Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Vincent’s Wine Club: Winemaker Dinner with Eric Baugher and his Stunning Ridge Vineyards Wines, USA

Picture: Winemaker Dinner with Eric Baugher and his Stunning Ridge Vineyards Wines

Ridge Vineyards is an iconic American wine producer. It has been under the direction of winemaker Paul Draper - the philosophical Grand Master of the California wine scene - since 1969. Ridge Vineyards’ international reputation was established when its 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon Blend achieved fifth place in the Judgment of Paris in 1976.

I had the pleasure to drink three older vintages of the Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello wine (as well as other Ridge Vineyards wines) with Eric Baugher, the # 2 in the Ridge Vineyards winemaker team. The dinner was part of the Wine Club series of Vincent Feraud, renowned Sommelier and Wine Director at the Entyse Wine Bar and Lounge of the Ritz-Carlton at Tysons Corner in the Washington DC area. Executive Chef Chris Johnson prepared a wonderful menu.

My wife Annette Schiller, ombiasyPR and WineTours, provided the tasting notes below. Annette organizes wine tours to Germany, Bordeaux and Bourgogne. Check out the ombiasy website!

Pictures: Annette and Christian Schiller with Vincent Feraud

Ridge Vineyards’ History

Ridge Vineyards dates back to 1885, when Osea Perrone, a doctor who became a prominent member of San Francisco's Italian community, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. Monte Bello Ridge is in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco. He terraced the slopes and planted vineyards. Using native limestone, he constructed the Monte Bello Winery and produced the first vintage in 1892. This unique cellar, located at an elevation of 2,300 feet (700 m) and built into the mountainside on three levels, is Ridge Vineyard's production facility today.

The estate was abandoned during Prohibition and went through the hands of several owners until 1959, when 3 Stanford scientists pooled their money to purchase the estate. This marked the beginning of the modern area of Ridge Vineyards.

Pictures: Vincent Feraud Checking the Wines

A new winery was built out of the remains of the cellars of Osea Perrone, constructed in 1886. Ridge Vineyards produced its first commercial wine from the 1962 vintage. In 1964, Ridge Vineyards produced its first Zinfandel. Beginning in 1966, the winery began sourcing grapes for its Geyserville Zinfandel and other wines from vineyards in Sonoma County.

The modern area of Ridge Vineyards is intrinsically intertwined with the name of Paul Draper, who was hired to run Ridge Vineyards in 1969. He was in his early 30s. His devotion to old-fashioned methods provided “this balance to the world that was developing below us in Silicon Valley”, one of the owners said. Paul Draper, who studied philosophy at Stanford University, had short stints at wineries in France and California, and made wine for a couple of years in Chile. He was and still is fascinated by traditional winemaking -- he calls it "preindustrial." It is essentially due to him that Ridge Vineyards today is probably the most prestigious producer in the USA.

The 1971 Monte Bello was among the California Cabernet Sauvignons competing against Bordeaux in the famed Paris Tasting of 1976, where it placed fifth. It was the second-ranked California wine; the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars cab placed first overall.

In 1986, Ridge Vineyards was bought by a Japanese pharmaceutical company; Paul Draper stayed with Ridge Vineyards.

Ridge Vineyards shifted to organic farming in 1999.

Pictures: A Long Table.

Ridge Vineyards

Today, Ridge Vineyards produces a range of wines at two winery locations and operates tasting rooms open to the public at both. In total, Ridge Vineyards produces close to 100,000 cases of wine per vintage.

In addition to the original winery facilities on Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, a second winery is at Lytton Springs in the Dry Creek Valley AVA of Sonoma County. Ridge Vineyards purchased the Lytton Springs vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley AVA in 1991.

The Lytton Springs winery was constructed according to the principles of sustainability. It is entirely built out of presses rice straw. All energy used is solar energy and the CO2 balance sheet is very favorable.

Starting with the 2011 vintage, Ridge Vineyards adopted ingredient labeling for all its wines. Ridge Vineyards is one of only a handful of wineries that list ingredients; Bonny Doon is another. The list includes items like; indigenous yeast, naturally occurring malolactic bacteria, oak, calcium carbonate, sulfur dioxide, tartaric acid, minimum effective SO2 and egg whites.

Picture: Christian Schiller and Eric Baugher

Eric Baugher

Ridge Vineyards: Eric Baugher is Director of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards' Monte Bello Winery in California's Santa Cruz Mountains. Eric heads the winemaking team at Ridge with Paul Draper and is involved in all winemaking decisions. A native Californian, Eric grew up on a small ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains where he raised animals, planted gardens and orchards, and rode horses. His love of the area kept him there for college; he attended UC Santa Cruz, receiving undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In 1994 he joined Ridge and in his first year, he organized the laboratory and developed new, sophisticated analytical tests to support Ridge's traditional winemaking practices. In 1995, he took on production management and now oversees all day-to-day winemaking activities. His passion for wine and the stimulating juxtaposition of low-tech winemaking and high-tech analytic techniques keeps him totally involved and constantly inspired.

Winemaker Dinner

Champagne Reception

Champagne and Hors d'Oeuvres


Pictures: Vincent Feraud and Eric Baugher Welcoming us

1st Course

Crab Salad - Avocado Mousse - Tobiko Caviar - Ruby Red Grapefruit.

Ridge – Chardonnay – Santa Cruz 2012 - Wine-searcher average price in US$: 49

Whole-cluster pressed, held on its lees for close to 11 months, barrel fermented in 100% American oak, unfiltered.

