Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ridge Vineyards' Sonoma Winery - Tour and Tasting Excellence

During my recent trip to Napa and Sonoma with my daughter, we stopped for a tour and tasting at Ridge Vineyard's Sonoma outpost. Ridge's home base is on the central coast near Santa Cruz of course but the Sonoma site is where they make most of their Zins. This $30 per person tour and tasting is a great value and a ton of fun to boot. It's 90 minutes long and includes a tour of the vineyards as well as the facility, and a sit down tasting of five wines - including the flagship $145 a bottle Monte Bello Cabernet. Our tour guide Dinora was wonderful and incredibly knowledgeable. She spent a lot of time with us as she drove us around the various vineyard blocks of mostly old vines - some of which go back as far as 1901. Some of these blocks are field blends, meaning they have different varietals planted together. Peter Wellington of Wellington Vineyards once explained to me that this was done in the old days of Cali wine making so that if one varietal for the blend didn't do well in a particular vintage, the others would pick up the slack. It's not a planting practice that is employed any more. We stopped at a certain point so that Dinora could show us the difference between Carignan and Zinfandel foliage and berries.

 Dinora talking about Carignan

Ridge's Sonoma winery is notable for it's very sustainable practices. The vineyards are organic and irrigated when necessary via a drip system with water recycled from the winery. The winery itself is made of rice straw bales covered with a stucco-like base that keeps moisture off the bales. These three-foot thick walls provide excellent insulation and help keep the facility cool. Electricity is generated by solar panels on the roof. 

 Some of the very old, bush trained vines

Ridge's Sonoma Winery

I loved Zinfandels when I first started on my wine journey and Ridge's bottlings were and still are amongst the very best. Lots of folks love Zin for it's up front, brash fruit and peppery side notes. They are easy drinking wines that are fun and easy to like. Ridge's bottlings, like most of the good Cali wines have gotten kind of expensive so I hadn't tried one in many years. The lineup for the tasting included the Carignan, the Lytton Estate Grenache-Mourvedre blend, the Lytton Springs Zin, the Hooker Creek Zin and the Monte Bello. The Grenache-Mourvedre blend was a project of a winery intern that Ridge liked enough to make 24 barrels of. That wine, the Carignan and the Lytton Springs Zin were all delicious and notable for their up front fruit, spice notes and beautiful balance. The only one I didn't love was the Hooker Creek Zin, which smelled and tasted a bit over ripe to me.

The Lineup
The Monte Bello on the other hand is incredible. It's not often that a regular working stiff gets to try one of California's most important and historic wines so I was pumped. It did not disappoint. Now the current bottling is a 2011 - a cooler year and the predecessor to California's very hot and very dry years that would follow. Many of the winery folks we talked to on this trip told us that 2015 would be their earliest harvest ever. The Monte Bello had very expressive aromatics of bright fruit, cedar, minerals and earth. In the mouth it's big but not overdone with plenty of fruit and subtle oak spice notes. The minerality comes through on the long finish and there's plenty of tannic grip. This wine should age really well.

I highly recommend a visit to Ridge's Sonoma outpost if you make a wine country trip. It's literally three miles from Healdsburg, the beautiful northern Sonoma town with great restaurants. And as is the case with most Napa and Sonoma restaurants, you can bring in a bottle you've purchased at a winery and drink it with your meal - usually for a very nominal corkage fee. Cheers!