77% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 2% Carignane, 4% Mataro, 1% Alicante Bouschet
Dry Creek Valley
El Niño delayed the 1998 growing season by an entire month; late August brought an unseasonably early rain and some water damage in the clusters. We opened the vines to light and air, and thinned repeatedly over the next forty days as soon as any damaged fruit appeared. Aided by fine weather, we had clean, very ripe grapes at harvest. Intense fruit, a rich structure, and firm tannins characterize this lovely vintage, which will be at its best over the next five to six years. Alas, the severe thinning has resulted in significantly smaller quantities than usual.
This is the twentieth year in which Ridge has made wine from the Lytton Springs vineyard just north of the town of Healdsburg. Today, Lytton East and West—purchased by Ridge in the early nineties—are separated by several small residential parcels. In the 1870s, under “Captain” William Litton’s ownership, they were all part of one property; the spelling evolved into “Lytton” by 1903. The vineyard is planted primarily to zinfandel and its complementary varietals petite sirah, grenache, carignane, and mataro. After years of including the word “zinfandel” in a prominent position on the front label, we ceased to use it there in 1993, placing more focus on the distinctive character of the site.
El Niño set back the growing season by a full month. In May, at set, we thinned the clusters and stripped leaves to open up the vines. The exposed fruit took some damage from sunburn when July and August brought short periods of intense heat. Late August’s full moon brought rain—unusual for that time of year—and with it the danger of botrytis. But the open vines let the clusters dry quickly, and we thinned again several times to eliminate damaged fruit. Veraison, the juncture at which the grapes change color, was predictably the latest in our history with the vineyard. We always drop crop at this point, usually to even out ripeness. In this late year, our aim was to ensure that the remaining grapes would mature.
Continued clear, fine weather enabled us to harvest all eighteen parcels at target ripeness over the first two weeks of October. Primary and secondary fermentations were carried out, as usual, by naturally occurring yeast and malolactic bacteria. Two-thirds of the grapes were fermented using the submerged-cap approach, in which the skins are held beneath the surface of the juice for slow, gentle extraction. The rest were allowed to float; the juice was recirculated over them. After fourteen months in air-dried american oak barrels, the ’98 Lytton Springs is full and well-structured. The thinning needed to achieve this richness and complexity reduced yields considerably. A fine wine from a difficult year, it will be at its best over the next five to six years.
Average Rating: 89.7
No. of Tasting Notes: 46
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