Ridge was founded in 1885 by Osea Perrone, a doctor-turned-winemaker of Italian heritage. From his first 180-acre plot at the top of Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Perrone expanded his vineyard over the years, planting and producing mainly Cabernet through the 1960’s, when the winery began to expand to new vineyards and varietals.
From the beginning, Ridge’s wines were known for their unique character and exceptional quality. Their fame culminated in the 1976 Judgement of Paris, where California Cabernets and Chardonnays were blind tasted against top French wines. California wines beat the French in both the red and white flights and Ridge’s 1971 Monte Bello came in 5th. In the 30 year repeat of the Judgement of Paris in 2006, the 1971 and 2000 Monte Bello Cabernets won first place in the original vintage wine and new vintage wine categories. These events cemented Ridge’s reputation as one of the top wineries in California and the world.
Ridge produces wine using “pre-industrial” winemaking techniques with minimal processing and additives. Their wines are fermented using native yeasts from the vineyard rather than cultured yeast strains, which is believed to yield a more complex and interesting wine. Their grapes are soon-to-be certified organic and sustainably grown. They incorporate integrated pest management, cover crops and special composting to eliminate the need for pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
Today, Ridge produces mainly Cabernet and Zinfandel with smaller productions of Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Chardonnay.
Planning Your Visit
Ridge operates two tasting rooms: Lytton Springs in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County and Monte Bello in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Santa Clara County. The Lytton Springs tasting room recently reopened while the Monte Bello tasting room is still closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We were lucky to secure a reservation at the Lytton Springs tasting room in June of 2020 soon after they reopened.
Ridge has implemented a number of new visitation guidelines to keep staff and visitors safe during the pandemic. This includes mandatory face coverings while not seated at your table, practicing social distancing and increased cleaning and sanitization between visitors.
We felt very comfortable and safe during our wine tasting, and did not feel that the restrictions negatively impacted the overall experience. Our host was attentive and informed, and we learned quite a bit about how their wine is produced and what makes it so special. Their tasting room in Lytton Springs was one of the most scenic that we have visited in Sonoma County, with its incredibly scenic view of rolling hills of old-vine Zinfandel.
To make a reservation and read details about visitation guidelines, you can visit their website. Groups can have no more than six people, with no children, pets or outside food allowed. Ridge does not serve food, but there are plenty of places nearby in Healdsburg to grab a bite before or after your tasting.
Ridge aims to produce some of the most site-specific wines possible, which starts by having great vineyards. You can find 60-year-old Cabernet and 100-year-old Zinfandel planted throughout their properties. Many of their oldest vines are planted individually to look like small trees, an old school planting method that predates the predominant use of trellises and wiring.
Many of Ridge’s grapes are “field blended”, where plants of many different varietals are interplanted in the vineyard and harvested together in blocks for different blends. Our host showed us a map of the Lytton Springs vineyard, which gave the impression of planned chaos, with every individual grape plant and its variety indicated. However, the winemakers from generations ago knew exactly what they were doing to yield a perfectly-balanced wine blend.
The wine tasting is priced at $15 per person and is paid in advance at time of reservation. Here are the wines we sampled during our tasting:
- 2018 Estate Chardonnay – $55. 100% Chardonnay from the Monte Bello Estate Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Kiwi, green apple and honeydew melon on the nose. Light minerality and butter on the palate with notes of apple and lemon. Incredibly smooth and memorable, one of the best Chardonnays we have tasted.
- 2017 Lytton Springs Zinfandel – $45. 74% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 2% Mataro. From the Lytton Springs Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley. Brown sugar and smoke aromas. Palate of blueberry, rum, tobacco. Highly complex yet drinkable.
- 2015 Lytton Estate Syrah – $48. 93% Syrah, 7% Viognier. From the Lytton Springs Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley. Blackberry, bacon and fennel on the nose. Blackberry and fennel on the palette.
- 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – $65. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. From the Monte Bello Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Dark fruit, grapefruit and pepper on the nose. Currant and plum on the palette.
Ridge offers a customizable wine club membership, where a selection of current release and library wines are shipped directly to your door twice yearly. A number of Ridge wines are also only available to wine club members, so becoming a member is the best way to secure some of their most prized and exclusive wines. You can read more about membership options here.
If you can’t make it to a tasting room, Ridge wines are available for purchase from their website as well as select wine stores and Whole Foods.
If you’re looking for more to do in the Dry Creek Valley and Healdsburg, we recommend Bravas Tapas, La Crema Winery and Ferrari-Cerano Winery.