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.”
Sonoma County is not an AVA, but it is a commonly used informal designation for wines made outside of more specific AVAs within Sonoma, which is a large wine producing region just west of Napa Valley. Though Sonoma is often overshadowed by its glamorous neighbor Napa Valley, it has a long history of wine production. The area specialized in jug wine until the mid-20th century, when Sonoma producers took a cue from Napa and started improving quality. Unlike Napa, where Cabernet Sauvignon is king, Sonoma specialized in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, though excellent Cabs are produced too. There are at present 16 AVAs within Sonoma County, and, like much of the West Coast of the United States, new AVAs are created in Sonoma County with regularity. Some Sonoma appellations, such as the Russian River Valley, are renowned for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.