- ^ *
University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF WINEMAKING AT RIDGE VINEYARDS: 1970S -1990S
Interviews Conducted by
Copyright 1994 by The Regents of the University of California
Paul Draper, 1992
Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading
participants in or well -placed witnesses to major events in the development of
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity and
clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed in
final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material,
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved,
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement
between The Regents of the University of California and Paul Draper
dated October 5, 1994. The manuscript is thereby made available for
research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including
the right to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the
University of California, Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may
be quoted for publication without the written permission of the
Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of California,
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library,
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal
agreement with Paul Draper requires that he be notified of the
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Paul Draper, "History and Philosophy of
Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards, 1970s-
1990s," an oral history conducted in 1994
by Ruth Teiser, Regional Oral History
Office, The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley, 1994.
DRAPER, Paul (b. 1936) Winemaker
History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards: 1970s-1990s. 1994,
viii, 77 pp.
Stanford education, wine indoctrination; army service in Italy, and foreign
affairs work in South America, 1960-1966; establishing a winery in Chile,
1967: equipment, cooperage; Ridge Vineyards & Winery: history, re-starting
the winery in the 1960s, David Bennion, Fritz Maytag, winemaking techniques
and philosophy; other California wineries and production processes;
importance of vineyard terroir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, vineyard-
designated labels, marketing; sale of Ridge to Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co.
Interviewed 1994 by Ruth Teiser for the Wine Spectator California Winemen
Oral History Series. The Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft
Library, University of California, Berkeley.
TABLE OF CONTENTS --Paul Draper
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hicke vi
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION vlil
EARLY YEARS 1
Acquaintance With Vine 4
Stanford University 5
ARMY SERVICE, 1960-1963 6
Language School 6
Liaison Work in Italy 6
"How Wine Really Came Into My Life" 8
POSTWAR YEARS 10
Traveling and Studying in Europe, 1963 10
Working in United States Foreign Affairs, 1963-1966 11
South American Projects 13
WINEMAKING IN CHILE, FEBRUARY 1967 -MAY 1969 15
Beginning the Chilean Winemaking Venture, 1967 15
Learning to Make Wine 16
Equipment and Processing 17
Making Barrels in Chile 18
Different Kinds of Oak 19
Oak Trees for Corks and Barrels 21
Oak Barrels at Ridge 22
MOVING FROM CHILE TO CALIFORNIA 23
Ending Production in Chile 23
Return to the United States 24
RIDGE VINEYARDS AND WINERY 26
History of the Winery 26
Monte Bello Vineyard, Winery, and Bottling Company 27
The Ridge Label ' 30
Early Days as Winemaker at Ridge 31
Fermentation: Submerged- Cap Method 32
Fermentation: Yeast 36
Ridge and Other California Wineries 37
More on Operations in Chile 43
The Ridge Group: Partnership and Direction 44
The Production Team 46
The Potluck Restaurant Tasting 47
Consistency and Excellence 50
Choosing Vineyards 53
Vineyard-Designated Labels 60
Natural Yeasts and The Symbolism of Wine 61
Economic Considerations 66
Quality Considerations 67
OTSUKA PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY BUYS RIDGE, 1986 69
IDEAS ABOUT THE FUTURE 72
TAPE GUIDE 75
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated by Ruth Teiser in 1969
through the action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a
state marketing order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In
1983 it was reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral
History Series with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship
Foundation. The selection of those to be interviewed has been made by a
committee consisting of the director of The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca, president of the Wine
Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard A. Amerine,
Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of California,
Davis; the current chairman of the board of directors of the Wine
Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project director; and Marvin R. Shanken,
trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
Until her death in June 1994, Ruth Teiser was project originator,
initiator, director, and conductor of the greater part of the oral
histories. Her book, Winemaking in California, co-authored with
Catherine Harroun and published in 1982, was the product of more than
forty years of research, interviewing, and photographing. (Those wine
history files are now in The Bancroft Library for researcher use.) Ruth
Teiser 's expertise and knowledge of the wine industry contributed
significantly to the documenting of its history in this series.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry
in subsequent years will be of aid to historians. Of particular value is
the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from
his or her own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its
collection of materials readily available for the purpose.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft
The Wine Spectator California Winemen
Oral History Series
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed July 1992
Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974
Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions.
Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine
Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies.
Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit
Industries. Inc.. 1972
Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey. 1994
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986
Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente , and Andrew G. Frericks, The California
Wine Industry During the Depression. 1972
William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967
Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a
California Champagne House. 1990
Paul Draper, History and Philosophy of Winemaking at Ridge Vineyards: 1970S -
William A. Dieppe, Almaden is Mv Life. 1985
Making California Port Wine: Ficklin Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. interviews
with David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, 1992
Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984
Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935-
Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian- American Winemaker in the Napa Valley. 1992
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986
Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry.
Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988
Morris Katz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988. 1990
Legh F. Knowles , Jr. , Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership.
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other
Wine Enterprises. 1971
Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its
Second Century. 1992
Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Naoa Valley.
Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984
Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Valley Estate
Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy. 1973
Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara
Vallev Winery. 1986
Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery.
Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985
Michael Moone , Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World.
Inc. . 1990
Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976
Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis.
John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California.
Antonio Perelli-Minetti , A Life in Wine Making. 1975
Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971
Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989: Recollections of a
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990
Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaquin Valley Grape
Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988
Rodney S. Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking and Winery
Management in Sonoma County. 1994
Andre Tchelistcheff , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983
Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974
Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992
Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, Caymus Vineyards: A Father -Son Team
Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994
The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean,
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992
Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley. 1971
Warren Winiarski , Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley. 1994
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971). 1973
John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French-owned California Sparkling
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hlcke
As guest of a grapegrowing family at Dry Creek, California, Paul
Draper gazed out the window at the colorful, autumn vineyards and told
himself, "Someday I want to do this." He was then a college freshman,
and it would be more than a decade and in a different part of California,
but he would do it.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, Draper took a degree in philosophy at
Stanford University and served with the Counter Intelligence Corps in
Italy in the early 1960s. It was there, and in France where he went for
a year at the Sorbonne, that Draper developed a strong interest in the
production of wine and in the vineyards.
He spent the next few years traveling through South America on a
government contract, meeting with young leaders to gain a sense of the
future of the region. In 1966 he and Sam Armstrong joined Fritz Maytag
to work there in nutrition and family planning education. Then, in 1968
he and Fritz Maytag began producing wine in Chile. Reading the
literature avidly, meeting with experienced winemakers, and tasting
extensively, especially Bordeaux wines, Draper developed the skills he
needed. After two vintages, the changing economic and political
situation in Chile sent him back to California, where he joined Ridge
Vineyards in 1969 as winemaker, soon becoming one of the owner -partners .
At Ridge, Draper began making wines --mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and
Zinfandel- -of bold, intense flavor, using traditional techniques. He
uses natural yeasts, small oak barrels, and a submerged-cap technique for
fermentation. In making the wines, he focused on qualitywanting to
make what he thought was the best wine, not what someone said the market
Believing that the wine's most significant characteristics come from
the soil and climate of a site, he selected vineyards with great care,
and developed a program for vineyard- designated labels that became a
hallmark of the winery.
Eventually some of the winery owners wanted to sell their shares,
and in December of 1986, the winery was sold to Akihiko Otsuka, a fine
wine collector. But Otsuka wanted nothing to change, and Paul Draper
remains as chief executive officer, chairman of the board, and winemaker
Draper was interviewed by Ruth Teiser, accompanied by Carole Hicke,
on February 10 and 17, 1994 as part of the Wine Spectator California
Winemen Oral History Series. He reviewed the transcript carefully,
making some corrections and additions. His assistant, Craig Peasley
helpfully retyped parts of the transcript. Thanks go to Judy Smith, who
transcribed the tapes , and Merrilee Prof f itt for arrangements and volume
This series is part of the ongoing documenting of California history
by the Regional Oral History Office, which is under the direction of
Villa Baum, Division Head, and under the administrative direction of The
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
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[Interview 1: February 10, 1994]##
Teiser: I'll ask you to begin where we always begin, and that is your date
and place of birth.
Draper: I was born on the tenth of March, 1936, in Evanston, Illinois; our
home was not far away, near the town of Barrington.
Teiser: Where did you grow up, then?
Draper: I grew up in what was called the Barrington countryside, about
forty miles west of Chicago. In those days it was really quite
open country. It has since been incorporated with a five -acre
minimum to keep it at least somewhat open. We lived on a
forty-acre farm, and our nearest neighbor was a mile away.
Teiser: Did you grow grapes?
Draper: No, we didn't. I'm sure there are some hearty souls in Illinois
today who are growing grapes, but in those days we were growing
just about everything else. My father had been in the mortgage
investment business, but with the Depression there was so little
business that he was commuting into Chicago perhaps once a week at
best. He was really farming. He never stated his philosophy in
so many words, but I gradually figured it out. He had grown up in
Iowa on a farm and I think with the Depression, he had gone back
to the land in an attempt to be totally self-sufficient.
We had about forty head of steer, three Guernsey cows, hogs,
sheep, chickens, and ducks. From the beginning, we had a full
acre of vegetable or victory garden, as it was called during the
second world war. We had fruit trees, blueberries, wild
blackberries, and bees for honey. We had horses --two teams of
Belgians --to do the work and two or three pure bred hunters and a
former circus horse to ride. We had an old tractor, but we really
used the horses; so we had the gas ration during the war to run
our old Buick and get around in that.
What didn't we have? We had to buy tea and coffee, and salt,
pepper and spices, but we could use the honey instead of sugar. I
grew up churning butter from the Guernsey cows , separating the
cream first, of course. It was a very complete life on that farm.
Teiser: That idea of self-sufficiency and the way it was worked out there
was very much a concept of the time, wasn't it?
Draper: I think so. I think that a lot of the people who had come from
the country and made their lives in the city when the Depression
eliminated their jobs really longed for the days when they were
growing all their own food and could provide for their family
without depending on the economy.
Teiser: What was your earliest knowledge of wine? Did you drink wine at
Draper: Yes, but mainly on holidays and celebrations. That would mean
that at best I would see wine once every few months. Beer,
occasionally, in the summers, and sherry- -my mother would have a
glass of sherry before dinner. But in terms of having wine
regularly with meals, that would come later in my life.
Teiser: Where were you educated?
Draper: I started out in what was called the Countryside School District
in Barrington. My first school was a two -room schoolhouse in the
country, with 1st grade in one room and 2nd and 3rd grades in the
classes combined in the other room. By the fourth grade I moved
on to a building nearer town where we had separate classrooms for
each grade. I stayed there through sixth grade, and then my
father offered me the chance, if I wanted to do it, to go back
East to a boys' preparatory school for what would have been junior
high and high school.
I jumped at it; we went back East together and looked at a
number of schools, and I picked the one that was my favorite,
called the Choate School, just outside of New Haven in the town of
Wallingford [Connecticut] . So for the next six years I went to
school there, graduating in '54.
Teiser: It sounds like you got a good education.
Draper: Yes. We talk today about whether men are less conscious than
women; and men have started in recent years to talk more about
their relationships to their fathers. When I was six or seven, my
father set up a business for his brother and then decided to work
with him. He was away from home during the day. I was with my
mother, and my grandmother would visit for several months each
year. My sister was my only sibling, and almost all my teachers
were women. The principal of my school was a woman.
When I was age twelve, my father effectively said, "You know,
I think it's time that you move into the male camp and away from
the women." I think he felt my mother was spoiling me, which I'm
sure she was. That's why he suggested my going away to school.
He never really said this to me, but now that I look back to that
age, which is the traditional age of initiation, I was able to
move into an almost entirely masculine world. It was one of the
most wonderful educational experiences that I had. It was the
most intense and for me very positive.
Teiser: Were you heading then for higher education?
Draper: Yes, certainly. The schools were called college preparatory
schools. My mother had gone to Smith, and my father had gone to
the University of Chicago but had not graduated. They clearly had
in mind that both my sister and I would go to college.
Teiser: Did you think you would go on to college?
Draper: Yes. It was in the days when you perhaps accepted more easily
what the general track was than you do today. But I was also
excited by it. I loved (this sounds kind of pretentious)
learning. I loved reading, and I read a lot. My secondary school
excited me immensely in terms of learning, and I had no reason to
believe that college would not be a continuation of the same.
Teiser: Did you have some special interests?
Draper: I liked to build things, repair things and restore things; so I
worked with my hands a lot. I thought, quite naturally, that
engineering, design, and that sort of thing would be the direction
I would go; although literature, myth, and history were a big part
of my life, and I was- -and still remain, I'm afraid- -a romantic,
perhaps from all the reading and from my parents' romanticism.
I thought, up through junior year of high school, that I
would go into engineering or architecture. But what happened was
that my grades were good enough halfway through high school so
that I got put in an honors physics class when I was a junior. I
remember one of my fellow students was a junior but was going to
graduate that year and had already been accepted at Princeton. I
simply shouldn't have been in that class. I had never taken
physics In my life, and these guys were young geniuses. I was the
farthest thing from a genius.
It set me back, but it taught me what I would need to learn
about mathematics, for one thing. Tables- -all of that bored me to
tears. Geometry I loved. Trigonometry and using a slide rule, I
could not imagine; that was the most boring thing in the world.
The solution might be interesting, but not working on it with some
device like that and looking things up on a table.
I realized by the time I left for college that I would not be
an engineer. I thought maybe I could make it in architecture, and
then I found out that you needed to know all that math for
architecture, too. I literally got as far as freshman year at
Stanford University and picking a major before I realized that I
wasn't going to be able to do architecture.
In looking at life I realized I didn't know what it was all
about (and of course still don't). I'd been observing the world
for eighteen years and I had the chance to experience a few
different sides of it. But the thing that interested me most was
knowing more about what people had thought it was all about. So,
of course I went into philosophy. It was a major turning point; I
realized my limitations and also found where my real interest lay.
Teiser: Did you go to college first and then go into the army?
