How lovely must it be to receive an accolade from your peers and those at the very top of your profession? Precisely this has just happened to the very deserving Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards in California who has been 2013 Winemaker’s Winemaker. The Winemaker’s Winemaker Award is now in its third year – previous winners are Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus and Peter Gago of Penfolds and the winner is selected by a panel of Master of Wine winemakers.
Paul Draper has been winemaker of Ridge since 1969 and takes what he calls a pre-industrial approach to winemaking. Perhaps this reflects his academic background in philosophy rather than chemistry. Wherever his winemaking philosophy comes from, it’s clearly working for him. His name is always spoken with a certain reverence by those who have met him.
Ridge was in the original 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting where the best of Bordeaux Cabernets were compared with the best of Californian Cabernets. Ridge came fifth that time round, and first when they re-tasted the wines 30 years later in a second attempt to decide who made the best Cabernet in the world. Pretty sound endorsement indeed.
Ridge Vineyards forge their own path and resolutely stick to the rather arcane idea of making great wines rather than courting big scores and press hype. These are wines for winelovers. Last year we had the very great privilege of meeting Eric Baugher, winemaking colleague of Paul Draper, at a Ridge tasting here in Crossgar. These wines are absolutely outstanding and the care and attention that goes into making them is quite something. The winemaking philosophy of Ridge belongs to Draper, he wanted to make wines the old-fashioned way, with minimal intervention, minimal use of chemicals, minimal use of sulphur to create fresh, moderate level alcohol wines that age beautifully and speak of where they come from. Winemaking decisions in Ridge are based on tasting, tasting and then more tasting. These guys aren’t making wine to a recipe or a prescribed standard. These are wines that embody the ultimate ideal of wine – a delicious product made from grapes grown with great care from a special site by passionate, talented people. These are wines with provenance.
At the top of the Ridge tree is Monte Bello. A Cabernet dominant wine from their oldest vines. Some of these vines pre-date Prohibition and with old vines comes great longevity. Monte Bello is a wine to be hidden away and drunk when it reaches maturity. For those who lack the patience – the Ridge Estate Cabernet is his little brother and is utterly charming in his youth. No need to wait for this guy to grow up. The talents of Mr Draper extend beyond just Cabernet, they make exquisite Chardonnay and gorgeous Zinfandel-based blends their Lytton Springs and Geyserville vineyards. These are not Zinfandel as we know it; these are concentrated, elegant, well balanced and extremely ageworthy. They may lack the full majesty of Monte Bello but for mere mortals a glass of Lytton Springs is quite the taste of Ridge heaven at a far from ridiculous price.