A little history lesson

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The mountaintop of Monte Belle, in the Cupertino area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a long history with winemakers and vineyards.  As far back as the late 1800s, city dwellers wandered south to retreat and make wine.  Today, Ridge is redrawing these historical vineyard lines and producing wines from these sub plots, to see the original vineyard lines in liquid form.  These wines were made from select parcels from Ridge’s vineyards, retracing the original boundaries of the historical properties.  Harvested in small sub-parcels, Ridge is trying to recreate the original vineyard properties and make wine with fruit harvested in small micro climates. Since these properties had unique boundaries in the original property, the resulting wines are quite different than the current releases.  The tiniest move to a row or tow over creates a micro climate different that can have subtle and amazing impact on the wine. The first historical property was Torre.  The Torre property was the first winery on the site of Ridge Monte Bello.  Now, it’s the middle vineyard, at about 2300 feet elevation.  In 1903, hte first winery was built here, but Prohibition shut them down.  In the 1940s, more vineyards were planted by William Short, and Ridge bought the land in 1959.  That purchase was the inspiration to start Ridge Vineyards, built from a restored Torre winery.  The Torre Merlot is dark and dusty, with blue fruit, and dense cherries.  There were some meaty notes and it was a bolder muscular wine. The next wine comes from what is now the Jimsomare vineyard.  This property was origianlly purchased in 1888 by Pierre Klein, a bay area restaurateur with a fondness for wine.  The Klein family founded Mirra Valle winery, another victim of Prohibition.  In 1936, San Francisco’s Schwabacher family purchased the property, naming it Jimsomare.    Today, it’s part of the lower Monte Bello Vineyard, at about 1400-2000 feet.  The Klein Cab Sav had great acid, with notes of blackberries and spicy white pepper.  This one is a baby but is still enjoyable. Finally we  look at the Perrone property.  The Perrone winery was the second winery on the property, above the existing winery.  The original 180 acres were at about 2600 feet, and gave birth to the Monte Bello Winery way back in 1892.  In the 40s, with the winery abandoned, William Short bought the property and vineyards below it.  Now, this is the “middle” vineyard.  The Perrone Cab Franc was one of my favorite wines of the day.  With smoked blueberries, cinnamon, allspice and blackberry, there were black pepper and candied ginger flavors. The best part of these historical wines is that using the old vineyard maps, Ridge is able to recreate the lots and go back in time to see what the terroir of the original property lines is.  It’s a fascinating look at the micro terroir of the Monte Bello area, and great fun. I hope you can enjoy some Ridge wines soon!  

Ridge Vineyards gets Jazzed!

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Sitting on top of a mountain, over looking the Silicon Valley, I was standing watching the planes fly by in the warm spring weather.  I always enjoy climbing Monte Bello in Cupertino, ending up at Ridge Vineyards, over looking everything below.  You are only an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are a world away.  This was an unusually warm spring day, and the crowds were out picnicking on the hill top and enjoying the views. On this trip, our illustrious leader Christopher Watkins, brought together a group of wine and food bloggers at one of his quarterly media tastings – which are always eventful.  On this visit, Christopher, a musician at his core, had something up his sleeve.  There would be no traditionally tasting, as we had come to know it.  This time, when we walked in the barn, we found bottles that were brown bagged, hiding the gold within.  On the screen in front of us, the history of jazz.  In our ears, we had Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.What was this madness? Our task was to take each of four wines and pair them with the song that we found most provocatively paired with it.  Given that I know zilch about jazz, the only word that came to my mind was skat!  Yes, I said skat.  That’s what I think of when I think of jazz; I was feeling much like the beatnik in Peggy Sue Got Married – you know the line, “Change your destiny Peggy Sue!  Marry me and change your destiny!”.  In my head, I’m thinking, listen to the jazz Thea!  Listen to this, and change your destiny! First up, the 2001 Monte Bello.  The smoky rich berry notes were mirrored by bright acid, black pepper and allspice.  There was delicious chewy leather, and blackberry spice but it was subdued and not jammy.  My pairing was Paul’s Pal by Sonny Rollins. Wine number two, the 2000 Monte Bello, was dark and smoky, and a bit bold.  I found fig notes and heavy sediment.  There was more fruit coming out as it opened up in the glass, with some excellent earthy background.  It was a mysterious wine and So What by Miles Davis was on my mind. Next, we tasted the 1999 Lytton Springs zinfandel.  This older wine hid sticks and stones in the smoky prune background, with cigar box and spice rack.  I found a hint of strawberries in balsamic vinegar and cranberry on the end, with lingering thoughts offruit roll up..  The Bemsha Swing from Thelonious Monk seemed the natural pairing. The final wine in the first flight was the 1997 Geyserville.  This was an in your face wine for being so old, and was quite candied with brambly notes.  There was quite a bit of dirt and white pepper as well as cedar and sweet cherry.  I could see a sarsaparilla at an old west bar in this wine, and even though I was supposed to pick the 4th song, I still chose […]

High on a Ridge (again)

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It’s another day on top of the mountain here, and the sun is shining at last.  It’s clear, and we can see San Jose and even a bit of San Francisco in the distance.  It’s time for a visit to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino! We start our tasting with the  2009 Estate Chardonnay, which is aged in a mish mash of barrels from new to 4 year old American and French oak.  I found creamy vanilla custard, spicy oak, and lemon flavors with a healthy dose of tropical fruit.  This blend is harvested and vinified separately, and then finalized after a blind tasting of each component is done to determine the possible blends that could be made.  Most of the contents of this blend come from the Jimson Ranch vineyard which is at about 1500 feet elevation, giving the wine a lot of minerality and acidity. Next up, the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  I loved this cab because it was racy and had some nice acidity.  The wild yeast fermentation shows a ton of mineral flavors with dusty sandlewood finish.  There were big black and blue fruit flavors, with plum and rich figs with juicy cherries on the palate.  It was rich without being overblown, a total winner in my book. The 2009 Geyserville Zinfandel is the 44th vintage of this wine, which makes it the longest continuously produced Zinfandel in the state, which, quite frankly with the ever changing wine industry – is quite a feat. Given that our state is known for it’s Italian immigrants and the traditions of Italian field belnds (mostly zin) that they brought over, the Ridge style of zin is a dying art.  The grapes come from properties that are interplanted and dry farmed with wild yeast fermentation and I tasted tradiitonally big blackberry jam, with some black pepper and cherries on top.  I also found some hibiscus zing which gives this 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, 1% Mataro (Mouvedre, or if you prefer Monastrell) mutt some life and body. Compared to the 1999 Geyserville, the 09 was tapdancing on American Idol.  The 99 was chewy, dark and earthy witha healthy dose of cigar box to round out the rusticity (this is my new favorite word, and since Christopher loves $20 words….) The 99 is 68% zin, 16% Carignane, 16% Petite Sirah and was chewy and dense.  The fruit is still there after 12 years, but it’s brooding and not bright and zingy – which, is amazing and delicious in an entirely differently way. The 1985 Monte Belle Cab was a rare treat.  The color is an astounding browning bronze and the nose is rich and caramelized touch of white pepper.  It had quite meaty characteristics, with some floral notes on the palate and a bit of wood on the back end.  THe companion 1995 Monte Bello, a blend of 69% Cab, 18% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot and 3% […]

On top of the world, looking down on…

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Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill. On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive. Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard. Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences. Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering […]