spotlight from the famous pioneer.
By 2001, Baugher says, Draper sought to identify people capable of carrying on Ridge’s success. Baugher, Olney and viticulturist David Gates were all promoted to executive positions. That involved more dinners, tasting seminars and market visits, and more visibility as the faces of Ridge.
“We then started signing our initials on the back labels, since we were the ones writing them,” Baugher says. “It was a steady and slow transition of gaining recognition for winemaking, but I had patience. I had a young family to raise, and I wasn’t looking to go anywhere else, although at times I considered that when tempted by headhunters.”
Many of the musicians in the Wrecking Crew stuck to session work. It better fit their lifestyles and afforded them the opportunity to produce quality work with bigger artists. Rock bassist Carol Kaye was a single mother who had earned her stripes in jazz bands before helping to come up with the signature opening bass riff on “Good Vibrations.” Likewise, Baugher has stuck with Ridge because, as he puts it, he’s in love with the vineyards, the history of the winery and adored working with Draper.
“I couldn’t ever see working for another winery,” he says. “Of course, the work is extremely tough and wearing at times. We carry out some of the most disciplined winemaking in the world. It’s very labor intensive and mentally exhausting work. The reward is that the wines are outstanding and bring so much joy and pleasure to ourselves and our customers.”
Olney seems equally aware of his place within a larger universe.
“I love what I do, and I’m grateful for the role I play at Ridge,” says Olney, chief operating officer and winemaker at its Lytton Springs property in Dry Creek Valley.
“I think it’s important to recognize that behind every wine, behind every winemaker is a team of dedicated people, in the lab, in the cellar, in the vineyard, in the sales market,” says Olney. “Ridge is about single vineyards, the belief that growing the right varietal [grape] in the right location makes wines that provide a direct experience with the place they come from. For now, my primary focus is on maintaining the quality that upholds that belief.”