Ridge: A Love Letter


Ridge Carmichael Ranch, Buchignani Ranch, and Dusi Ranch

Three Objects of My Affection: Ridge Carmichael Ranch, Buchignani Ranch, and Dusi Ranch

It being Valentine’s Day Weekend, I thought I’d pen a love letter to one of my favorite wineries of all time, Ridge Vineyards.  

I’ve had a long relationship with Ridge. The first time I went to visit my ex-boyfriend’s parents in France, I went to Astor Place to pick up a bottle of wine. I told the sales clerk my situation – the dad had an expansive cellar of Burgundy and Alsace, but had never tried an American wine he’d liked – and, without a word, he led me to Zinfandel section, pressed a bottle of Ridge Lytton Springs into my hands, and walked away.  At least this is how I remember it. He probably said something like “try this” but in my mind it was a silent, solemn moment, one that gave me complete confidence that this was the right choice. Alas my ex and I broke up before his dad ever broke out the Ridge, but I’d like to think he enjoyed it.

Then there was an accumulation of happy coincidences that made me think that perhaps I was destined to fall in love with Ridge – like when you discover that guy have a crush on has a cousin who went to your summer camp or grew up one town over from your college roommate. I found out that Ridge winemaker Paul Draper went to my high school. Christopher Watkins, poet/friend of Lenn/former operations manager at Roanoke Vineyards is now the tasting room manager at Ridge Monte Bello. And my girl Jancis is a fan. (OK, so this one isn’t a coincidence as much as it supporting evidence of Ridge’s overall awesomeness. Kind of like getting the stamp of approval on your boyfriend from your very coolest friend.)

And then there are the wines. There are two sides to Ridge. First, and most expensively, there is Ridge Monte Bello, one of California’s consistently great Cabernet Sauvignon wines. At least that’s what they tell me – sadly, I’ve never tried it. While not super culty, it still starts at around $150 a bottle and is not easy to find, although I just put my name on the winery’s waiting list. (There’s also a Monte Bello Chardonnay. Matt Kramer calls the latter “unquestionably one of California’s finest renditions” in his very smart book New California Wine, a great title for anyone who’s interested in the subject.)

The other, more accessible side to Ridge is the range of wines made from Zinfandel and, to a lesser extent, Rhone varietals, including Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre. Sourced from a variety of single vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso Robles, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and other regions in Sonoma and Napa, each of these wines has a specific sense of place, while sharing some common ground: pure, intense fruit, a subtle use of American oak, and the ability to wear their substantial weight well. These are big, high-alcohol wines, but they’re not clumsy or overly oaked, probably because they usually have a nice thread of acidity to keep things from getting too out of hand. Think of what a nice squeeze of lime juice does Mexican food or how vinegar cole slaw complements a pulled pork sandwich and you get a sense of the role acidity plays in wine.

The other nice thing about Ridge wines is the price: they’re usually in the $30 range, which is very reasonable for site-specific, well-made California wines. See if you can pick up a Ridge York Creek and Ridge Lytton Springs from the same year – neither should be too hard to find in good stores – invite some friends over, and compare and contrast the two wines. It’s an amazing education for about $70.

In fact, if you’re looking to learn more about wine, seek out any producer that makes consistently good vineyard-designated wines from a single varietal. If Pinot Noir is your thing, I’d recommend Dutton Goldfield, which we also visited this summer. Get on the mailing list, go in with a bunch of friends, and see if you can tell what the differences are between the wines. I’m on Ridge’s mailing list for its small production Zinfandel and Rhone-varietal wines and plan on having some friends over in a few months for a Ridge blowout. However, if I ever get on the Monte Bello list, I’m keeping that sucker to myself.



2 Responses to “Ridge: A Love Letter”

  1. 1 David Coffey

    Ridge is definitely a standard-bearer for excellent American winemaking. And those zinfandels actually age quite gracefully. The Monte Bello red (you know in some years it can’t be labeled cabernet sauvginon) is available at auction at pretty good prices, including older vintages. Having delved back into the 1980s, it is safe to say this wine lives long and well. Like some of the other early California pacesetters in cabernet sauvignon production (Chateau Montelena, for example), its style has remained the same and the high quality has never been compromised, but the never-ending rush to find the next cult wine seems to have left it behind. Probably because patience is required. And if you get a chance to buy some old Chateau Montelena chardonnay at a good price, dive in.

  2. 2 rolanddumas

    You don’t need to be on a list to purchase the Monte Bello. Many wine stores carry it, or you can purchase directly from their web site http://www.ridgewine.com.

    The futures membership program, called the “Monte Bello Collector” was closed, but just re-opened. http://www.ridgewine.com/store/?_function=club

    I have Monte Bellos that go back to the late ’60s. I don’t think that wine ever goes over the hill. It just gets richer and more complex in time.

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