At Ridge, we call our approach to winemaking “pre-industrial.” We believe that for anyone attempting to make fine wine, modern additives and industrial processing limit true quality. Our philosophy comes from the techniques used in the finest 19th-century California wineries and Bordeaux chateaux. In 1933, after thirteen years of Prohibition, very few winemakers who were trained in pre-Prohibition traditional techniques were young enough to return to their positions. Universities stepped in to fill the need for winemaker expertise, and began – year by year – to reinvent winemaking as an industrial process. We believe that these increasingly industrial methods interfere with the distinctive qualities of a fine vineyard and mask – rather than improve – the character of a wine.
Relying on natural yeasts gives meaning to what we’re doing. We’re not in the driver’s seat – we assist the natural process by choosing the vineyards, by watching over the wines, and by applying our experience to how we handle the wines. But the wines, in a sense, make themselves. Our side-by-side comparisons show that fermentations with natural yeast almost always result in a more complex and interesting wine.
While these commercial products provide the nitrogen that yeasts need for a healthy fermentation, we prefer to rely on sound vineyard practices to create grape musts that provide the yeasts with their ideal nutrient levels. We encourage healthy nitrogen levels in our soils through a variety of methods including annual cover cropping, the addition of organic compost and fertilizers when necessary, and close monitoring of plant tissue nitrogen levels throughout the growing season.
Whether it be the sampling of the grapes before deciding to pick, determining how long to continue pump-overs for tannin extraction during fermentation, or choosing which blocks to include in the final blend of the wine, we make our major winemaking decisions based on blind tasting rather than a pre-determined recipe.
In addition to organic or sustainably grown grapes, their natural yeasts and the malolactic bacteria, we list all additives. The few additives we use 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.