It's sold out now, and only 175 cases were made, but Ridge Vineyards' 2013 Steep Terraces Monte Bello is a history making wine: it is the first Ridge wine from its famous Monte Bello vineyard to be sourced solely from certified organic vines and bottle labeled with organic grapes on the label.
For those who are unfamiliar with Monte Bello, it is a vineyard owned by Ridge that has produced one of the best Cabernets from America over a long arc of time. It's been called "America's First Growth," placing it in the company of the finest wines from Bordeaux. (Its accolades are really far too numerous to list here. You can see a video about the vineyard here.)
Too many vintners who have wines sourced solely from certified organic vines have backed away from bottle labeling their wines with the word organic - even on the back of the label. It's an important turning point in wine history that high end producers, including smaller Napa producers Storybook Mountain, Volker Eisele, Ehlers Estate, Grgich Hills and others - are among a small but growing movement toward honesty about organics.
Prominent wineries who have organic vineyards and could bottle label but don't include Frog's Leap, Odette, Spottswoode, and Hall in Napa, and Tablas Creek (for its estate grown wines) in Paso Robles. These wineries are proud to tell you about their organic vines on their web sites, but shy away from bottle labeling their estates' pride and joys.
Often consumers are shocked to find out that vintners using organic grapes don't bottle label, as was the case at yet another tasting I went to recently at an (unnamed) Napa winery.
And just as often, vintners themselves have no idea they could be labeling the back of their bottles with the words "Ingredients: Organic Grapes." This type of labeling does not require that the wines be made in a certified organic winery and is the more common type of labeling among high end producers who do bottle label.
What is even more wonderful is that Ridge has been committed for years to taking bottle labeling a step further.
It's famous for its progressive labeling philosophy. It insists on listing the ingredients of each wine on the back label and, for this wine, it has chosen to label this wine with "organic grapes" on the back label.
In addition, Ridge explains to visitors at its Lytton Springs tasting room (which I visited in March) what its labels mean and why it feels labeling is so important.
It's time for all wineries to step up to the plate and explain to consumers why if "wine is food," as they tell us in their marketing, consumers should know what is in this "food."
Like food producers, wineries should see the good in labeling wines that contain only organic grapes to let consumers know when a wine is sourced solely from organic grapes. Again, time after time, most consumers are surprised when they find out that most fine wine producers using organic grapes don't bottle label with organic labeling.
We don't want to have to guess what's in the bottle or be suspicious about additives in wine.
Of course, the bigger danger is what is in the vineyard. With wineries providing every other detail about wine- the alcohol content, the tasting notes, the pairings, the number of months in oak and which oak source they use, doesn't it seem a little odd that wineries don't say - in writing - what's on the grapes and what's in the wine?
It's time for consumers to speak up and let wine producers know they'll support wineries that tell them they farm organically and list what's in the bottle. Ridge is setting the standard. We can ask others to adopt these practices and build greater integrity for their brands.
Update (June 26, 2017): The upcoming 2016 Ridge Monte Bello, the winery's flagship wine, will be entirely sourced from organic grapes (and bottle labeled as such).