I visited Ridge Vineyards' Monte Bello Estate high atop the Santa Cruz Mountains during the final assemblage of their 2006 flagship wine. I recently happened upon a supply of the wine, and enjoyed recalling one of my best winery experiences.
Paul Draper - Legendary Winemaker
Anything Ridge begins with Paul Draper, the chief winemaker since 1969 and CEO since 1988. Draper is one of the most-decorated winemakers in the world, including the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits, which he won shortly before my visit in 2007. He is an advocate for quality and transparency in winemaking, and Ridge has listed all ingredients on their labels since 2012. It was intriguing to have a conversation with Paul at ease in his element. With one of wine's greatest resumes, he remains eagerly hospitable. When setting up my visit, I copied three Ridge employees on my request email, and who do you think replied first and most-graciously? That's right, Paul Draper.
Monte Bello Assemblage
Tasting the individual components of the 2006 Monte Bello was extremely interesting, with guidance from Ridge vice president of winemaking for Monte Bello, Eric Baugher. A Santa Cruz-area native who grew up farming before earning degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology, Baugher has been with Ridge since 1994. During the tasting, he explained in depth the constantly-refined science of winemaking at Ridge. The Monte Bello is a Bordeaux-style blend is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc grapes, all grown on the Monte Bello Estate. Draper likes to say, "Wines make themselves", and the cool, mountain-top climate and terroir undoubtedly "make" this standout wine as much as the winemakers.
Ridge Vineyards and Wine History
2006 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the famed Judgement of Paris, where the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth. It was celebrated with a re-tasting of the same wines from the seventies, and this time around, the Monte Bello lead the way for the now dominant American wines. The 2006 version is promoted as a "direct descendant" of the winning wine. But sentimental feelings for the 2006 aside, any year is likely to impress. At the assemblage tasting I also savored a couple of glasses of the 1978. Browned at the edges, yet bright and fresh, with a fantastic(!) taste of forest floor, this library selection was still very much alive. Always concentrated and complex, Ridge Monte Bello is built to please now or for the long-haul.
Along with the excellent wine and conversation, the humility and commitment to great wine at Ridge must be appreciated. During my visit, there was not a peep of the accolades from the thirty-year anniversary of the Judgement, nor Paul Draper's James Beard Award. All talk was about the current and future wines. If you have the opportunity, take the long, winding road up the mountain to Ridge, a unique and memorable wine experience.
Ridge Vineyards, Monte Bello - 17100 Montebello Road, Cupertino, CA 95014