Draper: Yes. I had been in a situation with all men for six years, except
for weekends, vacations, and so forth. I certainly didn't need
the army. A good, co- educational school in California was far
Acquaintance With Wine
Draper: I should go back, in terms of wine, and say that it was during
that period when I was going to school in Connecticut that I would
go home with friends and roommates for the shorter holidays, like
Thanksgiving as well as long weekends. One of my roommates was
American, but his parents were Swiss. He lived in New York on the
upper east side, and I would stay with him. From the first time I
visited the family, there was a bottle of wine on the table at
lunch and at dinner. The food was also more European than I was
used to. It was very good food, all fresh produce, fresh fish and
seafood. [At home] we had more lamb and beef cooked in a "meat,
potatoes, and gravy," Midwest style. This was a more subtle
cuisine, and the wine was a marvelous addition. I was absolutely
charmed. My romanticism- -everything that I had read for all those
years certainly included wine- -and here it was a part of everyday
life for the first time in my experience. I would say that from
then on, whenever I had the opportunity, I would have wine with my
Draper: That was high school. Then I got accepted to Stanford. I had
never been to California, and I came out here and went through the
process of giving up architecture and getting into philosophy. My
major also allowed me to take political theory and aesthetic
theory, so I could take classes in art, music, and political
science. My area within philosophy was called "value theory." In
those days schools were just getting into a more flexible
approach, where you could write your own program, and value theory
allowed me to do just that. There were basic requirements, but
then I was able to take related courses throughout the university.
After graduation, the draft was still on for Korea though the
war was over. Vietnam was still the French problem, not ours, but
the draft was still in effect. I knew that as soon as I graduated
I would be 1-A, and I would have to choose. Of course, the way to
stay out that most of my friends took was to go on to graduate
school. The last thing I wanted to do was graduate work in
philosophy. It had been a great undergraduate education, but the
only reason for getting a graduate degree that I could see was to
teach, and if I taught it wouldn't be philosophy. I didn't think
I was suited for it and I didn't think I was bright enough.
ARMY SERVICE, 1960-1963
Draper: With the draft hanging over my head, I looked at all the options.
I had the opportunity to ask many of the veterans returning from
Korea and entering business and law school at Stanford what they
thought were the most interesting possibilities within the
military services. I wanted to go to language school. I had
studied Latin for five years, which was a good base, and I had
studied Spanish, so I decided I would try to use the army as an
opportunity to get to language school.
In the process , I found out there were really two ways to do
that: one was called the Army Security Agency, where I was told
you would sit and listen to radio broadcasts all day and translate
them from the language you had learned into English. That sounded
pretty boring- -very boring. The other one was called CIC, with
the romantic title of Counter Intelligence Corps. The title may
be romantic, but that was not quite what was involved. At least
you were not sitting and listening to a radio; you were in a
foreign country, talking and working with the people of that
I volunteered for that branch, was accepted, and went to the
army language school in Monterey, which is an excellent school. I
was very impressed. I had asked for Italian and I got Italian.
There were five of us in the class, and the teaching was entirely
oral. We sat down on the first day, and the professor said, "Buon
giorno," and when he or she pointed to you, you would say, "Buon
giorno," until you got it right, and they would go around the
room. That went on for six months, five days a week, six to eight
hours a day.
Liaison Work in Italy
Draper: I was then sent to Italy to work in liaison. I was assigned to
work as a civilian and to pack up my uniforms. I was just a
private, because I had been unwilling to spend any of my rather
high tuition at Stanford on ROTC. As a private I would have a
hard time working as an equal with Italian or American officers,
so making me a civilian was the easy answer. I was shipped over
to Verona, and from there I was assigned up to Vicenza but to live
on the economy. I looked around the Colli Berici (the Berican
Hills), a wine-growing area just outside of Vicenza, where
Palladio's rotunda is located. I found an old house, a summer
villa, up in the hills that the family who owned it rarely used
and were offering for rent. I had a telephone line strung in from
a kilometer away. It was a twenty- five room villa for $60 a month
with a Tiepolo-like fresco on the ceiling in the master bedroom.
I found a roommate , a guy from my office , and proceeded to
follow the dictate "when in Rome do as the Romans." A clothing
allowance was provided by the army, so I had hand- sewn Italian
suits made. At least half of my day required speaking Italian. I
was probably fluent by the time I left, but no longer am. They
were three of the most interesting years possible. Being based
twenty minutes from Venice, I traveled all through the Veneto, up
as far as the Yugoslav border, through Cortina in the Dolomites
and as far west as Verona. It was fascinating for me, and I'm
sure it enhanced the romantic in me no end. I ate marvelous ly.
Teiser: What years was that?
Draper: That was from '60 to '63. The Kennedy extension over Berlin, when
the U.S. airlifted supplies into Berlin, kept us all in the
service for an extra six months. It didn't bother me in the
least. I had three and a half years; so I was in Italy for almost
three years .
Teiser: What was the condition of the wine industry in Italy at that time?
Draper: You've got to realize that here was a guy who was a consumer, not
a producer, and therefore was not looking very closely at the
situation. But it seemed to be thriving. As you know, in those
days, the best wines were really the local wines that you bought
in a good restaurant or trattoria in a carafe. That is, the
restaurant owner would either have his own vineyard, or his family
would have a vineyard, and he was of course as proud of that wine
as he was of his cuisine, especially in the country trattorie or
small -town restaurants.
There was very little of the single -vineyard phenomena that
we've seen explode, especially in Tuscany and Piedmonte in the
last ten years. The replantings in Chianti hadn't taken place.
Chianti was still a pretty simple, acidic wine, with a few
exceptions. We used to drink Brolio, for example, in those days.
"How Wine Really Came Into Mv Life'
Draper: When I was a freshman at Stanford, two friends of mine in my
freshman corridor asked me if I would like to spend Thanksgiving
with them, because it was too far to be going home. They both
lived out on Dry Creek in Sonoma County- -Bob Higby and Carl
Peterson, Jr. The Petersons are grape ranchers in Dry Creek
today, and they have been for years. I went home with them during
Thanksgiving of '54. I stayed with the Higbys, but the idea was
that I would have Thanksgiving dinner with the Petersons. Carl's
mother was a Mazzoni, so it was the Peterson-Mazzoni clan that
would gather out in Dry Creek.
The weather that Thanksgiving was what I guess we would call
football weather, beautiful Indian summer. The leaves had not
yet blown off the vines, but they had turned color, so Dry Creek
was just unbelievable to my eyes. It was my first year in
California, and here was a sea of color to rival a New England
The Peterson house was an old farmhouse much like the one I
grew up in. It was out in the middle of a vineyard at the far end
of Dry Creek. They invited the entire family, and it seemed to me
at least fifty people came that Thanksgiving Day. They had a line
of trestle tables, starting on the front porch, running through
the living room, down the corridor, through the kitchen, and out
onto the back porch. About every three feet along the table there
was either a turkey, a leg of lamb, a roast of beef, or a
ham- -with all the vegetables and trimmings in between. Bottles of
wine from the local winery where the Petersons sent their grapes
were strategically placed.
Three generations, and I think probably four generations were
at that table, from people in their nineties to babes in arms.
Having grown up in a very Victorian family with one sibling, with
the four of us sitting there straight in our chairs at a quite
formal table, this was something else. Of course I had eaten with
relatives and friends, but never had I been at a table like this,
and in that place, where I could look out the window and see the
vines entirely surrounding the house, and the bottles of wine on
the table. I said to myself, "Someday I want to do this."
So that stuck with me, unconsciously. Consciously, I didn't
think I could be a winemaker, because I thought you needed a
degree in chemistry or enology. I already knew I couldn't get
through chemistry. And besides it bored me to tears. I just
figured I would never be in the wine business.
But in Italy, strange as it may seem, despite being as
unaware as I was, I found that a number of my friends were in the
wine business. They either had vineyards or wineries, very simple
ones in general --not any of the great ones of Northern Italy. I'm
not sure I even knew what the greatest ones of the area were.
They would invite me to visit them especially during harvest, so I
got a sense of what they were doing. I think that was my second
As an undergraduate at Stanford I used to go out to
inexpensive Italian and French restaurants, and I would have a
bottle of wine with my spaghetti or very simple coq au vin. I
would note down what the label said- -the varietal, the year, and
all that. I did this probably twice a week through those years.
So whenever I was in a restaurant, simple or fancy, I would have
wine and note down what I thought of it.
Italy was no exception. I was trying everything in terms of
wine, still with no thought that I would ever be able to make wine
myself, just assuming that it was out of the question.
Teiser: You certainly had a good indoctrination.
Draper: Yes, it was. I came to wine through loving it as food, as part of
the meal, as part of a daily ritual. I guess I see dinner with
family or friends as one of the last rituals in our culture. It
is one of very few. Wine, really is, in a sense, a sacrament of
nature and takes the meal to another level.
In my mid- twenties, I began to look at what wine symbolized
for me, because it hadn't been a part of the family meal when I
was very young. I had made it a part of my life. As someone
whose bent it was to look at things somewhat philosophically, I
began to ask myself what wine meant to me as I realized what it
had meant for western civilization as a symbol --why it had become
and remained a part of our culture. I knew how much I liked it,
but why was I so attracted by the idea of wine? These are
questions I still ask today, and it started back then.
Travel inn and Stud vine in Europe. 1963
Teiser: How long were you in the army?
Draper: The minimum was three years when you volunteered, and I had been
extended six months by the Berlin airlift. In the spring of '63 I
took a discharge in Europe, and I drove to Copenhagen, ending up
in Paris that fall. I registered at the Faculty of Letters at the
Sorbonne, with the idea of studying French literature and the
French language. Within the Faculty of Letters there was an
institute to prepare students who intended to teach the French
I entered the program and attended for one year. It was
marvelous for me. I had studied French earlier, but I didn't
speak it. By now I spoke Spanish passably and Italian nearly
fluently; so I assumed French would not be that big a challenge.
It was, however, in pronunciation, but this was a chance to learn
it and to live in Paris for a year. I lived in the 5th
Arrondisement, just off the Place de le Contrascapre. I paid a
dollar a night for my hotel room and ate in the student
restaurants. As a student, I could eat in those restaurants
almost free of charge.
Draper: That time in Paris was also an experience of a new cuisine and
different wines. Even in the student restaurants you would have
simple wines, and then I had friends who would invite me out to
marvelous dinners at least once a week. On weekends as students
we would splurge and go to our favorite, still pretty simple but
good, restaurant. So Paris was indeed a feast.
Teiser: Do I remember that you visited vineyards and wineries?
Draper: Yes. I had started doing that on my very first trip when I was a
junior at Stanford. I left at the end of winter quarter and took
a ship to Naples (this is one reason I ended up in Italy). I
bought a Motoguzzi, an Italian motorcycle. I spent six months,
probably three of them going through Italy. I mentioned that I am
a romantic: I had seen a film with Richard Basehart, Julietta
Messina, and Anthony Quinn when I was at Stanford, and it had
Quinn as a carnival strongman wandering through southern Italy on
an old three-wheeled motorcycle. It was called La Strada. I had
probably seen it twenty times; so I bought a World Var II
aviator's jacket with a high, sheepskin collar, took a boat to
Naples, bought a motorcycle, and went south.
I circled through Calabria, into Sicily, and then back up
through Rome and Florence. Then to Venice and on to Austria,
Switzerland, and into France. At the end of that trip I stayed in
Paris with friends I had met on the trip. Coming back to Paris in
the sixties was really a return, as had been my three years in
Now I've completely gotten away from your question, but
that's sort of how I got there.
Working in United States Foreign Affairs. 1963-1966
Teiser: When was it that you conceived the idea of wine as a career?
Draper: After Paris, I was asked it I would like to join a branch of the
U.S. government, working in foreign affairs- -not as a career
member, but under contract. It was an interesting group that was
involved under [President John F. ] Kennedy in what you might call
preventive medicine in foreign affairs. The idea was that the
members of this group, while making it clear that they were
working with the U.S. government, would meet and get to know the
young leadership of Third World countries. In my case, that was
South America. On an open, straightforward basis, we would meet
with young political leaders, first in university and later in
their parties, and discuss what were their aspirations and those
of their parties for their country.
The idea was that if we had people in the U.S. government who
had personal relationships with the young leadership of all
parties, and I mean all, they could stay in touch over the years
as these leaders moved up in responsibility. I stress the contact
with all parties, because if you were to meet the liberals and the
conservatives, you were also going to meet the socialists and the
communists. If you were to discriminate against one party or
another, the other young leaders would not accept it. They
themselves worked daily with all parties, and they expected you to
I got to know a number of the young leaders in several of the
South American countries. It was a very exciting time for me
under Kennedy. The idea was that in the future if a serious
problem occurred, rather than responding to it out of ignorance as
a crisis there would be people in the government who could call
the leadership of any party in that country on a personal basis
and say, "Let's meet. Let's figure out what can be done here and
how this can be solved without bloodshed.
I worked at that for about three years, until [President
Lyndon B.j Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic.
Teiser: What years were those?
Draper: That was roughly '63 to '66.
Teiser: What countries were you in?
Draper: I never went to Chile, which was interesting because of their
wine, of course. I did go to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia,
Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia. I was asked to consider going to
Haiti and to contact the democratic underground, but with the
paramilitary death squads similar to those today, I considered it
too dangerous. I did go to Nicaragua, where it was still a
dictatorship, to meet with the young democratic leaders. Chile
was a strong democracy, so it was not a concern.
With the invasion of the Dominican Republic --you've probably
forgotten all that- -Johnson landed paratroopers on the beaches,
with the sunbathers (sort of like Lebanon) standing around
watching them. All of my friends and 1 had advised against it,
and we were outraged that he would make such a stupid move. At
that time Fritz Maytag had just asked me if I would join him in a
private effort to work in a very small way in development in South
America. He and another friend, who had just graduated from the
Stanford Business School, were interested in this. It was an
opportunity to work with an old friend.
Teiser: What year was that?
Draper: That would have been about '66.
South American Prelects
Draper: Now we are approaching the answer to your question. We, myself,
Fritz, and San Armstrong, visited a number of countries: Mexico,
Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. We were looking
at two things. First, nutrition: what were the possible sources
of nutritious foods in these countries, if nutrition was a
problem? We were also looking at something else. In those days
the U.S. government was involved in at least giving lip service to
the idea that explosive population growth might be a problem, and
that in very poor countries family planning had to be considered.
We were not interested in getting involved ourselves, but we were
interested in supporting efforts of local universities,
organizations, and governments in what they thought appropriate as
far as family planning education.
We initiated several small programs in two or three
countries. In Chile we found a situation where more hospital beds
were occupied by women recovering from the effects of badly done,
unprofessional abortions than all other causes put together. You
might say family planning was being practiced, but in the crudest
possible form. Once they saw the studies on the hospital
occupancy, the Catholic Church had unofficially told the
University of Chile Medical School that they would not oppose
education in family planning. They would not support it, they
would not discuss it; but they would not oppose it. The
University of Chile had done a particularly good film on abortion
but had no funds to copy it or distribute it, and we were able to
provide funds for that. That was the type of program we were
In the process, our partner, Sam Armstrong, set up
experiments in soybean production for high protein meal. The
Chileans no longer ate beans- -porotos-- chile beans- -because after
the Second World War Italian companies had introduced pasta. But
the pasta was totally without nutrition; it was unfortified. So
from these extremely high-protein beans in their traditional diet,
they had gone to pasta, which, instead of cooking for hours, could
be cooked in ten minutes. The diet of the average Chilean had
gone downhill fast, and that was the reason we got involved.
