Ridge Vineyards is a multi-estate enterprise with vineyards and wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma County and Paso Robles. It is a leader in organic, sustainable winemaking and is the largest grower of certified organic grapes in the appellations of Sonoma County and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The business was founded in 1959 when three Stanford Research Institute engineers bought an abandoned winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The vineyards had been planted in the late 19th century by a San Francisco physician who produced his first vintage in the original winery, called Monte Bello, in 1892. The first Ridge vintage was in 1962. For more than 50 years Ridge’s winemaker and CEO was Paul Draper, a legendary figure in California winemaking. Draper retired in 2016 and Ridge veteran Mark Vernon became CEO. Each winery has its own winemaker. Ridge makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Rhone style wines. Robert M. Parker Jr. writes that Ridge “is undeniably one of California’s top wineries.”
Napa Valley AVA is the most famous winemaking region in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. With nearly 43,000 acres of vineyards and more than 300 wineries, it is the heart of fine wine production in the United States. Winemaking started in Napa in 1838 when George C. Yount planted grapes and began producing wine commercially. Other winemaking pioneers followed in the late 19th century, including the founders of Charles Krug, Schramsberg, Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards. An infestation of phylloxera, an insect that attacks vine roots, and the onset of Prohibition nearly wiped out the nascent Napa wine industry in the early 20th century. But by the late 1950s and early 1960s Robert Mondavi and other visionaries were producing quality wines easily distinguishable from the mass-produced jug wines made in California’s Central Valley. Napa Valley’s AVA was established in 1983, and today there are 16 sub-appellations within the Napa Valley AVA. Many grapes grow well in Napa’s Mediterranean climate, but the region is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay is also very successfully cultivated, and about 30% of the AVA’s acreage is planted to white grapes, with the majority of those grapes being Chardonnay,
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape, but 85% of the wine produced is made into a rosy “White Zinfandel.” Red Zin is far more complex and bold, while still being light-bodied. It grows in popularity as winemakers continue to experiment with new styles and blends.