This post is several weeks overdue but thanks to holiday travel, jet lag and, well, life I’m finally getting around to publish it. Enjoy!
As per usual, this year I made the trek home for Christmas and New Years. It turned out to be a bit of a crazy and tiring two weeks, but we did manage to carve out a little time for a wine tasting. Originally we talked about Paso Robles, then Napa or Sonoma. Eventually we were all a little too tired for such grand adventures and we turned our attention to the local Santa Cruz Mountains and Ridge Vineyards.
The Santa Cruz Mountains have long been home to some of California’s most extraordinary wines. Winemaking on the unique Monte Bello Ridge, with its temperate and cool microclimate and unique limestone subsoil, dates to the late 1800’s, (See! California can keep up with France!) and owes it’s rich history to an Italian Doctor, a Texan cattle rancher, a French restauranteur and local Californian. Each of these unique individuals invested in taming the land and creating a wine making ranch, each of which is farmed today by Ridge. But the historic heart of the modern estate was the product of the efforts of Osea Perrone, a San Francisco doctor originally from Northern Italy. He planted grapes on the top of the ridge and created the Monte Bello Winery, which was the home of the original Ridge production facility.
Sadly the area suffered during Prohibition and despite the repeal the Monte Bellow Winery closed for good in the 1940s. But the property was salvaged by a team of four Stanford Research Institute Engineers who started their project with a quarter barrel of Cabernet. Originally an experiment the quality of the wine convinced the team to rebond the winery in 1962 and hire celebrated wine maker Paul Draper, a Stanford philosophy student, in 1969. Under his direction the estate continued to produce high quality and distinctive wines and was invited to participate in the 1976 Judgement of Paris Tasting that rocked the world and established California as a force in the wine industry.
Today Paul Draper remains the CEO and head of winemaking at Ridge. Under his leadership the estate has maintained what they call “post-industrial” organic agriculture and non-interventionist wine making techniques. The Monte Bello Bordeaux blend has continued to rise in prominence and the 200 vintage took first place in the 2006 recreation of the Judgement of Paris. In addition, the estate was expanded in 1991 with the acquisition of the Lytton Springs Sonoma County Estate.
The Ridge Winery and tasting room at Monte Bello are open to the public on weekends. But thankfully they also offer sit-down tastings for $30 during the week. Available only by reservation, we were lucky and our morning phone call yielded and afternoon spot. When we arrived at the estate we were greeted by Taylor and informed that the other party had cancelled so we would be treated to a private session. Taylor promptly took us inside and offered us a glass of stunning Chardonnay before leading us further up the hill to see the vineyards and a little estate history.
The Chardonnay was in fact the 2012 Estate Chardonnay from the Monte Bello Vineyard. With only about 3000 cases per year this crisp wine is a true treasure. Smooth with a full mouthfeel the slight touch of oak only highlighted the quality of the fruit and the hint of minerality. I am normally not a huge fan of California Chardonnays but this was lovely, crisp and very fine.
After the vineyard tour and the long discussion about agriculture and winemaking we made our way back inside to a presentation room hidden behind the bar. Inside not only were there beautiful views but a table set with a glasses and a small wood board with cheese, tapenade and apple slices. And then we got down to the real business of tasting.
2012 Lytton Springs: A passetoutgrain field blend consisting primarily of Zinfandel with touches of Petit Sirah, Carignane and Mataro (or Mourvèdre). The grape vines in this vineyard, most of which are over 100 years old, are interplanted and were only recently identified by genetic testing. As they are harvested the grapes are vinified together to form this classic tasting Zin with a great structure.
2012 East Bench Zinfandel: Also produced on the Lytton Springs Estate, on a hillside vineyard located on the plot next to the main plot, this 100% Zinfandel wine is significantly different than the Lytton Springs. Earthier and with less fruit character on the nose this classic Zinfandel is smooth and is without heat or jammy fruit character.
2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: The second wine of the Monte Bello Vineyards this Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc was very soft and approachable with a rich, savory nose.
2011 Monte Bello: A traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc was rich on the nose and the palate. Aged for 16 months in 220 liter barrels this rich wine delivers a nose of wet earth and wet wood. Spicy with softer tannins than the Estate Cab it was complex and intriguing.
2000 Monte Bello: A special addition to our tasting, our host used a Coravin to pour samples from this critically acclaimed vintage. With slight sediment in the glass the wine was going tawny on the edge and coming into its prime. Soft and smooth with notes of wet earth this was a true treat.
Sadly I had not brought my camera with me on the trip home and I am limited to a few iPhone photos. I guess I will just have to go back. But in the meantime thanks again to our awesome host Taylor. Ask for him if you ever make your way up the Ridge.