Annette Schiller’s tasting notes: This is a rich, well-balanced Chardonnay, but not overly buttery and creamy. The beautiful nose shows melon, some spices, anise. It will benefit from more ageing and will become even more impeccable.

2nd Course

Paparadelle with braised Beef Shank Ragu - Spring Morels - Crispy Shank - Rosemary and Mint Pesto.

Zinfandel - Ridge Geyserville 2013 - Wine-searcher average price in US$: 38

Zinfandel - Ridge Lytton Spring 2012 - Wine-searcher average price in US$: 38

Ridge Vineyards is also famous for its Zinfandels. Many say they are the best made in the USA.

Ridge Vineyards' Zinfandels constitute the bulk of its production. Ridge Vineyards uses grapes from selected sites from all over California. We had the 2 best known Ridge Vineyards Zinfandels, from the Alexander Valley (Geyserville) (long-term leased) und the Dry Creek Valley (Lytton Springs) (owned).

Annette Schiller’s tasting notes:

2012 Zinfandel, Geyserville: This wine was made from grapes growing in the ancient deep root Alexander valley river bed. On the nose there is beautiful blackberry fruit, a hint of mint. The body is well-structured, and solid due to the addition of some Carignane, Petit Sirah, and Mouvèdre. There is noted minerality and acidity which will let this wine age for a long time.

2012 Zinfandel, Lytton Spring: Plum, dark fruit on the nose, and a bit of vanilla and mint. This wine is medium-bodied with a lot of depths, even a bit unruly, which gives it tension. It is made from 70% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane and 4% Mataro (Mourvèdre). The finish is wonderful. The wine will develop its full potential in a few years.

Pictures: A Great Chef - Executive Chef Chris Johnson

3rd Course

Veal a la Rossini - Sous Vide Lamb Loin and Goat Cheese Polenta - Roasted Pork Belly - White Bean and Duck Crackling Stew.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Ridge Monte Bello – Santa Cruz Mountain 1999 - Wine-searcher average price in US$: 164

Cabernet Sauvignon - Ridge Monte Bello – Santa Cruz Mountain 1997 - Wine-searcher average price in US$: 213

Cabernet Sauvignon - Ridge Monte Bello – Santa Cruz Mountain 1995 - Wine-searcher average price in US$: 249

The signature wine of Ridge is its Monte Bello, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with varying percentages of other grapes, usually including Merlot, Petit Verdot, and occasionally Cabernet Franc. The wine is aged in a combination of 95% American Oak and 5% French oak.

Laurie Daniel: The Monte Bello style has changed little over the years, even as many California Cabernets have gotten bigger, riper and higher in alcohol. Ridge Monte Bello -- which used to be all Cabernet, but now is a Cab-dominant blend -- has remained elegant and graceful, with modest alcohol, yet the wine is remarkably concentrated and ages extremely well. Much of that is undoubtedly the result of Paul Draper, who has been in charge of winemaking at Ridge since 1969.

Monte Bello's style is also a reflection of the site where the grapes are grown. The Monte Bello vineyard is a cool one for Cabernet Sauvignon: 15 miles from the Pacific and with elevation that climbs from 1,400 feet to around 2,700. Cool nights help the grapes retain their acidity. Flavors are concentrated because the yields are naturally low. A bigger crop wouldn't get ripe because of the climate and poor soils and because most of the vines are dry-farmed.

Annette Schiller’s tasting notes:

Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountain - all three wines in this flight were impeccable, absolutely delicious, and classic Bordeaux style.

1999: This was a cool year and tannins were low at the point of harvest. Now, after 8 years, the wines showed beautiful pronounced cassis, dark fruit, minerality, some earthy tones on the nose. It was perfectly balanced, and very elegant. The finish was long lasting and let you wish for more.

1997: This was a very early ripening vintage, the earliest of the century. The nose was stunning: cassis, herbs, tobacco. A perfect wine with lots of depth, intensity and well integrated tannins. A never ending finish.

1995: This wine was the knock off for me. It was a mature wine but had aged slowly, and very gracefully: it still had a zest of youth. This 20 year old wine had it all: gorgeous nose of cassis, herbs, spices, which had come together in perfect harmony over the years. A very structured, intense, yet lean, almost athletic body. The pronounced tannins were well integrated and it had an intense, gripping finish. This was a very cool vintage which resulted in a relatively low alcohol wine. This wine only has 12.5% alcohol. I guess that was part of the reason why I liked it so much. I am more the “cool vintage”, less jammy wine lover.


Warm Chocolate Tart - Sour Cherry Jam - Vanilla Ice Cream Brownie

Late Harvest Zinfandel – Ridge - Essence 2007

Annette Schiller’s tasting notes: A blend of 77% Zinfandel and 23% Petit Sirah. To even look at a glass of dessert wine with the color “red” made me cringe: Growing up in Germany, red sweet wines were the most horrible drinking experience you could have come across in those days. But this was a surprise: this sweet wine was a pleasant finale to a great tasting and meal. Eric Baugher explained that they harvested the grapes (not raisins as is the case in the German Beerenauslese / Trockenbeerenauslese and Sauternes) at 40 Brix and let the juice ferment on the skin for seven days. The slow fermentation continued and stopped automatically at 13.3 % Alcohol and 16.95% RS.

After-Dinner Drink

After-dinner drink at the bar with Eric Baugher.

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