There was a local soybean but not one suitable for
high-protein soy meal. Through the Rockefeller Foundation, we
introduced varieties of soybeans from northern Mexico all the way
up into Canada to match them to the different climatic zones in
Chile. Sam Armstrong was the one in charge of the project.
We then began to look for ways that Sam and I could get off
the payroll of our tiny foundation to free up more funds for the
project. We set out to identify any for-profit businesses that we
could engage in in Chile that could pay our way and would keep us
there to direct the non-profit programs.
WINEMAKING IN CHILE, FEBRUARY 1967 -MAY 1969
Beelnnlnc the Chilean Vinemaking Venture . 1967
Draper: We looked at the wine business. Chile's total production was
considerably greater than California's, and something over 50
percent of all the vines planted in Chile were Cabernet Sauvignon
with some Cabernet Franc, unlike our situation here, where there
was very little Cabernet Sauvignon planted in those days. Despite
a critical need for foreign exchange, that is, hard currency, they
were exporting only 2 percent of their output.
I realized or perhaps remembered that all my life, since that
Thanksgiving in Dry Creek, I had wanted to be a winemaker. Here
was the chance .
The middle third of Chile is a land of vineyards. In
latitude it is roughly identical to California, Oregon, and
Washington. We had been living on vineyards and working with
farmers who grew grapes during our early years in Chile.
Phylloxera had never taken hold, so the vines were and still are
on their own roots. Many of the vineyards, even a number of the
Cabernet vineyards, are over a hundred years old. We thought we
could introduce international standards of quality and promote
wine export for Chile.
With that, I came back to the States, and I worked a vintage
with Lee Stewart up at the original Souverain, which is now Tom
Burgess's Winery on Howell Mountain. Of course, I had worked
vintages in Europe, but I wanted to see what a small, no-nonsense
California producer was doing. Lee had started Souverain back in
the late forties and was producing to my mind some very good
Cabernets and other wines, including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah,
Chardonnay, and others.
I worked with him for two months and then immediately went
back down to Chile, where the vintage begins in March. We
arranged with a grower, who had closed his own winery to join the
local co-op, to lease and reopen the facility. We then equipped
the cellar and used two of the people who had worked there
previously and were well trained in traditional techniques. That
was 1968 and it was our first vintage.
Learning to Make Wine
Draper: From having observed winemaking and enjoyed its resulting product
all those years, suddenly I was in charge of setting up and re-
equipping a cellar and making the wine, doing everything- -all in
six months. Having never made wine in a situation where I had to
make all the decisions, I was suddenly in that role. I had read
most of the literature in English on winemaking, and I had read
several of the very practical books that had been written over the
last 150 years, in Bordeaux. They covered day-to-day, traditional
practice- -first in the vineyard, then in the winery. The
translations of Peynaud's books and those he did with Ribereau-
Gayon are the best we have currently available. Their 19th
century equivalents, available in wine libraries, were more
detailed and comparing them gave you a pretty complete picture.
Usually these were books that contrasted what they referred
to as the "old ways" and the "new ways." Of course, the "new ways"
in the 1850s were still very traditional and very interesting.
But they were texts that discussed how things were currently seen
as opposed to how they had been seen twenty- five or fifty years
earlier. One of the most interesting books in this country was a
book called The Wine Press and the Cellar by [Emmet H.) Rixford,
who was the man who established the La Cuesta Vinery in Woodside
in the Santa Cruz Mountains viticultural area. He had written the
book in 1882, and it was his own experience, plus everything he
had learned about traditional European experience and what he had
learned about California practice to that date- -what was being
done in the 1860s and 1870s in California. It is a compilation of
his version of how you should make wine, not in every sense as
detailed as the European texts but essentially the same very
I was steeped in that kind of literature, and it provided me
with answers, as my cellar foreman in Chile would come to me and
ask, "All right, do we destem or not? How often do we punch down
the grapes?" et cetera, et cetera, every step of the way, for the
literally hundred or more small and large decisions you make
day-to-day through the winemaking process. In that first year of
making wine, I could sometimes give him an immediate answer, and
sometimes I would say, "I'll tell you in fifteen minutes." I'd go
back to my books, and I would read up on the choices. I would
come up with what I thought was the best approach, given our
grapes and our aims .
Equipment and Processing
Draper: We learned very much by "the seat of the pants." Fritz Maytag
came down and worked with me in the vintages and was a great
support and assist. We had a most interesting time. First I had
to find the equipment, a crusher and press, to begin. There was
very little, if any, stainless steel in the wine industry in
Chile, so we had to coat the crusher with epoxy. We found an old
crusher/stemmer that was really quite gentle. It was
hand-cranked, yet was quite large. One Sunday, when our workers
were off, Fritz and I crushed some grapes, and we just about
killed ourselves turning that crusher. It was as big as today's
small- to medium-sized commercial crushers. I mean, the thing
weighed hundreds of pounds, and the flywheel on it that you
cranked must have weighed at least a hundred and fifty pounds. We
exhausted ourselves, and we realized how strong our cellar men
were and how hard they worked. Everything was crushed by
hand- -that is, by hand power.
Pumping was done by hand. We had old-fashioned, very gentle
pumps, all hand pumps. We found a beautiful, big basket press --it
had a cast-iron base and an oak basket. We sandblasted the base
and painted it with epoxy.
Making Barrels in Chile
Draper: We then had to find barrels. There were no oak barrels in Chile.
There were oak f ermenters and oak casks . The oak casks and oak
tanks were ones that had been brought in from Germany and France
and a few from the States. The most recent importation had been
fifty years before, so there was no such thing as new oak. What
was being made was from the local wood, called rauli. It looks
something like redwood, very fine-grained, very soft and easy to
work, yet suited for tight cooperage; it would hold alcohol.
There is alerce down there, which is in fact redwood, but
that was not being used; it's really not suitable for small
cooperage. But rauli was being used for f ermenters and tanks as
well as barrels or pipes which were used to transport the wine,
not to age it. I don't think I ever saw anyone using small
barrels, small cooperage, to age wine in those days in Chile. The
smallest were old oak ovals or puncheons. Small growers would
transport the wine in pipes (pipas) , which would be about three
hundred gallons. They are quite large, and they were made of
Rauli has a taste, and it's different from oak. When you
first go to Chile it stands out and not necessarily in a positive
sense. As you stay there and become accustomed to it, you no
longer notice it. We used to bring wines from both Europe and
California, just to keep acute on what the Chilean wines really
tasted like because of this influence of the rauli.
I then went out and located air -dried oak that had been cut
mainly for furniture and parquet floors. I found coopers and put
them to work making oak barrels, I would say probably for the
first time in Chile or at least for the first time in fifty years.
I had to first decide just what was needed, find a detailed design
and specify the thicknesses of the staves- -everything. The staves
were all handmade by draw knife and bent over an oak-chip fire.
Everything was traditional. That's how they made their barrels.
Of course, for them to work with oak instead of this soft rauli
was something else, because it was so much more difficult. But
they were marvelous, and they made all of our barrels. In the
process I learned a lot about barrels and it helped me later on.
In packaging, we came up against similar problems and had to
design and have specially made what we needed. The claret bottle
in Chile in those days was very ugly and the inside of the neck
that receives the corks was sloped or cone-shaped rather than
cylindrical. We went to a small glass maker, designed a mold for
a good, traditional claret bottle with a nice push-up and a very
straight neck. Corks were like little, short plugs, and we had to
find thick planks of cork and have the supplier punch out corks to
the length we needed and then select them for quality.
It was an education in all aspects of winemaking, where you
had to go back to the basics and have things made to your
specifications. As we improved our pumps we worked with machine
shops to make special equipment and bend stainless steel for
racking tubes and so on; everything had to be made from scratch
and from designs I could find of traditional equipment.
Different Kinds of Oak
Teiser: It was an education that not many people would get.
Draper: In this country everything would be provided so there would be no
need to go through what we did. It did give us a greater
understanding of each part of the process. For example, it forced
me to think about oak sources and the handling of oak very early
on. Someone who helped educate me was a young Frenchman,
Phillippe Dourthe. He had his degree in enology from the
University of Bordeaux and his family was in the wine business
there. At that time the French government offered students an
alternative to military service. Instead of going into the army,
they were allowed to work as technicians in developing countries.
Phillippe and another friend had been assigned to teach enology at
the University of Chile and to work in the extension service with
Chilean growers and wineries .
I saw him quite often and we became good friends. We would
discuss anything and everything related to wine. I was very
interested in the idea of using American oak rather than French
oak, and in Chile I was using Chilean oak- -that is, trees grown
and cut in Chile. He knew that by this time I was looking toward
the future and that, at some point, I would be moving back to
California to work in winemaking there.
He mentioned that he had written his enology thesis at the
University of Bordeaux on the oak-aging of wines. The most
important research he used in the thesis had been a study done in
Bordeaux with the vintage of 1900 (in fact a very, very good
vintage) , because back in the nineteenth century the French had
been more interested in oak. The University of Bordeaux
enological station had placed two barrels each of six different
oaks --that is oaks from six different regions --and into these went
a series of the first growths of that day: Latour, Lafite,
Margaux, Haut Brion, and two other chateaux. They then aged out
the 1900 vintage wines in those barrels for the then typical
two-and-a-half to three years.
During those years in barrel and for seven more years in
bottle, they analyzed and tasted the wine. The researchers had
thought there might be an ideal oak for each of the regions- -for
Graves, Margaux, and Pauillac, and maybe even for each of the
terroLrs of the individual sites, that they would prefer one oak
with one chateau and another with another.
In fact, as it turned out, that statistically they found they
agreed on the finest oak, and that it was the best for all the
chateaux. There was very minor deviation, where it moved into
second place in one chateau and then moved back into first. But
effectively the result was that the European oak, cut from the
area of Riga, in Latvia, on the Baltic, was their favorite.
Their second favorite I believe was Lubeck, also on the Baltic, in
the area near the Polish-German border. The third area, also on
the Baltic, was Stettin in Germany.
Their fourth favorite was American white oak. Fifth was
Bosnian, Yugoslav oak. Their last was "Center of France," and
Draper: --the source of the majority of the French cooperage used in
California, let alone, of course, in France. It is referred to as
the "Center of France" and includes the areas of Nevers, Tronce,
Alliers, and neighboring regions.
Phillippe's encouragement and that study convinced me to
experiment with American oak and to use it if it proved its
When I moved back to California, I got the chance to see how
individual the wines could be from different single vineyards- -to
see their uniqueness.
Cabernet was my first interest, because I had been growing
that in Chile before I came back here. The Cabernet grape was
being grown all over the world; however, the most famous wines
were from Bordeaux. They really represented in many ways,
especially in those days, a standard of quality, a standard of
excellence to which you could compare Cabernets from other
regions. I liked Bordeaux wines very much and knew quite a bit
about them. I had had a chance to taste them extensively,
including 19th century clarets that were still in perfect
As I saw how much the individual site determined the
character of the wine, I became more interested in an absolute
standard of excellence rather than one tied to the particular
characteristics of certain Bordeaux vineyards. I didn't want to
make an imitation Bordeaux. Even though I was using traditional
methods, I wanted to let the fruit express itself. That idea
carried over into the oak. If I could find American oak of equal
quality, I could avoid adding a French taste to a California wine
that already expressed this soil and climate. Then by using
American oak, my Cabernet, though made from a grape that came to
California from France, whose ancestors may have come to France
from the Middle East, would be a step further removed from
Oak Trees for Corks and Barrels
Teiser: Was it Doug Meador who was going to experiment with California
cork oak? Have you ever looked into that?
Draper: No, I haven't. Part of the problem is that the culture of cork is
not an easy one. Of course the soil and climate have to be
suitable and then the delay of decades before the tree can be
harvested. The harvesting and subsequent handling is very labor
intensive. The existing mature trees in California are not in
groves but are grown as specimens, I would assume. If so, then
they develop too many limbs, which makes for breaks in the bark
and doesn't allow you to cut large pieces of quality cork from
that tree. It's the same thing in making barrels from a tree that
is a specimen tree. With each branch you have ruined that piece
of wood for use as a stave. What you need is oak that is grown in
tight forests, where the trees are tall, straight, slender, and
with no branches --the branches being at the top, trying to get to
the light, and down below the tree is straight. Perhaps something
similar applies to cork and oak.
Oak Barrels at Ridee
Draper: In getting into oak I'm skipping ahead, but I'd like to tie it up.
Ever since I returned to California and joined Ridge, I have
worked with air-dried American oak. I guess the other point is
to stress "air-dried." Again, being a traditionalist, I had
understood from the beginning that you had to air-dry the oak that
was to be used to age wine. If you kiln- dry it, it has a
different effect on the wood. When I got back here and found that
the only oak available was kiln-dried, I went back East to visit
the cooperages. I was looking for tight grain oak that had been
dried in the open air long enough to be down at about 12 percent
moisture. At that level it can be worked and does not need kiln
For many years I would select the staves from the oldest on a
yard and have them reserved for us in order to get air-dried oak.
We've continued that to the present day. There have been some
years when we have not been shipped what we ordered. It's an old
story--! keep thinking of the little restaurant in the country in
France or Italy where they have three different wines on their
list. But there's only one barrel down in the basement. So
whatever you ask for, they'll go down and siphon it out of the
same barrel. [laughter] That happens or used to happen with a
number of things. I really think we have moved away from it in
cooperage, where you might specify to certain coopers exactly what
you wanted; but unless you were there, selected the oak, and you
set it aside, and maybe even paid for it in advance, you could not
guarantee, unless you had a personal relationship with the
management, that you were going to actually get air-dried American
I have no illusions that there were some years in the last
twenty -five that I have not gotten what I ordered. On the other
hand, we have pursued it continually, and we really think that in
the majority of cases we have gotten it. The quality of the wines
aged in those barrels speaks for itself. What you probably know
is that in just the last two years there have been a number of
technical lectures in California on air-dried oak. One by a top
researcher with the Scotch whiskey industry, and another by a
professor from the University of Bordeaux. Both these men
stressed the absolute necessity of air drying oak.
