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.”
Paso Robles AVA is midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and it is considered one of the West Coast’s most exciting winemaking regions. With its hot, sometimes searingly dry and sunny weather, it is especially good country for growing warm climate grapes such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Because many Paso Robles wineries have been successful with blending these grapes into Rhone Valley-style wines, it is known as the Rhone zone of California. The AVA was created in 1983 and there are 32,000 vineyard acres. In late 2014 the AVA was divided into 11 smaller sub-appellations, so starting with 2015 vintages labeling will become more specific on Paso Robles wines, which will now also list sub-appellations. Located in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles, the town and its surrounding area, was traditionally a farming and ranching region. But from a few dozen wineries in the early 1990s to more than 200 today, the area is quickly becoming known for wine and risk-taking winemakers.
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.