Wednesday, May 11, 2022

What We Learned While Visiting Ridge Vineyards

During our BevFluence tour of Ridge Vineyards, we learned valuable insight into the geography, history, and production processes of this iconic winery.

The winery is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a mountain range in central and northern California that forms a ridge down the San Francisco Peninsula, south of San Francisco. They separate the Pacific Ocean from the San Francisco Bay and the Santa Clara Valley and are bisected by the San Andreas Fault. The tension within this tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate pushed limestone soil to the surface of Monte Bello Ridge in which Ridges' vineyards are planted. 

The current tasting room was formally the production winery. When Paul Draper joined the partnership in 1969, they quickly planned to transfer processing to the recently purchased and abandoned Monte Bello Winery located near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. This facility was originally constructed in the late 1880s by Osea Perrone who also planted the first vines on the ridge at the same time. The facility included a large cellar built into the mountainside and a spring where water can even run through the winery after heavy rains. 

Ridge implements regenerative farming practices that complement its organic philosophy.  They plant an extensive range of cover crops to add nitrogen and organic matter, increase the population of beneficial insects, control erosion, and control vine vigor in excessively fertile soils. They also planted hedgerows in vineyards to "help harbor and expand beneficial insect populations, provide shelter for animals, shade for waterways, fix carbon from the atmosphere, and break up the monoculture of vineyards". Finally, they practice no-till (mow only on alternative rows) on our hillside vineyard blocks to help minimize erosion and build organic matter in the soil.

Through its estate vineyards as well as plots they manage, the Ridge harvests a plethora of grape varieties. These include Picpoul (which is blended into their Grenache Blanc), Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignane, Counose, Grenache, and Malvoisie. Vice President of Vineyard Operations, David Gates, even planted Croatian Tribidrag in their Lytton Estate from cuttings directly from Zinfandel's home country.  This replicated a similar venture where Puglia Primitivo clones were planted at the Lytton Estate.

When Draper arrived at Ridge he was inclined to use American oak barrels, but in 1974 they started a trial comparing wine aged in American and French oak. The American oak was sourced from a cooperage in the Ozarks using Appalachian wood and made in a smaller bourbon size.  After the trials, the team determined that the American oak was better suited for the Monte Bello vineyard’s tannic grapes. Since the American oak is twice as dense as French, it contains more spice and wood sugar compounds that slowly extract and fill out a wine’s body. 

In February 2022 the winery named Trester Goetting as Monte Bello Winemaker where he will take over all winemaking duties at Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello winery. Previously he was the head wine-maker at Robert Biale Vineyards where he focused on Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Bordeaux, and Rhône varietals from heritage vineyards. Perfect training for Ridges' similar focus. Good Luck,

Finally, the ridge sometimes becomes a home for rattlesnakes in June and October. When that occurs the snakes are trapped and relocated to more remote areas.

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