Ridge Vineyards' leader, Paul Draper has announced his plans to retire, and leave the winery's operations in the hands of the people who have been running the company with him for many years.
There is no way to put into words all that Draper has contributed over his career, and it is sad to see him go.
The integrity of its winemaking, the quality of its vineyards, and the pure pleasure of its wines (which range from affordable old vine Zine to renowned, internationally acclaimed $100+ Cabernet) - all have made this world a better place.
As someone who has a filmmaking past (and present - things are in the works), I was very heartened to see a proper video - far above the usual winery YouTube fare - capturing his philosophy on his favorite topic - pre-industrial winemaking - as well as an homage to Ridge.
"Probably one of the worst inventions that came from the New World, not the Old World, was the word 'winemaker' because it put you in the creative role, whereas it's the quality of the grapes and the natural process that makes the wine.
If you have really fine grapes that have complexity, you can make some of the finest wines that actually reflect not your idea of what you want in the bottle but what the vineyard produces.
I got a chance in the late sixties, early seventies, when I was here to taste some of the California wines from the 30's and that would have been particularly Inglenook and a small winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains called Aquesta. They were considered one of the single finest wines in California. Having those wines, nothing that I had tasted - from Inglenook again, BV and so on - in the 40's, 50's compared with what had been made in the 30's.
And what I realized was they had been made in the way wine was made in the 19th century, both in California and France that was traditional winemaking. That did not involve the processing and the chemicals that came in with reinventing winemaking after Prohibition.
These were some of the finest grapes, and by treating them minimally - in terms of anything used to either process or add to them - you could make fine wine that reflected where it was grown not some concept of the winemaker.
The Ridge partners began buying the property in 1959 - 1962 was their first commercial vintage. So when I was interviewing with them, and trying to decide if I wanted to join this group up in this relatively unknown area called the Santa Cruz Mountains, they had me taste their 1962 and their 1964. Well these were three PhD's in electrical engineering all working for Stanford. They'd never made wine in their life.
And I had tasted nothing of the quality that these guys had. Really interesting complex wine. But they had no knowledge at all and so you might say well they made the wine in the simplest possible fashion. They simply didn't get in the way. And I tasted those two wines with their complexity and quality and said, if I join them, I'm going to have a chance to make some really fine wine. Because here they were, first wines they'd ever made, doing nothing except getting out of the way.
And look what this vineyard is producing. It's basically just guiding a natural process. That for our winemaking is at the heart of the matter. Has been for me from the beginning."
At Ridge, the emphasis on pre-industrial winemaking is now extending to how the grapes are grown.
At this point Ridge is in the certification process for 277 acres of vines. Many people do not know it is by far the largest organic vineyard owner in Sonoma, with 200 acres of vines in that county, more than double the organic acreage of any other winery there. It is also the leader in Santa Clara county.
You can't make pre-industrial winemaking wines from vines treated with neonicotinoids, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides.
We are just now beginning to get a glimmer of the effects of glyphosate and its co-formulant in the herbicide Roundup on people, but the evidence of its effects on microbes, the beating heart of soil and vine roots, has been clear for decades. (It kills the microbial life in the soil.)
From winemaking to vine growing, it's a great legacy Draper has left behind. Let's hope it is one others aspire to.