For all these years, virtually everyone who bought American
oak did not specify and therefore received kiln-dried oak. Now it
has become the Holy Grail, you might say, that it must be air
dried, so all of the major players producing American oak barrels
are guaranteeing that it is air dried. California winemakers are
insisting on it. It's a marvelous step forward.
MOVING FROM CHILE TO CALIFORNIA
Ending Production In Chile
Teiser: We should get you back from Chile to California.
Draper: We had leased a winery in Chile and equipped it, and produced two
vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon. We were on our way to bottling,
as the first vintage approached two years in oak. We knew by this
time that we wouldn't have any market in Chile for the wine, but
that hadn't been our intent. We had planned to open up the U.S.
market to the idea that Chile could produce fine wines by making
limited amounts and placing them with high profile retailers.
When I was there, the average price of the best wines being
exported was typically around $7.99 a case f.o.b. I think the
very highest price might have been about $12 a case f.o.b. These
were the top names in Chile- - [Vina] Santa Rita, [Vina] Santa
Carolina, [Vina] Cousino Macul--many of the names that you might
see today- -and that was the price of the wine. We saw our effort
as trying to break that image of cheap wine even if we only made a
very small amount. We felt there were enough fine -wine tasters in
the United States who, if shown a single -vineyard, traditionally
made Chilean Cabernet that could stand up to a good Bordeaux,
would be willing to pay a higher price.
With that idea in mind we set up an import operation here in
San Francisco. Before our own wines were ready, we also began to
work with wines that we could import to get the operation started.
We imported a wine from Cousino Macul that we had selected. We
also imported two wines from the Canepa family. No sooner had all
this gotten underway than the upcoming Chilean elections became an
issue. During these years, the president had been a Christian
Democrat named Eduardo Frei. Land reform and other social
programs were moving forward in what was a pretty conservative
country. The Christian Democrats, a party in the middle of the
spectrum, and the conservatives --the right-wing- -had voted
together to put Frei in office. As this election approached, they
each decided to put up their own candidate.
It did not appear obvious to the Chileans I talked to that if
the center and right didn' t vote together they would not elect
their candidates, and the socialists and the communists voting
together would win. It was so clear to us that we immediately
began to sell our assets, not because we thought we couldn't
operate under a socialist government but because the business
climate in Chile was already difficult. Importing equipment and,
for that matter, just running a business was such a problem in
Chile that we realized that with any further shift to the left,
the business community would lose confidence, and our job would be
So we began to sell the wine in Chile before it was bottled,
sell our equipment, and to gradually dismantle the operation.
Sure enough, we had completely moved out of Chile when the
elections came, and of course Salvador Allende was elected. Not
long after, Chile suffered one of the greatest tragedies in its
peaceful and democratic history. The military took over, and
many, many civilians were executed by the police, the military,
and by death squads. It was a sad situation from which Chile is
still recovering today. I've never been back to Chile. I'd love
to go back someday. I would prefer to see General Pinochet, the
single individual most responsible, completely out of power before
I go back; he's still in charge of the military. Chile has come a
long way and is doing marvelous things, but they lived through a
tragedy for democracy that was almost unbelievable.
Return to the United States
Draper: We had already decided to leave when I attended a tasting on the
San Francisco peninsula during a visit to California. Both Fritz
Maytag and I had been invited by a Stanford University group
interested in wine to taste with them. They were having a Chilean
wine tasting, and they asked us to bring some examples of good
wines and to talk about them. They provided, as well, other
Chilean wines, California wines, and European wines to taste
blind. The Chilean wines did extremely well. At that tasting I
met Dave Bennion, who with his two principal partners had started
Ridge Vineyards five or six years earlier. Dave then recommended
to his partners, Hew Crane and Charlie Rosen, that they ask me to
join them. When I returned from Chile definatively, they had
already been in contact and had asked me if I would visit Ridge
and interview for the job of winemaker.
I took the job and and in August of '69 began to work full
time in preparation for the crush.
Teiser: Did you consider any California alternatives?
Draper: Yes. I interviewed with one other man, Donn Chappellet. He was
in the process of designing his winery, and hadn't yet built it.
His previous business had been very successful and its sale, I was
told, was going to finance the winery and vineyard. His partner
in the earlier business was a friend of my brother-in-law, and
based on that connection I called for an interview, although Ridge
had already made me an offer. We had a marvelous time. I liked
what he was doing and his ideas . Perhaps , fortunately for me , he
had already hired a winemaker , so it was more a matter of getting
to know each other.
RIDGE VINEYARDS AND VINERT
History of the Winery
Draper: I was interested in what Ridge was doing, I liked the people, and
I liked their approach. It fit in with my beliefs at that time
and as they have developed since. Of course, most of all, I liked
the wine .
Teiser: How would you define the approach?
Draper: Let's put it this way: the founding of Ridge, which was more a
reopening of winery operations on the upper reaches on Monte Bello
Ridge was taken very slowly and very much in stages. As I
describe it, it may sound extremely well thought out and very
conscious. I don't believe it was quite this conscious. I'll
describe, in my rewriting of history, what seems to have occurred.
A group of, initially, four men with science degrees,
principally in electrical engineering, working at Stanford
Research Center [SRI], got together through a mutual interest.
They were looking for property just outside the developed part of
the Bay Area that they could afford. They wanted a place where
they and their families could spend weekends. Their excuse was
that it would also serve as a reasonable investment.
Two of them had independently come up to Monte Bello Ridge in
the process of the search. Charlie Rosen, who was head of
artificial intelligence --that is, robotics- -at Stanford Research,
and David Bennion, who was a Stanford electrical engineering
Ph.D., also at SRI, had come up separately. They were two of the
three members, who with Hew Crane, formed the core group.
They looked over the William Short property at the 2,300-foot
elevation, for sale at the time. It included mature Cabernet
vines and mature Chardonnay, as well as a small winery that had
been established back in the 1890s but was no longer operating.
The grapes that Short was growing were being sold to various local
wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains, but he was not making wine
himself. He had been a theologian and had retired to the Ridge,
and he was now going to retire again.
My partners bought the land because they loved the site and
they loved the idea. They wanted to continue to grow the grapes,
but they were certainly not clear that they would re -open the
winery there. Before they bought the property they were able to
taste some of the wines that had been made from the grapes and
They purchased the property in '59, and that same year David
Bennion kept back grapes to make a handful of cases . He made very
small amounts again in '60 and '61. The rest were sold to other
wineries, but the partners could get some of the bottled wines and
were able to taste what others were making from the vineyard.
They invited friends and friends of friends who were wine
collectors and tasters to try the wines with them. Back in the
early days even Harry Waugh, the English writer and former wine
merchant, had a chance to taste the wines. The consensus was that
the concentration and distinctive character of the Cabernets were
something not matched in California at the time. The typical
wines of the period were nowhere near as intense, and there was an
individuality that may have come from the low yields or perhaps
from the soils and cool climate. All these people encouraged the
partners to make the wines themselves.
In planting land that has never grown grapes or at least
never grown the varieties you are planting, you have very little
idea what the final quality and character of the wine will be.
You can find out all you can about the soils, the drainage, the
exposure, the heat summation, etc. so as to have the best shot at
quality. However, until the vines are mature and you have made
wines from them, you don't really know. The partners at Ridge had
the chance- -so rare in the New World- -to see what quality, mature
vines would make before they decided to reopen the winery. I
think it was crucial to their financial success that they were
able to base the quality of the wine on the quality of the
vineyard, not the sophistication of the winemaking.
Monte Bello Vineyard. Winery, and Bottling Company
Draper: A few years later, the partners had the opportunity to purchase
the old Monte Bello Winery one mile up the ridge. Prior to
Prohibition, the vineyards had extended in a solid block between
the two cellars. The first owner, the man who founded and built
Monte Bello, was an Italian doctor named Osea Perrone, who had
emigrated to San Francisco in 1885 and had the land purchased for
him that year. He then had it transferred to his name in 1886.
The major Italian emigration had not occurred; it came at the turn
of the century and around 1910. So he was ahead of his time and
was one of the members of the early Italian community in San
Francisco. As a medical doctor, he became one of the leaders of
In 1886 he then began to plant a vineyard and construct a
stone -and -redwood winery on three levels built into a steep
ravine. The vineyard was mature and the winery completed in time
to produce a first commercial vintage in 1892. Their brand name
was Monte Bello. Perrone then opened a small bottling and
distribution operation in San Francisco, called the Monte Bello
Wine Company .
In those early years, wine was sold by the barrel to
restaurants which they kept in the basement and simply brought up
in pitchers to serve to their clientele. People would bring
bottles to the Monte Bello Wine Company, and they would be filled
and carried home. A limited amount of bottling was beginning, but
it certainly was not worth carting the bottles all the way up
Monte Bello Ridge. People even wonder today about our doing it
[laughs]. It was more logical then to bring the wine down by
wagon to the railhead at Palo Alto or California Street- -what was
called Mayfield--and then take it on the Southern Pacific up to
San Francisco and over to his small bottling operation. He sold
most of the wine there in San Francisco. He lived and practiced
medicine in the City and spent a great deal of time down at the
He entertained. He was an opera lover, and virtually every
major figure- -Tetrazzini ; there's a list somewhere of the people
who came down to Monte Bello in those years. They would come for
a couple of days, because the trip itself was almost a full day.
He would bring them up to the winery, and they would stay there.
They would cook marvelous meals, and the singers would sing for
I remember talking to Anthony Silvani, who founded the
California Glass Company. He told me, while I was enjoying one of
the marvelous lunches he would cook at Cal Glass, about when he
was a teenager. It was 1912 and war was looking more and more
like a possibility in Europe. In those days the Italian and other
immigrants held dual citizenship, so many received their draft
notices from the Italian government to go back and fight the
Austrians in the First World War. Anthony had a disability- -a
minor one but significant in terms of military service- -and the
only person who was authorized by the Italian government to issue
medical deferments was Dr. Perrone.
That's how Anthony Silvan! as a young man met him. Anthony
Silvani was a marvelous cook, and Dr. Perrone asked him if he
would come down to Monte Bello and cook. Anthony described the
winery perfectly. We've remodeled it- -I mean, the rooms are
changed around- -but he told me exactly where the kitchen was . We
are now using that space as a lab. Everything that he described
in the room was just as it was when I arrived in 1969. I should
have known that it was the kitchen because of the huge flue that
went up through the roof and all of the water and gas pipes that
came into that room. He described to me where the tables were
placed for those marvelous dinners.
On the first occasion he had cooked there for Dr. Perrone and
his guests. He cooked again at the end of Prohibition, for
Perrone 's nephew. The nephew had taken over after Dr. Perrone had
died from the injuries of an accident on the mountain when his
carriage went over the edge. His nephew had a big party up at
Monte Bello as a celebration for the end of Prohibition. They
entertained the members of what became the BATF [Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] at that dinner, and Silvani told
me about that dinner as well. That was years later, of course; it
was in '33 when they were reopening the winery.
Draper: I should go back briefly to Dr. Perrone 's death. When his
carriage went off the steep mountain road near the winery, he
broke his leg badly, and gangrene set in. He was a very handsome
and rather vain man, I guess, from his pictures, in which he
strikes marvelous poses. Despite being a doctor he refused to
have his leg amputated and died of the infection a few months
In the meantime he had gotten his nephew, who had originally
emigrated to the Argentine and was named Osea Perrone after his
uncle, to join him and take over the operation of Monte Bello.
This nephew continued on until his death in 1936. After
Prohibition the winery reopened, and in San Francisco the younger
Osea Perrone went into partnership with several people in the wine
and spirits business. Years ago I met Pete Bricca, who owned a
major distributorship here in San Francisco. I believe his father
was one of the partners with Osea Perrone in reopening the Monte
Bello Wine Company- -the bottling operation- -in San Francisco.
After Prohibition they bought wine, not just from the Monte Bello
Winery that Perrone owned but from Sunny St. Helena Winery in St.
Helena as well. They would bring the bulk wine to San Francisco,
and would then blend and bottle it under the Monte Bello brand.
From Prohibition on, the Monte Bello label was used for
blended wine that came from both the Santa Cruz Mountains and from
Napa Valley- -and possibly other sources, but those were the two
that were mentioned to me. The people I have talked to were very
proud of their connections to the Monte Bello Winery. One man
named Henry Bugato had worked with Perrone and with the partners
at the Monte Bello Wine Company when he was quite young. When I
met him he was working for Larry's distributorship here in San
Henry was the one who provided me with most of the
information about where the wines came from. He said that Perrone
was president of the Monte Bello Bottling Company as well as sole
owner of the winery, two separate operations. He had partners in
the bottling company, not in the winery. Perrone considered, and
apparently so did his partners , that the wine coming from Monte
Bello was the finest of what they were buying, and they paid the
highest price for it of any wines they bought. It didn't hurt
that Perrone was president, but other partners were willing to do
it. But that meant that the wine under the Monte Bello name was
no longer 100 percent from the Monte Bello vineyard, and it was
really a different operation. At some point after Perrone 's death
in 1936 --and I've never followed this out --the name Monte Bello
was sold. Anyway, the name went back East and was being used by
a small distiller on the East Coast in the Baltimore area, if I
The Ridoe Label
Draper: When we were about to bottle our first wine labels, Dave Bennion
had asked if we could call the wine Monte Bello. The man who was
his contact with the company back East said, "No, the people
controlling the name will sue, and I will recommend that they
sue." Dave then asked, "What if we call it Monte Bello Ridge,"
which is the geographic location. He said, "No, they'll still
sue." So Dave and his partners said, "All right, we'll call it
Ridge." When we couldn't have Monte Bello, we settled for Ridge.
Interestingly enough, in recent years, looking at trademarks,
we found that the Monte Bello trademark was up for renewal. We
renewed it and were able to get the trademark. Then, rather than
a lawsuit, we ceded to the company back East the right to produce
distilled spirits under the name Monte Bello, but Ridge would
retain all rights for wine, both still and sparkling and sweet,
under the name Monte Bello. So after all these years we came full
circle and were able to bring back to the Perrones' hundred-year-
old winery the name Monte Bello. We hold the trademarks for
wine, and vineyards on the names Monte Bello, Lytton Springs, and
Early Davs as Winemaker at Ridge
You had just about decided to Join Ridge,
What did you start out
This was in August of '69. In your suggesting that we do this
taping, I realized to my horror how history is written and made.
