70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc
Santa Cruz Mountains
166 tons from 83.5 acres. On Monte Bello, the grapes typically set, turn color, and are harvested three weeks later than in the rest of California. Ridge has long accepted the inevitability of rigorous thinning and low yields, if intensity is to be attained in these cool, late vintages. The growing season began extremely late in 1998, but lovely warm days in October (and our first use of reflective foil) ripened the fruit fully. The wines fermented on their natural yeast; secondary (malolactic) was completed primarily in barrel. All thirty-three separate parcels were blind-tasted after three months on the lees, and we began assemblage. Over a period of five months just over half the Monte Bello lots were selected for the final wine. Aged for seventeen months—almost entirely in new, air-dried american oak—this excellent wine is a match for the finest from an extraordinary decade. It will be approachable within a year of release, and develop further depth and complexity with bottle age.
On the Monte Bello estate vineyard, there are three major plantings of bordeaux varietals. Between 1300 and 2000 feet of elevation is the “lower” vineyard, where cabernet was first planted in the late nineteenth century. The “middle” (2100’-2400’) includes the fifty-year-old vines from which the first forty-eight bottles of Monte Bello were made in 1959. The third is the “upper” (2500’-2650’), home to a number of thirty three-year old plantings and the 116-year-old winery that is the Ridge production facility.
This year, the three were sub-divided into thirty-three smaller parcels—each differing slightly in character and style; these are harvested and fermented separately. In 1998 a very late spring interfered with the grapes’ flowering and set, reducing crop from the outset, and moving the whole growing season back by a month. After a light rain in August, when the grapes were still small, hard, and green, we opened the vines to sun and air. In September, when the color changed (veraison) we thinned heavily—despite the already small crop—in a rather desperate attempt to ensure ripeness before the winter rains arrived. Also to that end, we spread reflective foil under the vines for the first time. Most frequently used in orchards to help ripen and color the fruit, it had the desired effect in the
vineyard. Sunny weather through mid-November ripened all the grapes, but later than ever before.
The fermentations took place in five-and-a-half-, three-, and one-ton tanks, all without inoculation (natural primary). We splashed and pumped the juice over the skins twice daily for five days, and as we saw how quickly color and tannin were extracted, pressed—on average—after only seven days. All the wine went through malolactic fermentation without inoculation (natural secondary). Two-thirds completed it in barrel, and was held on the lees for three months before its first rack. The rest finished in small tanks, and was racked off the lees to barrel within three days. In February following vintage all thirty-three separate fermentations were blind-tasted; more than a third were chosen for the first assemblage. By May others were included. A final five percent, added in December, brought the total to fifty-three percent of the vineyard included in the Monte Bello. Forty-seven percent, including some very tannic lots which were fined, were selected out for the ’98 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet. The Monte Bello aged for seventeen months in new, air-dried american oak and, as part of our ongoing experiment, a small amount aged in new french oak. Cool years in a cool region like the Santa Cruz Mountains tend to produce wines that are more austere, in the style of fine Bordeaux. Initially, this was the case with the ’98. But two years of bottle age have integrated the tannins beautifully, and the fruit’s complexity has come to the fore. This excellent wine is one of the single finest of the vintage, and a worthy addition to a great decade.
Average Rating: 89.8
No. of Tasting Notes: 145
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