Featured Winemaker: Ridge Vineyards' Paul Draper

A winemaker with a minimalist philosophy before "natural wines" were a trend
Oct 29, 2013

"I guess you expect me to talk about Ridge winemaking and what sets us apart," said Paul Draper as he poured his Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 2009 (95 points, $150) for an eager crowd. "What else am I going to talk about? That's my favorite subject."

The respected California winemaker (see his profile by James Laube) has presided over 44 vintages and was one of the first to celebrate single-vineyard bottlings in the state. Monte Bello is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend from a cool site, a structured wine that takes its inspiration from Bordeaux and is meant for aging.

Draper traced his philosophy of traditional winemaking back to when he started making wine, studying older vintages of wine and reading late-19th century books on winemaking. His style includes natural yeast fermentation and natural malolactic conversion, but he noted the importance of good equipment and scientific analysis to support his traditional winemaking decisions. Describing his approach philosophically, he commented, "I would say that our wines are pre-industrial, rather than post-modern."

Draper said he still learns something about winemaking every year, like deciding to pull back on pump-overs to avoid excessive tannins. "We want to get the balance right out of the fermentor." That way, he explained, "The wines will be greater than they could have been if they had to wait for the tannins to fully resolve, if they were excessive in the beginning."

Beginning with the 2011 vintage, Ridge will print the ingredients on its labels. "The reason we're doing that is we really feel there is such a thing as fine wine, and it comes from fine vineyards," explained Draper. "What we're trying to do—besides be transparent ourselves—is to say if you have a fine vineyard and your viticultural practices are allowing you to grow grapes that consistently produce high quality and distinctive character … you do not need to use all of the assists we have in the modern winemaker's toolbox."

Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 2009 (95 points, $150)

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