It can be an inexact science when there are people like myself
Involved. What I mean by that is that I remember selectively. I
know how I felt about what was happening and how things were
proceeding. You would need to interview the whole group of people
involved in the evolution of Ridge to get a really accurate
historical picture. What I remember is that I was hired full
time --because I had to work full-time to support myself to make
the wines at Ridge. Dave Bennion, who had acted both as president
and winemaker through the previous seven vintages- -our first
vintage as a bonded winery in '62, and this was the vintage of
'69- -was still the president. I intended to work very closely
with him in my first vintage at Ridge, to see how he had been
making the wines . I very much admired what had been done with
Monte Bello in the vintages that I had been able to taste, which
included the very fine '59 and '62. The others I had as reference
were the '63 which was good but a lighter wine; the '64- -a
marvelous vintage, and the '65 --big, but awkward. These were the
vintages that had been bottled right up to the date when I joined.
I felt I might know something about Cabernet and traditional
winemaking, but Dave's approach at Ridge had brought out the
distinctive character of the site. I wanted to know how that had
In '69 I was living in San Francisco and commuting to Ridge
every day. None of the partners lived on the ridge. It was my
job just to be present at the winery and to make the wine, so I
was there- -on a flexible schedule- -basically every weekday. Dave
would be up a couple of times a week, and more often during
harvest, and we would talk in detail about how he had made the
previous vintages. Though on a practical, day-to-day basis I was
doing most of the racking and making the individual decisions, he
was advising me and passing on his experience. I then drew on
what my very traditional experience in Chile had been, and we
decided how to proceed.
How did Dave Bennion develop his taste for wine?
You know, it's a good question, because Bennion is a good Mormon
name, and Dave grew up on a farm in Utah in a Mormon family. When
he came out here to California, I think he moved a step back from
the church- -I really don't know that history; perhaps it had to do
with the fact that he was a scientist. He had a very detailed
mind, and scientific evidence and experimentation were important
to him. He may have applied that scientific approach to more
difficult aspects of the church history. That was the sense I got
in any case.
I think the warmth, the camaraderie, everything that wine
brought with it- -good food, a different kind of camaraderie than
he may have known in a more formal rather stiff upbringing,
somewhat like my Victorian. I really don't know the details, but
he was interested in wine, and with the purchase of the Monte
Bello vineyard, became a home winemaker. He may have made beer
and fruit wines, but I don't know that he had ever made any grape
wines prior to the '59 Monte Bello.
Fermentation: Submerged-Cap Method
Draper: One of the things that he brought to the Ridge tradition,
something that I then carried on and use today with all our
Zinfandels, was submerged cap fermentation. It started with a
large crock in which he was fermenting what became the twenty
gallons of '59 Monte Bello. He and his wife, Fran, were going on
vacation, so he built a cover or grid to submerge the cap of the
grapeskins below the surface of the liquid. They were away for
two-weeks, and when they came back the wine was dry. He pressed
it, put it in a very small barrel, aged it out, and bottled it, I
believe only in tenths. His use of that grid was, of course, a
very old technique, which I'm sure he had read about, called
submerged- cap fermentation.
When I joined Ridge in '69, we had one four- ton fermenter,
and we soon introduced another. They were open- topped tanks, and
both of them had wooden grids with which the grapes could be
submerged. Prior to 1967 Dave was still working at SRI, as were
the other partners. During harvest they would all come up on the
weekends and harvest the grapes that were ripe, crush them, put
them in the fermenter, submerge the cap, and go back to SRI for
the week. Then they would come back the next weekend. For those
very early vintages, submerged-cap fermentation was absolutely
essential to make sure the cap did not develop acidic acid. It
allowed them to make sound and incredibly intense wines right from
When I joined in '69, I fermented part of the Monte Bello
vintage in some new, very small tanks. It was an experiment in
"non-action" fermentations as I called it. The idea was to gently
destem and crush the grapes to the tanks, check it everyday to
make sure the natural, "uninoculated" ferementation began in two
or three days, and then leave it alone. I pumped over once after
fermentation started to provide air for further multiplication of
the yeast. After that no pumpover, no punching, and no submerged
cap. I would check the sugar and temperature each day and taste
the juice as well as smell the top of the tank to make sure there
was no off character. At twenty days it was pressed and the press
wine, which was much darker than the free, was all added back. It
made a very supple, yet intense wine. By '71, we moved the
winemaking operation to the old Monte Bello winery, which had been
purchased in 1968 and was just a mile up the road. I ordered
three 2000- gallon stainless steel tanks from the Mueller company.
In the first year we built wooden grids in these stainless steel
closed fermenters for submerging the cap. For the next vintage I
designed stainless steel grids and a support system for four more
new tanks. That was perhaps the first time. That was in '72.
Ever since then, a major percentage of our tanks --over 50 percent,
and for many, many years 90 percent- -have had stainless steel
grids to allow us to continue the old technique of submerged- cap
One thing that was a joy to find out, and which Dave had not
known when he introduced this approach, was that when the Mid-
Peninsula Open Space District bought a ranch below us- -one of the
other 19th century grape ranches, owned the by Picchetti family- -
they began to renovate the buildings that had been used for the
old winery. They found in the vat house huge, circular grids, and
asked me what they were used for. I realized that they had been
used from the 1870s on to submerge the grapes during fermentation
at the Picchetti winery. There is good reason to believe there
had been open fermenters with this same style of submerged- cap
grids up at Dr. Perrone's winery as well. I don't know how
typical this method was in California prior to Prohibition, but
there at Picchetti today are these huge redwood grids stacked
against the wall. In 1959, we were just taking up an approach
that had been traditional to our area for the last hundred years.
Teiser: Is that an alternative to punching down the cap?
Hicke: What effect does it have on the wines?
Draper: I'm afraid the answers are very unscientific, despite all the
experimentation that we do. When you submerge the cap in making
red wine, to a degree you are eliminating the necessity for
pumping over, and of course you cannot punch down. You are
achieving what you would by both approaches; that is, you are
wetting the skins, which contain the color, the seeds which
contain the tannins and other phenolics in the juice as it evolves
into wine. It's a very gentle technique. Even if you do pump
over, which we do and have always done, initially at least you
cannot damage the grapes or the skins . That is , you cannot use
that most unfortunate of old California techniques (or perhaps
modern; I don't know when it started--! assume after the thirties)
of using a high-powered centrifugal pump and a fire nozzle on the
wine hose to macerate the grapes --to literally "break up the cap,"
as they still say. We find that one very clear way to lose
When you have a grid between your grapes and your pump, even
if you're pumping at high pressure, you couldn't damage the grapes
if you wanted to; the stream of wine will be broken up by the grid
before it can reach the skins. So it's a very gentle process. We
have found that, depending on how extractable the seeds are and
how fully you crush, you get very good extraction, because they're
continually submerged. In fact, with mountain -grown grapes you
have to be very careful not to extract too much tannin.
We've done a lot of tannin and color research over the years,
starting back in the mid-seventies. We were certainly the first
of the small wineries to have high-performance liquid
chromatography equipment, and we've improved that over the years
until we have a highly automated, computer -driven model today that
does all kinds of wonderful things . So we began to look at
phenolics, and of course tannins are phenolics, and they are the
phenolics that will react with protein. (You have to realize that
this is a philosophy major talking, not a scientist, so my
knowledge is very shallow.) If you have destemmed, more than 95
percent- -as I understand it- -of the phenolics are in the seeds.
There are tanniferous phenolics in the stems. You might
include the stems or source of them in a Pinot Noir fermentation
while you would rarely use use them with Cabernet, Merlot,
Zinfandel, or Petite Sirah. If you destem, you are not getting
any tannin from the stems, and there is very little tannin in the
skins; a couple of percent. So you are getting phenolics,
including the tanniferous phenolics from the seeds. If you expose
that seed throughout the fermentation as the level of alcohol
rises in the juice, you're going to extract that seed much more
than if you leave pulp and skin surrounding the seed. If you are
already dealing with low-yield, potentially very tannic grapes, if
you go for a twenty-day fermentation, which is what we have done
since 1969 when I joined- -you may well get some wines that are
undrinkable for the first five or ten years.
From the beginning we believed in very gentle pumpovers , very
gentle fermentation using submerged cap, moving the pumice by hand
from the tanks to the press, and on and on, working as gently as
possible once it is in the barrel, of course, racking rather than
filtering for clarity as the wine ages. It became clear to us
over the years that one of the most important things was not to
over-extract the seeds. We got to the point where we would
destem, as we do today, with a very large, very slow- speed
crusher, and we were able to pump the grapes to the tank with
about 40 percent of them still unbroken. So in the fermentation
in a tank of Cabernet or Merlot, it would take a long time during
fermentation for those 40 percent to break down and for those
seeds to be exposed. We could make very big, tannic wines but
much rounder and much more supple wines that would be approachable
even when they were young.
This whole thing about gentleness that started with the
submerged- cap fermentations really came together to bring us where
we are today on the handling of the wine from fermentation to
bottling. With Cabernet we use what I would call more typical
fermentations and pump over with a floating cap. We make use of a
large tub in front of the fermenter to draw the juice off and to
aerate it somewhat and then to pump it over the top. That's our
alternative to submerged- cap. What we do is experiment with
virtually every wine to see whether a particular vineyard responds
best to one technique or to the other.
I have not answered your question about what difference does
it make. The gentleness of the extraction is one thing. It seems
to be more of an anaerobic fermentation. To the degree that you
aerate some of the juice that you are pumping over, if you pump
over, you get some air into it. But if the grapes are just
submerged and you are doing nothing, which is a major part of
submerged- cap fermentation, it really is more of an anaerobic
fermentation. So there are differences.
Marcel Gigal from the Cote Roti, who is the major high-
quality producer in his appellation, was visiting a number of
years ago. He was looking for somebody who was using submerged-
cap, because his uncle or grandfather before him had used
submerged- cap in their winery. With the advent of enameled metal
tanks and later stainless steel tanks, everyone had given up the
grids and the submerged-cap approach and had gone to remontage, as
they call it- -pump ing over. He was looking for somebody who was
using grids in a modern setting- -that is, with metal tanks- -
because his family's tradition and his experimentation had shown
him that you could get, he felt, greater depth of fruit and more
complex wines with submerged- cap fermentations than you did with
Now, it's not that clear cut. It really is just another
choice that you have in deciding your winemaking approach. The
only way to determine which is going to give you, in your opinion,
the finer wine is to do both. Even today, every year with the
Monte Bello, our estate Cabernet, we ferment at least two pairs of
tanks out of twenty-odd blocks and separate fermentations of Monte
Bello as comparisons of submerged cap and pump over. We take each
tank through malolactic separately. And we blind taste the two to
see if we still prefer pumpover with the Monte Bello.
The answer is never final. We want to be aware always of why
we are doing what we are doing. There is never any recipe. For
now, we feel that with the Monte Bello we prefer to pump over,
using a large tub- -these are fermentations of, say, three and a
half to five and a half tons --rather than use submerged- cap. For
Zinfandel, we use almost exclusively submerged- cap. But it's an
ongoing question. We look at it in Zinfandel, we look at it in
Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Matar6, every year to see which is going
to give us what we feel is the finer wine.
Hicke: We're still back at what you started doing when you first came to
Draper: That's right! I joined in August, and we started picking around
the end of September. We fermented the '69 Monte Bello with the
submerged-cap as usual, but as I mentioned I used the very old,
traditional approach of nonintervention or non-action on part of
the vintage .
I should mention that in the early sixties, the partners had
done a number of fermentations on the natural yeast. They had
moved to adding a small amount of selected yeast by the time I
joined Ridge. I moved right back to noninoculated fermentations.
So from the time I joined, that is, for the last quarter century,
we have used the wine yeasts coming into the winery on the grapes
to carry out 90 percent of the fermentations.
Filling a fermenter you would check it everyday to see if the
natural yeasts had taken off. If they hadn't, which in fact very
rarely happened, we would consider adding a small selected yeast
culture so as not to risk off -character in the final wine. In
1969 within thirty-six hours or so, forty-eight at most, my small
experimental "non- action" fermenters had taken off. I would look
at it every day, but neither punched down, pumped over, or
submerged the cap; we just let it ferment. The cap was of course
floating, and it was fully crushed and destemmed.
We had incredibly intense, low-yield, mature Cabernet vines
that produce small, intense berries. The natural fermentation
ended at about fifteen days, when it went fully dry. I would
typically let it sit a few more days on the skins and then press
the tank and combine the pressed wine right back in with the free
run. I would taste it first but always put it back in. With the
"non- action" technique the pressed wine is incredibly deeply
colored and quite tannic. The free run is not as deeply colored
and not very tannic, but when you combine the two, you then get a
deeply colored wine but with moderated tannins. The seeds are not
so extracted, because you've done no pumping over, no punching
down, no maceration that would strip knock the skins and pulp from
the seeds .
Sure enough, this little experimental lot of the '69 Monte
Bello was more supple and more elegant than the main lot. We in
fact had a very difficult time with the main lot. My small, "non-
action" lot went right through fermentation and went dry, and we
pressed. The main lot that I was doing with Dave did not go dry,
and it stuck. So right from the first year I had something
interesting, something that had never happened to me in Chile. In
Chile I had done all natural yeast fermentations and all natural
malolactics as well.
With the '69 we had to add a selected yeast starter to get it
going again, and the fermentation dragged on for a couple of weeks
before we were able to press and have a dry wine. It did go dry
and we were well beyond twenty days before we pressed, and there
was still a little sweetness, but it did finish after pressing.
The end result was a wine that had slightly higher volatile
acidity then other Monte Bellos. Dave and I were always horrified
by that wine, because as much as we loved it, we would immediately
pick it up and see the volatile and say, "Oh, my God, it's the
'69." As the years went by, and various groups would put on
vertical tastings of ten or fifteen vintages of Monte Bello, the
'69 was inevitably in first place. Dave and I would have it in
last place, but the group voted it first. We never cease to laugh
about how the one wine that we saw as a problem won the tastings.
Even today it's one of the better rated wines of that era, partly
because it is so complex, with that added level of volatility.
Ridee and Other California Wineries^
Teiser: Can you pause here and characterize Ridge that year that you first
went with it in terms of the whole California wine industry. How
was it, compared to other wineries?
Draper: Good question. I have a couple of things to say about that.
