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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Ridge Geyserville

United States (California)

zinfandel (58%), carignan (22%), petite sirah (18%), mouvèdre (2%)

It’s a rather frigid setting for a Californian wine. But the ‘Geezer’ travels the world, and doesn’t mind the cold. Let’s bring it back to room temperature and see what it has to offer.

Ridge Geyserville 2007

Dark crimson in the glass. Deep plum, deep spice, laced with smokey wood grains. Mouth-watering, enticing. Medium to full-bodied, nicely contained fruit and bearing a solid tannic structure. Juicy but dry. Fine sparkle of acidity. Swimming in dried blackberry fruit. Attractive when young, but would surely benefit from a few more years in the bottle. At this point an extended decanting adds considerably to the experience.  $$

The paramount figure behind Ridge is, of course, Paul Draper, winemaker and CEO, legendary in the arena of Californian wines. Last year he celebrated 40 years at Ridge. Draper didn’t emerge from any U.S. university oenology program (thankfully), but rather is a Stanford graduate in philosophy. Before coming to Ridge he lived for two years in Northern Italy, where he was quickly drawn into the wine culture. Subsequently, he took time to experience the winemaking traditions throughout France.

His view of winemaking is very much old school, Old World, and as such is well out of step with the general approach to winemaking in California where the wine is ‘worked’, where manipulative techniques predominate. To quote the man: “Our main thing is to allow grapes to show their character rather than imposing our will on them.”

Ridge’s flagship wine is the Monte Bello cabernet sauvignon, but their two zinfandels have always played a major role in the winery’s success. The Geyserville vineyards in fact contain the oldest vines on the entire estate, some having been planted 130 years ago. The soil here is gravelly loam, with a complement of river rocks left over from a stream that once ran through the area. Good drainage, but also good retention of heat, important in a region which can see evening cooling and early morning fog. The vineyards hold three other complementary varietals that go into the ‘field blend’, the proportions arising from extensive tasting sessions each year. Geyserville has been made in each vintage since 1966.

Winemaking is risky business (a good time to mention that the estate lies atop the San Andreas fault), but Ridge has done very well indeed. It was a strong presence at the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris wine duel between France and California, and an even stronger one at the rematch 30 years later. There is much to appreciate about this estate. It is committed to sustainability and organic certification of its vineyards. The winemaking is not market-driven. (It uses American oak, for example, rather than the standard French oak.) In the Californian scheme of things, the prices are reasonable. There is a quiet honesty and humility in the man who has guided it these many years. His philosophy is simple: “…find intense, flavorful grapes; intrude upon the process only when necessary; draw the fruit’s distinctive character and richness into the wine.” No secretive mission here.

[The zin who came in from the cold.]


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