People seem unaware than Ridge makes a chardonnay. But chardonnay planted in the forties was growing on the "middle" vineyard when the founders bought the land in 1959. The first (legal) vintage was 1962. So it's nothing new, though the original vines were pulled in the eighties, and supplanted by those on the "lower" vineyard, Jimsomare. Style and technique have changed a bit over time, consistency has improved, but Ridge chardonnay remains — as ever — complex, delightful, and eminently suitable for cellaring. (Recent tastings of the '76 and '79 confirm the longevity factor.) Current vinification practice involves long, slow fermentation on naturally-occurring yeast, natural malolactic, natural clarification through settling (no fining or filtration.) In general: apple, pear, and pineapple fruit predominate. (Some years are more tropical than others.) A nicely flinty mineral element is present. There are subtle undertones of butter, baked bread, caramel. These are complex wines. The '96 is lovely now, the '97 just coming into its own. Either could do with some aging.
Ridge's history begins in 1885, when Osea Perrone, a doctor and prominent member of San Francisco's Italian community, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He planted vineyards and constructed a winery of redwood and native limestone in time to produce the first vintage of Monte Bello in 1892. The historic building now serves as the Ridge production facility.
Though Ridge began as a Cabernet winery, by the mid-60s it had produced several Zinfandels including the Geyserville. In 1972, Lytton Springs joined the line-up and the two came to represent an important part of Ridge production. Known primarily for its red wines, Ridge has also made limited amounts of Chardonnay since 1962.
The Ridge approach is straightforward: find the most intense and flavorful grapes, guide the natural process, draw all the fruit's richness into the wine. Decisions on when to pick, when to press, when to rack, what varietals and what parcels to include and when to bottle, are based on taste. To retain the nuances that increase complexity, Ridge winemakers handle the grapes and wine as gently as possible. There are no recipes, only attention and sensitivity.
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The Santa Cruz Mountain appellation encompasses the land between Half Moon Bay in the north and Mount Madonna (just near Monterey) in the south. Producing wine since the early 1800's, some of these wineries have been around for quite some time, mingling their vineyard lands with the sprawling redwood forests.
Even though the climate can be challenging, and only 1500 acres are under vine, over 50 wineries still operate successfully – and produce successful wine. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in this region, along with a few plots of Cabernet Sauvignon. Hills, valleys and forests generate multiple micro-climates, creating a diverse flavor among the wines.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country unto itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.