Though the people who had founded it were scientists- -every one
was a Ph.D. in his field, and was working in science at a high
level- -none of them were enologists. Their knowledge of wine was
limited and they were more interested in how wine was made
naturally. That is, despite their advanced scientific degrees,
they were interested in the idea that fine wine was basically a
very straightforward process. If you understood it chemically it
was not simple, but the way wine had been made for centuries was
They felt --and this was principally David Bennion--that most
California wine of that day was not as interesting, complex, or
flavorful as it could be. It was being made in a simpler style
because of the techniques in use in California since Prohibition.
The "fine wine" was a simpler beverage of less quality than it was
in Europe and than it needed to be in California.
Their very straightforward approach involved low yields, long
skin contact- -that is, long fermentations. Even before I joined,
the fermentations were running well more than two weeks and
sometimes went out to as long as I then typically extended them.
The partners were making very big, rich wines. They were not
fining, they were not filtering before bottling those wines. That
was heretical to the California wine industry of the day.
Maybe that harks back- -and here I go on one of my long
digressions again. You mentioned in your outline a tasting at The
Potluck Restaurant of old Zinfandels from the thirties and early
forties. From that tasting and from some of the conversations
that I've had (while you have had conversations that can give you
actual facts, mine are usually based on supposition), those
Zinfandels from the thirties that we tasted from The Potluck
included Larkmead [Vineyard] from either '37 or '39, and Fountain
Grove [Vineyard] in one of those two vintages. One of the people
tasting that day, Bob Knudsen, brought a Louis Martini '42. There
were several others as well.
We tasted the wines blind. What was immediately apparent was
that there were two different styles of winemaking involved. The
Larkmead and the Fountain Grove in that tasting were incredibly
complex, rich wines of absolutely first quality and had a quarter
inch at least of sediment on the bottom of the bottles. The
Martini '42 that Bob Knudsen brought was poured out, and there
wasn't a drop of sediment; it was clean right to the bottom of the
bottle. It tasted as though it were six years old, even though
this was in 1973, thirty years later. Now, there were one or two
that were going over the hill and getting oxidized, but the
Larkmead and the Fountain Grove were not faded. They were
unbelievably lovely, fully developed wines. The Martini was not
developed. It had been held in suspension at about five or six
years of age.
For me, the methods in those days (I think Martini has
changed, too) that Martini was following were the methods that
were being taught in those days in California and epitomized most
of the wines through the forties, fifties, into the sixties, and
even through the sixties and into the seventies and so on, before
what I would call the renaissance of California fine winemaking.
They were really dominated by the techniques developed- -and this
is my apocryphal history. You've got to realize that you have the
real history. I am now reinventing history, just from my
experience, not from anything I know. So please take this with a
big grain of salt.
Maynard Amerine graduated, I believe, from Modesto High in
the class with Ernest Gallo. They knew each other then, and I
surmise that as Maynard Amerine went on to Davis and the Gallo
family for the first time got into winemaking and bought all this
used equipment- -old redwood tanks and stuff --and started making
wine, having problems, because these were old, rotten tanks that
hadn't been used for years, he turned to his friend Maynard
Amerine and said (this is very simplistic) , "How do you make good,
solid, sound wine?" Maynard Amerine and company figured that out
as chemists in a new tradition. In a sense, they reinvented
winemaking, and that involved selected yeast strains and all kinds
of good things like temperature control, separating the free run
from the press, and of course it went on into viticulture.
The few remaining old winemakers, who were soon to retire,
made the Larkmead and the Fountain Grove in the old traditional
approaches, where pressed wine was not necessarily not included,
where you had long fermentations, natural yeast fermentations, and
natural malolactics. You made a different style of wine from that
traditional wine. The Martini at the tasting at The Potluck was
for me a perfect example of the triumph of modern technology.
This is my reading of what really shifted here.
You did not again see in the forties, fifties, and sixties
wines like the Inglenook Cabernets from the thirties. You did not
see that incredible complexity of the old traditional techniques.
What you did see were very clean wines that held. Did they age?
Did they really improve with all the years in bottle, as the old
wines used to? Nobody was saying that we should be worried about
making wines that will continue to develop in quality through the
years. Nobody said that. That wasn't the aim. I guess my
objection was that I began to get the impression, when I came on
this scene, that there was a feeling that the way you made good,
sound table wine --hearty Burgundy or other --was the same way you
made Chateau Latour if you were a Calif ornian. There was that
assumption that there was one way of making wine, and there were
all these people out there, in Europe especially, who had not ever
heard of Pasteur, who really didn't know what was going on, and
who were allowing all of these natural yeast- -or "wild," as they
were known- -fermentations to go on in their tanks. They were not
in control, and all kinds of awful things were happening- -off -
characters in the wines and so on.
Of course it was true in California. You reopen an industry
after all those years --in a sense, you could say that nothing
better could have happened than this concentration on how to make
sound wine. Here you had all this equipment that had gone rotten
in the years of Prohibition and was being reused again, finally.
And there were a lot of people- -the majority- -who didn't know how
to make wine; the tradition had been lost. People had left the
industry, and no sons had gone to follow their uncles, fathers, or
grandfathers into the business, so there was no depth of
knowledge. You really needed something. What that something was,
was the new technological revolution, so to speak.
I used to think it was only California, but I was in a big
tasting in Florida not long ago, and I was on the podium with
Robert Druin, who has the winery in Oregon that his daughter runs,
and who is a major Burgundy producer. I was standing up there,
haranguing the audience with some of this, and when I sat down he
said, "You know, it wasn't just in California. After the Second
World War, all these kids went to college to learn technical
winemaking. It's only now, with my daughter's generation here in
the eighties and nineties, that finally these kids who came
pouring out of the schools in the forties, fifties, and sixties,
hell-bent on making technological wines, have finally realized the
value of traditional winemaking and are beginning to bring the two
together. In France, the apprentices who worked for me used to
laugh at me when I would rack the wine when it was high pressure
so that the wine wasn't stirred up. They would laugh at me when I
would propose that we would make it in the old way. It wasn't
just California; the whole world was caught up in this love affair
with technology. So don't be too hard on your Californians for
shifting so completely to technology."
That's my little apocryphal history of what happened back
then. Into this scene steps Ridge Vineyards. The Santa Cruz
mountains area is unlike Napa and Sonoma, where you have both the
hills above and then the valley connecting everybody, most of the
vineyards and wineries are close to each other, and people are
seeing each other all the time; they're all grape ranchers. In
the Santa Cruz mountains, when someone is making wine, their
nearest winemaking neighbor may well be an hour and a half or two
hours away on another mountain. So who are the people, in the
first place, who move up to these mountains? They tend to be very
strong individualists. They don't tend to be people who assume
automatically a culture or listen to what the wisdom around them
Here were these three scientists who came out there, saying,
"We think that with straightforward, simple winemaking techniques,
allowing the wine to make itself --not fining it, not filtering it-
-and using low-yield, good grapes to begin with, you can make some
wines, the like of which California has not seen in years." An
attitude like that, even if you don't criticize openly the
established wisdom of the day, is taken as implicit criticism. I
really feel that in those years, much of the wine industry and
people at the University of California at Davis, to the degree
that they even noticed that anything was going on, thought that
the Santa Cruz mountains, for example, and people doing this were
beyond the pale; that they were eccentrics, to say the very least;
that they were involved in such small operations that it was a
miracle that these things could pay for themselves or keep them
We had perhaps one great disadvantage or advantage , depending
on who you are. We had another winemaker in the Santa Cruz
mountains who had started some years earlier, named Martin Ray.
He was extremely controversial and was, in fact, a very difficult
character. So it was very easy to say, "Ah, here is another
winery in the tradition of the eccentrics like Martin Ray. I
mean, my God, they're only just across the canyon from Martin Ray,
and they seem to be cut out of the same cloth."
The sense you got at Ridge was that the industry was really
not interested in the way we were making wines and that we were
really rather removed from it. Nobody had gone to Davis, and so
on. We certainly tasted and drank--! had always drunk California
wines. I had worked up at Souverain, you know, and I had a lot of
friends in the wine business. But in the Santa Cruz mountains at
Ridge, you really got that feeling. We felt that we were alone in
the world. We didn't have neighbors. It was a wonderful period
in the sense that I could focus entirely on winemaking and
Almost no one knew of us. We sold all the wine we made
pretty much locally, although I shouldn't say that. In 1969 we
opened up distribution in both New York and Boston, and we were
almost immediately selling as much wine on the East Coast as we
were selling in California, which was unheard of for a California
winery, and very unusal even today. But the quantities of wine
were tiny. I'm speaking of when I joined in '69, not when my
partners started in '59 and then in '62 with their first
When I stepped into it, you have to realize that it was the
end of the sixties. None of the partners was there full time. By
'67, Dave Bennion was working full time at the business of Ridge,
but he was operating out of his home office in Menlo Park and was
only at Ridge a couple of days a week at most. So I was the first
person, you might say, in a responsible position who was there
every day. Dave was the first full-time employee, and I was the
second full-time employee. We had a number of part-time employees
whom I was now directing.
In the sixties in the Santa Cruz mountains and up in every
remote area in California- -all over the country, perhaps, but
especially in California- -there was a whole new thing going on.
People were working at places like Ridge because it was an
alternative to the established jobs and what was going on in the
Bay Area in terms of the growing silicon valley and the whole
community. Ridge was that kind of alternative.
After I joined and became the second full-time employee, the
partners made it possible for me to begin to buy an equal share of
ownership, so within about two years I became one of the owners.
Within a few years beyond that I gradually worked up to full equal
ownership in Ridge, albeit I still owed something for some of that
ownership, but at least it was in my name so that I could then
feel I was directing Ridge along with Dave. He and I were on the
board of directors with the others.
What was happening at Ridge was this really very cooperative
type venture . One of the great triumphs of those early days is
that we had a young man join us to be a caretaker and to oversee
the day-to-day groundskeeping and security (although security
isn't the word) --just as caretaker, to work at Ridge full time.
He was working with us for I think he said six weeks before he
realized that I was in charge. We would have meetings every
morning in the kitchen, and he would come to those meetings. We
would decide what we were doing that day. It was one of the great
triumphs of my life that for six weeks he had no idea who was in
charge. It was a cooperative society. I think that was rather
typical of the sixties.
Teiser: Let me suggest that we wind up for today and pick up next week to
describe in detail what happened at Ridge.
Who was your young caretaker?
Draper: He was a young man named Walter Potterbin, and he lived in one of
the small houses on the ridge. His brother-in-law was a young man
named Leo McCloskey. Leo had just gotten his undergraduate degree
in biology from San Jose State [University] , and Walter asked if
Leo might come up and help wash barrels. I said sure, because we
needed some extra hands washing the new barrels before harvest and
preparing them with hot water. So Leo came up and washed barrels.
Then Leo said to me, "You know I have my degree in biology and my
minor in chemistry. You have this little, tiny lab down here
where you are doing titrating acid and doing alcohol, measuring
your sugars, keeping your hydrometers, and so on. You're moving
the operation from the old winery down here at the Short location,
the old Torre winery, and you're moving it up to the old Monte
Bello Winery, just a mile up the hill. I could help you set up a
lab, and then I could help you run it."
I said, "Help me run it? Hell, I'm a philosophy major; I
can't run it anyway." He joined us then, in the early seventies.
He still works for me as a consultant, three days a week. We put
him through his Ph.D. program at UC Santa Cruz in microbiology in
the early seventies . He now runs a very successful consulting
firm called McCloskey Oranius (his wife's name was Oranius) . He
has a lab in Santa Cruz and a lab and office in Sonoma. He
consults for the top small producers in California, he consults
for Chateau Lafite, and he still works for me about three days a
week. Though I have not seen Walter, and Leo is no longer married
to Walter's sister, Leo is still working for Ridge [laughs].
More on Operations in Chile
Draper: The name of the foundation that Fritz Maytag, Sam Armstrong, and I
set up in Chile was called Pacific Development International.
Very pretentious- -three guys and a little family money- -but we
liked "Pacific" for the ocean, and we also liked what it meant in
terms of nonviolence. "Development" was what we were working in--
agricultural and community development. The winery that we
reopened was the Fundo San Jos, and it was in a little town
called San Ignacio de Palomares. It was in the hills of the coast
range of Chile, just north of Concepcion, so near the southern
limits of where you can grow grapes. It was a coast range that
looks very much like this. It had been first planted across the
street. Where I lived, across the road was an orange grove
planted four hundred years ago by the Jesuits. There were vines
in our valley that were four hundred years old that had been
planted by the Jesuits.
The Ridge Group: Partnership and Direction
[Interview 2: February 17, 1994]//#
Draper: We were talking the other day about how I first met the
partnership at Ridge in a tasting. Dave fiennion, who was then
acting as president of the group, had also acted as winemaker in
those early years. He was interested in my approach- -that is, the
hands-off and also the traditional approach- -and that I had had
the chance in Europe, and then actually applied it in Chile, to
make wine in a style that he very much approved of. I think that
was why he was interested in the possibility of my joining the
I may have mentioned that they had this chance that so few
California wineries have to look at the wines that had been
produced by others from their grapes. That really led to their
even deciding to reopen the winery. At the initial purchase of
the property their intention was not to rebond, reopen the Monte
Teiser: Were they acquainted with Gemello?
Draper: Yes, certainly. In fact, before they purchased the mature
Cabernet vines at Ridge in '59, Mario Gemello had been getting
those grapes. One of their chances to taste it was to look at
some of Mario's wines. It was not 100 percent from the ridge, but
he was using grapes from some very good properties back up in the
hills there, what would now be the Santa Cruz mountains, to make
his Cabernets. They sold grapes to him in '59 when Dave just made
the twenty gallons; the rest of the vintage, as I understand it,
was sold to Gemello.
As this then developed with the partnership, the other
partners who had continued on- -Charlie Rosen and Hew Crane- -had
been joined, roughly two years previous to my joining, by several
other investors. They realized that in order to make this into
something that could turn a profit, they had to expand. They
needed more capital, so they brought several more partners in.
But that original group of Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen,
and myself, would meet every week, late into the night. This went
on for many, many years, often until one or two in the morning.
We would have dinner together and then meet. The subjects of
discussion were not simply the winery and finances and how we were
going to make this thing work. We were so limited in our capital
that we really had to make this as quickly as possible into a
profitable venture, and they had been working toward this. These
were working scientists, and they all had families. They all had
to send their kids to college, and they were not looking at
something as a hobby or as some kind of a toy that they could
fund. It had to make a profit. So that was a very good
orientation, and of course we had some bright minds to watch over
our finances in this ownership group.
We all worked very well together. These are extremely bright
guys. I look back over those years with great affection. I was a
bachelor, and I was accepted into this family organization,
basically these three original partners and their families.
Subsidiarily there were the other outside partners and their
families, but their involvement would be more in board meetings,
and their families' involvement would be perhaps a little bit
during harvest. I had no family in California; they were all back
East, so these three families really took me in. I became-*!
don't want to say the eldest son, because I wasn't that much
younger than a couple of the original partners. On the other
hand, I was younger, and I was not married and did not have a
family. That kind of cooperative situation really worked well for
Teiser: You were the only one who had European wine experience?
Draper: Yes. Certainly Dave and two of the outside partners had collected
European wines, but they weren't involved in the day-to-day
running of the winery. What they could say would be to definitely
approve, as they did all through those years, the direction we
were moving in. To some degree from them came the idea that,
"These are incredibly intense wines and very rich and complex.
But is there as much finesse as a parallel wine of this type in
Europe? Does the '62 or '64 Monte Bello have as much finesse as
some of the great Cabernets from Bordeaux?"
They didn't want to make Bordeaux. On the other hand, they
wanted in every way to make a wine that on an absolute scale was
equal or superior to those wines. They definitely didn't want to
make Bordeaux in California. As soon as I had gotten to know
those early Monte Belles, I had decided that if you were going to
make imitation Bordeaux, why would you do that? People were going
to buy the real thing. If in fact it is an imitation, who needs
that, at least on the upper end of the scale? I suppose if you
produced an imitation that was very cheap, there would be a reason
for it. Also, what were the satisfactions in doing it, if all you
were doing was an imitation?
I think I touched earlier on one reason we went to American
oak. That was another way- -not just with our climate and our
soil- -that we were producing wines that were distinct from
Bordeaux, let along the rest of California. Even in not using
French oak we were able to give the wine an individuality that
owed nothing to Europe. I felt I owed so much to the history of
wine throughout the world, which was of course principally Europe,
in terms of traditional techniques. We had just moved a hundred
years back in time, you might say, and taken the techniques that
were typical in the fine wine regions of Europe in the 1850s , and
we had applied those again in the 1960s and seventies. Moving
forward for us was moving back to a time that was prior to the
whole technological California approach.
In keeping with a few words on the partnership, the partners
recognized and articulated the fact as time progressed- -and I'm
taking us from the late sixties and right on through the
seventies --that as I applied what I knew of traditional practice
and my drive for excellence in wine and what I saw was possible at
Ridge, they really saw that they had provided me with an ideal
arena in which to exercise this, in which to bring this to
fruition. I wasn't a wealthy young man who could go out and set
up my own winery and do this on my own. In fact, the partnership
with Ridge had provided me with the ground in which to do what I
have spent the last twenty- five years doing as far as winemaking.
Yes, I was bringing a lot to this, but they were providing a great
deal, too. We wouldn't be where we are today if the two hadn't
come together. Their openness to what I wanted to do and their
support of that allowed me to do it. It was really very much of a
partnership in every sense of the word, and that carries through
to today. I am one of the heads of company who insists on
remaining the winemaker, because it's the most interesting and to
me the most challenging part of the wine business.
The Production Team
Draper: We must make twenty to thirty wines every year, but we start with
about 250 different lots of wine to make them. Every decision as
they are fermented, combined, barrel aged and bottled, I make with
my production team.
I am in the position of making the final decisions, but none
of this in the winemaking itself could have happened, at least not
in the last ten or fifteen years, without the team that we have
assembled to work in production. It's sort of like the astronaut
who gets sent to the moon and gets all the attention but its the
team behind him that got him there . As head of company and
winemaker I may articulate our vision, but without the people on
the team- -production manager Gordon Binz; Mike Dash, assistant
winemaker; Hiro Oguri, assistant winemaker; Leo McCloskey,
director of research; and the technical people, let alone the
cellar crew and cellar foremen, the majority of whom have been
with me for more than fifteen years --we would not be making the
quality of wine we are today. There is a real sense that is very
strong at Ridge, of just how important this team effort is.
The Potluck Restaurant Tasting
Draper: Part of that is the way the wines are made, which goes back to
traditional winemaking. You mentioned the tasting we did at The
Potluck in the mid-seventies. The reason we could even attempt
it, as you probably know, is that The Potluck headed by Hank Rubin
with Narsai David as chef, had a collection of old California
wines, the like of which I have never seen in any other
restaurant. It is certainly possible that there were private
collections that I didn't hear about, that included these old
wines. I knew people who had one or two of the wines; I even had
some of them myself. But to find a situation where there were all
these Zinfandels, in this case from the thirties, that were in
excellent condition and had been well stored was a fantastic
On several occasions I had gone to The Potluck and had one or
another of these old bottles. Yes, at the time they looked
terribly expensive on the wine list, but in fact they were
incredible bargains. They were very reasonable, given what they
We got a group of people together, all involved in the wine
business in one form or another- -in import, in writing about wine,
in production, in retail or simply as knowledgeable collectors.
We all chipped in and said, "We're going to order up all the wines
from this era that The Potluck has. We'll give Hank notice so that
he can get them out of the cellars where they're stashed off
premise. We'll set it up, and whatever the bill is, we'll divide
it evenly. That way we'll be able to afford it."
We pulled this tasting off. I think I talked to you about
the surprise and shock for all of us in tasting those wines. Many
of us had had a chance to taste Cabernets particularly from the
top producers of the forties, fifties, and sixties. That would be
principally BV [Beaulieu Vineyard] and Inglenook. This was a group
that was also tasting a great deal of European wine. Though we had
found individual vintages of these California wines that showed
complexity, the majority, though they held well, weren't as
interesting or as alive as the best of the European wines of the
same age. There hadn't been the positive development in the
bottle that you would expect. On the other hand, from the forties
on, they had been made with the modern techniques in mind which
didn't really take into account what structure and depth were
necesary for long aging.
The surprise with these Zinfandels at the Potluck was that
several of them- -and particularly, my favorite, the Larkmead, and
second favorite, the Fountain Grove- -were wines of a complexity
and a richness that we had rarely if even ever seen in an older
California wine. There was no sign in the Larkmead that it was
fading. I believe- -Dennis Foley would have the actual list,
because he was present; or Hank Rubin's old wine list would have
the vintages --the Larkmead was either a '37 or '39. Thirty- seven
sticks in my mind, but I'm not sure. He had only one vintage of
Larkmead Zinfandel, and that's what we tasted.
This was a bottle from a vintage forty years earlier, no sign
of fading, no sign of oxidation, just great complexity, depth, and
richness of body. And- -what can I say?- -developed fruit. It was
not just cedar; there was still definitely the richness and exotic
character of the Zinfandel fruit that had gone through a
It was a surprise for all of us and particularly for me as a
winemaker--! was the only one there who was involved in production
at that time. I said "All right, these wines were made differently
than anything that we have been tasting made from the forties on.
What was the difference?" I should note that the same point was
made for me again at a tasting at Ben Ichinose's house in the late
seventies. Robin Daniels brought a number of Inglenook Cabernets
from vintages between '33 and '39, that era. Again I found those
to be different wines than that we then saw in the forties and
fifties. And these were Cabernets, not Zinfandels. Several were
faded, one had an off nose, but at least two were absolutely
superb. Great wines that had aged well. But all of them had a
structure and a depth missing in subsequent vintages.
My mind keeps flipping back to trying to remember who the
winemakers were at each of these wineries in those periods,
would be interesting to trace that.
It really would be. My little revisioning of history needs some
data from you.
I mentioned last week how we had a '42 from Louis Martini
that Bob Knudsen brought to that tasting. These were all blind.
The Larkmead and the Fountain Grove had a quarter- to half -inch of
sediment on the bottom of the bottle , and the Martini had not an
iota; you emptied the bottle, and the glass was clean. We said,
"This one tastes as though it is five or six years old, and in
fact it's thirty. But it hasn't progressed beyond a six-year-old
wine. It's not very fresh, but it hasn't changed. And these
others have clearly gone through something very, very different to
arrive at the point where they are now."
When I saw that again with Cabernet, I realized it wasn't the
varietal; it was the winemaking. So what was going on in some
wineries in the thirties that seemed to end somewhere in the late
thirties or early forties and not be seen again for twenty or
thirty years? I said "What happened here was that in some of these
wineries, a winemaker who had made wine pre-Prohibition, though he
might be close to retirement, was brought back in to make these
wines. The traditional methods that he would have used prior to
Prohibition were the ones that then he used again in the late
Teiser: The Fountain Grove and the Larkmead.
Draper: Yes, and I would bet at Inglenook in the early thirties at least.
I'm thinking back to the '33, '34, and '35 vintages. A couple of
those were just amazing- -complex, intense, concentrated Cabernets.
You place them beside a very fine, old Bordeaux and say, "Here is
a wine that has the intensity. It isn't just nice wine that has
held well but one that has developed beautifully."
That's my fantasy- -without knowing anything about the
history- -that some of these men were brought back in after
Prohibition. But they were so close to retirement that by the time
the forties rolled around, they stepped back. By that time the
whole reinvention of winemaking at the University of California at
Davis was underway. That is, the team you mentioned of [Albert J.]
Winkler and Amerine had gone around to the wineries after
Prohibition, seen what they were doing, and said, "You guys have
got to improve this. These conditions under which you are making
wine and the quality of the wine you are making is not good
enough." I mention again the apocryphal story I told last week
about Ernest Gallo coming to Maynard Amerine and saying, "We're
getting bad wines out of these old rotten redwood tanks . What are
we going to do here to make some good, clean table wine?" Maynard,
among others, proceeded to tell him. I call that the reinvention
of winemaking in post-Prohibition California. My feeling is that
this modern approach to winemaking began to dominate the industry
in the forties, fifties, and sixties.
Teiser: They then boasted, correctly I guess, that with wines made in the
European tradition you couldn't always expect the same wine from
the same label; they were variable. They used scientific
techniques, and thus established wines that were predictable for
the buyer .
Draper: That's a very important point. Davis is a public agricultural
university, and it should owe its loyalty to the people, not the
collector and not the man wealthy enough to buy a bottle of
Chateau Latour. The fact that they would take that approach is not
only justifiable, it's probably essential.
Consistency and Excellence
Teiser: What do you do at Ridge to make the kinds of wines that you had in
Draper: If you're trying to turn out a reasonably priced if not actually
inexpensive beverage, a wine that a very broad public can afford,
then these aims of consistency from year to year and the
particular style represented by your label are very important. On
the other hand, if what you are trying to do is produce something
of real excellence- -and in my case I had those wines from the
thirties as examples. I could look around and say, "I can count
on one hand the producers in the sixties who are even moving in
the direction of making wines like those wines I saw from the
thirties. The rest are predictable, no excitement, just clean,
simple wines. Which would I rather be making for the rest of my
life? The one that stops you in your tracks out of wonder at how
delicious it is --that's the one I want to make.
What basic philosophy in the winery produces true quality and
what determines the distinctive character of the great wines?
These tastings were a confirmation of what already interested me--
I was convinced that given excellent fruit, the gentler the
handling the better- -at each stage of the winemaking. As far as
the character of the wine, I had an excellent introduction in
Chile where we worked with Cabernet from four different vineyards.
We picked them at virtually the same sugar and handled them
identically, yet from the start, they were distinctively
different. Our favorite, from Carlos Longieri's vineyard near the
coast, had an intensity and quality to the fruit that we didn't
see in our home vineyard at Fundo San Jose , yet yields were very
close to the same. So quite early in my career I began to realize
that the wines owed their character to the particular piece of
ground, the exposure, the rainfall, the structure of the soil--
every thing involved in that piece of ground- -and its match with
the variety of grape grown on it, the way it's trained, the crop
level. All of those things come together in the great pieces of
ground to produce an essence, an identifiable character, just as
in a child. Every child has his own character. No matter what
his parents or society may do to repress it, he/she is unique. It
may take a long time to show through, but that uniqueness is
The majority of sites simply don't have very intense or very
interesting character, and those produce excellent blending wines.
They need to be combined into a reasonably priced wine, because on
their own they're not interesting enough. They aren't worth the
cost involved in putting them out as separate bottlings, and who
would pay that price if they are not really distinctive? That
description fits the majority of wine in the world. No matter how
well you grow the grapes, on most sites in the viticultural
regions of the world, the character of the finest fruit will be
average at best. But within any one of those viticultural
regions, the winemakers can find pieces of ground where there is a
strong individual character of fine quality to the wines.
So I realized that as winemaker my role was important- -in
fact essential- -but it was secondary to the site- -to nature.
Teiser: What were the practical practices that you initiated or carried on
Draper: The first was to try to locate the fine vineyards, the distinctive
sites. In the New World we don't have the advantages of a thousand
years of tradition where the monks or somebody else made wine from
each little plot, and the local buyer preferred one of them to
another. Gradually over the years people decided they would rather
drink this wine than that, or they would pay a few more pennies
for this wine than that one. The old wine -growing regions, long
established, got sorted out as to which were the better sites.
When that ground was sold, it was sold for more money than some
California, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and
South Africa don't have the history to have gone very far in
sorting out the sites. We have to do it ourselves as winemakers.
We have to look around at the grape variety that we want to work
with and find where it produces particularly high quality and
distinctive character. In the last twenty- five years that I have
been a winemaker at Ridge--
Draper: --we have harvested, fermented, aged out and bottled separately
thirty different Zinfandel vineyards from all over the state- -from
Mendocino down to Paso Robles, over to the Sierra foothills, and
everything in between. In Cabernet we've worked with nine or ten
different vineyards. Napa, Sonoma, and the Santa Cruz mountains
would have been the three areas where we have looked most
carefully at Cabernet and to a lesser degree Merlot. We have
taken fruit from Mendocino and Santa Maria as well. Even in a
varietal of which we make very little wine- -Chardonnay- -we have
taken fruit from seven different vineyards and kept five of them
separate, labeling them separately.
Draper: The Zinfandel example is prime. The Cabernet search was a kind of
luxury, to look around California and see what areas other than
Monte Bello might be as interesting and distinctive as it was. At
the estate vineyard the partners had been able to assess the
quality of the wines before the property was purchased and more
importantly, before any investment was made to reopen the winery.
The Zinfandel vineyards on our ridge were so tiny that they
were not really economical, and we had to look further afield.
That's why we worked with those thirty different vineyards. We
found that only by making the wine , could we get a good idea of
the quality of the vineyard. Most vineyards we stayed with for at
least two years, because there were some surprises as a wine aged
out and it was worth giving it that extra time.
Teiser: An Englishman who knew the wines of the world once said to me, "We
consider Zinfandel a provincial California taste. We don't
consider it a world wine." [laughs]
Draper: I don't believe that the true experts, free of their cultural
prejudice, thought that way- -the few people that got a chance to
taste fine Zinfandel, that is. The Zinfandel Club in London, I
was astonished and disappointed to find, had nothing to do with
Zinfandel. It was simply a name. Rather than calling it the
California Club or the New World Wine Club or whatever to set it
apart from those looking at European wines, they called it the
Zinfandel Club. In fact, very, very few of their tastings ever
involve Zinfandel. When I have tasted with them, I don't think we
ever tasted Zinfandel.
There are a number of Englishmen who have very open minds,
and there are a number of Englishmen who have very closed minds,
for whom wine is claret, wine is red Bordeaux, and there is
nothing else. Jane is Robinson, in writing a book titled The Great
Vineyards of the World, picked sixty -some vineyards as her
favorites. In Bordeaux she has probably five, a number of
Burgundies, a couple of Rhone s, and so on. She goes on around the
world- -Germany, Italy, and so on- -picking favorite vineyards. One
of the lovely things for us about that book was that not only did
she include Monte Bello, but she very much wanted to include
Geyserville Zinfandel and did.
That was probably the first international recognition by a
qualified and respected wine writer that Zinfandel could be one of
the great wines of the world. People had to look at that. The
English magazine Wine is highly respected; writers and merchants
tell me that it is probably the most effective magazine with the
broadest readership. Decanter is very fine too, but it is more
focused on the traditional side of the wine business. Wine
magazine did something last year, and I guess they do it every
year, in picking their one hundred great wines of the world. Once
again, both Monte Bello and Geyserville were chosen as two of the
one hundred finest wines of the world. They used wine writers and
winemakers from all over the world as judges.
So to go back to the Englishman in your original question;
the English have recognized, more than any other overseas market,
that Zinfandel can be one of the great wines of the world. We do
not make enough Zinfandel to fill the demand in England.
I can't get it! [laughter]
They sell hundreds of cases of two of our top Zinfandels every
year, the Geyserville and the Lytton Springs, and we cannot
provide them with as much as they would like to sell. So years
after that English gentleman said to you that Zinfandel is a
provincial wine, his own countrymen are contradicting him. There
are so many good examples now of Zinfandel, so many serious makers
who are doing a fine job with the grape, that more and more people
are recognizing it for its quality.
Teiser: How did you go about finding vineyards to try?
Draper: We started first by looking around for other Cabernet vineyards.
The old Monte Bello vineyards around us had been planted in the
nineteenth century, and had been let go during Prohibition. The
abandoned vineyards were there, but we owned only a part of them.
To raise the funds to buy more of the former Monte Bello vineyards
in those early days was beyond us . What we could afford to do was
go out and buy grapes.
So we looked for Cabernet grapes that were the equal of the
Monte Bello, that would give us the sane intensity. We made a '71
vintage from a vineyard that Milt Eisele had bought up in Napa
Valley. I think it was the first time that it was kept entirely
separate, certainly as a commercial wine. I set out with the
attitude, "All right, we'll see, with our methods, what can be
done with some good Napa Valley grapes to make something special
out of it." In the far smaller field of that day, it won two
major tastings and was greatly acclaimed. It established the name
of the vineyard.
The Eisele vineyard was a very small. It grew in size over
the years, but in those years production was very limited. At
that time, Fritz Maytag had offered me his grapes up on Spring
Mountain, and he did have enough planted and coming into
production that we could, within a few years, have enough to
distribute nationally. At that time that was not true of Eisele,
and although we really liked its quality, we moved up to York
Creek as our source for Cabernet from Napa. Over the intervening
years we have tried Cabernet from Howell Mountain, from Bradford
Mountain in Sonoma, and from Mont Madonna in the Santa Cruz
Mountains, but none of them have given us the same degree of
intensity and complexity as the Monte Bello. However, we did
find, on our mountain, two nineteenth -century Zinfandel vineyards.
One we made first in '64 just two years after our first commercial
Monte Bello and the second in '68. These were very small, less
than five acres each. We thought, "This Zinfandel is very
different wine, but it is a wine with the intensity of the Monte
Bello. There have to be more vineyards like this around
California." Well, of course there were.
Our first outside Zinfandel connection came through the
Trentadue family, who by this time were just moving up to Sonoma
County from the Santa Clara Valley and from whom we bought
remnants of the Monte Bello vineyard that we call the upper
vineyard, and from whom we had bought the old Monte Bello winery.
They had never operated it, and there were no grapes on the land
when they owned it. But in buying the building and the land,
which is just above the mature vineyard we worked with in '59, we
got to know the family.
They had been prune and apricot ranchers in the San Jose-
Mountain View areas. They moved on up to Sonoma as development
took the Santa Clara Valley and they had very old Zinfandel vines
on their ranch at Geyserville. In 1966 we made our first
Zinfandel from Trentadue grapes . We went on every year thereafter
to work with their fruit.
When I arrived on the scene three years later, reaching out
to find more Zinfandel vineyards , I looked for old vines . We
didn't want to have to fight with a grower to keep his yields down
to get intensity. We discovered that if you had old vines,
especially on sloped, nonirrigated and well-drained land, if you
were a good farmer there was only a limited amount of fruit you
could set and expect to fully ripen. If you over-cropped one year,
the next year you would under-crop; the vine simply would not
produce more. Then it would swing back again the next year. That
lack of balance was just what any good farmer did not want to see
and worked to eliminate.
The oldest of the Trentadue vines are now about 115 years
old, so they were 90 years old then. The Heart's Desire vineyard
had been planted by a close friend of Luther Burbank, and that was
a major part of the vineyard that we were taking. These vines
regulated themselves. If the grower knew what he was doing, which
all of the growers did who had owned old vineyards for some time,
they were producing very intense, very interesting fruit.
So that was the first thing I looked for old vines. I talked
about head training, crop levels, irrigation, excessive
fertilization; how were these vineyards managed, and did the
growers have any wines that had been made from them before?
Usually not, although I could talk to the wineries that they had
sold to. The typical thing then was for me to say, "We'll take
your grapes this year. If you are satisfied working with us, and
we are satisfied working with you and with the quality of wine,
then let's do it another year."
Those were those thirty wines that we went through, some of
them for no more than two years, some of them ten years before we
decided, "These are good wines, but we think we can find more
intensity or more complexity or more interesting flavors
elsewhere." For example, for ten years we made wines from two
different vineyards in Amador County, one out in the Shenandoah
Valley and another over in Fiddletown. In the Shenandoah Valley
we made, though we didn't bottle them separately, wine from three
different vineyards the first year. We settled on one large,
vineyard that was eighty or ninety years old and was owned by
Ernie and Lina Esola. In Fiddletown there were only two vineyards
in the township, and we worked with the larger of the two which
had recently been purchased by Chester Eschen.
We made some fine Zinfandels over those ten years from the
two, but the style and quality varied considerably year to year.
The very warm August and September temperatures in the Sierra
foothills meant that if we started picking those vineyards at
moderate ripeness, by the time we finished several days later the
grapes would be overripe. It was difficult. I would say that only
one year in three could we produce a rich but balanced Zinfandel
in the 13.8 to the 14.2 percent alcohol range. The other years,
very likely the wine would be anywhere from 14.7 to 16.5 percent
alcohol. The grower, with the best will in the world couldn't
help it; it was the climate of the region and the evenness of
ripening within the vineyard.
In the meantime we had been making the Geyserville Zinfandel
since 1966. In 1972, I was looking for old vineyards in Mendocino
and northern Sonoma, and I stopped in Frank Nervo's tasting room
on Highway 101. There was another couple standing at the counter.
It was pouring rain outside, mid-winter. Frank went back into the
winery to draw off a gallon jug out of the cask or tank he was
currently bottling. As I recall, in those days he would bottle
just what was needed. It wasn't as though you bottled all the
wine at one point and then had it all in cases. As you know, to
invest in a bottle and a cork (or screw-top in Frank's case) and a
label is very expensive. It may cost someone as traditional as
Frank Nervo more than it cost him to make the wine. That was a
huge added investment, so you didn't bottle until you were going
to sell. If you had an order or you had some people in the tasting
room who needed a couple of cases of wine, you might well have to
go back and bottle it while they waited. It wasn't always that
way, but you did not keep a large bottled wine inventory; you
couldn't afford to.
Anyway, standing there in the tasting room was this other
couple. In the course of sipping wine, we got to talking. It
turned out that this gentleman owned a vineyard that he had only
bought a year before. It was virtually within two or three miles
of where we were standing. I told him what I was doing at Ridge,
and he had heard of Ridge. He said, "I'm selling the grapes to
Robert Mondavi, and they're just putting it in their Zinfandel
blend. Would you like to come over and see the vineyard? From
what I know of Ridge, you guys put out a series of different
labels and keep the vineyards separate, and I'd love to have that
happen with my vineyard and see what it can produce."
So we went over in the rain and tromped around his vineyard,
and they were indeed old vines. This was the Valley Vista
Vineyard which we later named the Lytton Springs Vineyard, and the
man was Dick Sherwin. Ue looked around for a while, and I said,
"Okay, we'll take the grapes next year." This was probably in
January of '72, and we agreed to take them for the '72 harvest.
Teiser: Did Sherwin know good wine?
Draper: Yes. He got into it because he loved wine and the whole idea of
wine . In those early days , he founded the home winemaker
magazine, Purple Thumb. Then he founded Wine World. So he was
very interested in wine. It wasn't until a number of years later
that we sat down and tasted other people's wines together. When we
met we were sipping Frank Nervo's wine, not Chateau Latour.
So we made the wine in '72. It was a difficult year for
California. For the North Coast in particular it was one of the
more difficult years. I would say that there are very few if any
Cabernets where the wineries who were making high quality wine in
those days would say, "Oh, we had a fine vintage. The '72 is one
of our best wines." Most of them would say, "This was one of the
most difficult vintages of the decade- -'71 and '72 --and we had a
rough time." People added Petite Sirah to their Cabernet in '72,
and it was hard to get it ripe. We had a beautiful growing season,
but then just as the grapes were ripening we had some foggy
weather and some light rains in September. It stopped everything
in its tracks. Then the fogs hung in through September, and the
grapes didn't move.
Luckily, at Monte Bello we were above the fog, above the
inversion. So rather than picking a month later than everyone
else, we started picking right on time. We had just finished, I
remember, when it started to rain. People realized within a couple
of days that it wasn't going to stop soon, and they went out in
the mud and harvested. It was nothing like a disastrous French
vintage, but for California it was pretty difficult. People
really had to stretch to make as good wines as they did.
So '72 was our first Lytton Springs.
Teiser: Do you call the shots on harvesting in vineyards from which you
Draper: Yes, we always have. For many years at Geyserville, to go back to
that one, Leo Trentadue would decide it for us- -that is, he would
call us and say, "I think they're ripe. I think it's time to go,"
and we would say, "Okay, you've been right every year- -you know
your vineyard." That had worked consistently from '66 on, so Leo
was one of the exceptions. We simply said, "Leo, you tell us."
Later the Trentadue 's brought in a winemaker of their own who got
involved in the decisions, as did Victor, their son. With that
first change, we stepped in and started monitoring the grapes
ourselves to be sure we had full ripeness. By that time we were
already making the decisions in the other vineyards and realized
we had to do it at Geyserville as well. Today we lease thirty- six
acres of the main vineyard at Geyserville. We have a thirty- two-
year lease (trenta due anni in Italian) to coincide with the
family name, and we make those decisions with Victor, Leo's son,
who farms the vineyard for us .
We have had a very fine vineyard manager for the last five
years, named David Gates. He travels around duringthe growing
season, visiting our growers. Luckily, Monte Bello isn't ready to
be picked until October, whereas Zinfandel is coming in usually
from the first or second week of September on. Most of our
Zinfandels are picked between the tenth and the thirtieth of
September. During that period, he is continually on the move,
taking the famous eighty-berry samples, criss-crossing the
vineyards himself, bringing them back to Ridge, crushing them, and
running the sample . We also have the owners or vineyard managers
at each place doing the same thing. Now, with a fax machine, we
can stay in even closer touch on the sugars that the individual
managers got that day. As it gets close, David goes up and starts
doing his own, side-by-side with the vineyard manager, looking at
the fruit and tasting it.
I go up to almost every one of the vineyards during that
period once, maybe twice, whereas David goes up ten times at
least. I say twice; but that's an ideal. At least once in that
critical period I want to be there myself, mainly because I enjoy
it so much. Am I any real input? No. But do 1 want to be there?
Yes. [laughter] We work that way with our growers. We think it's
Teiser: Do you or David Gates give instructions on harvesting?
Draper: Once you have determined that it is time to pick, then once again
the experience of the foreman or manager, whoever is handling that
vineyard, or the owner himself, is essential. We know them all
from working with them in previous years. We understand each
other on what has to be done as far as the quality of the picking
and the selection the pickers make for such obvious things as not
getting leaves and canes in with the grapes. Of course, if there
is any danger- -which is rare for us in California- -of rot, that
has to be carefully selected out- -picked around. Second crop,
unripe grapes --the pickers have to be on top of that. If we see
the second crop as a danger, then the foreman and David Gates are
standing in the vineyard with the pickers, watching each bucket
being dumped into the gondolas. Whatever special requirements we
have set are based on our experience with that particular grower- -
does he need help in managing his crew? Does he have a qualified
crew? Is it a pick-up crew, or is it an experienced crew? All of
those things come into it.
So, yes, we work all this out and agree in advance. That's
part of a good grower-winery relationship, for each to agree on
what is required. We truck our own grapes because we are so
remote from these North Coast vineyards that nobody in the early
seventies would truck to us. They just said, "You want our
grapes, come up here and get them. We're not driving across the
Golden Gate Bridge and down to Ridge." We got in the habit of
that being part of the added expense for us in getting the grapes
As Ridge became well known, and people cane to us and offered
us their grapes, many of them who had the equipment would offer to
truck them to us. Almost without exception we refused. Ve had
realized, in all the intervening years, that by trucking them
ourselves, one of our full-time employees --usually a vineyard
employee or one from the winerywas there in the vineyard while
they were picking, with our truck and our extra-narrow Valley
gondolas and trailers --the small trailers that take the gondolas
down the vineyard rows. We would take all that equipment up there
and have them fill our gondolas. By having a knowledgeable person
on the spot, we were watching the picking, and we were looking at
What that meant was that we were avoiding something which can
happen, especially at the height of harvest when the temperatures
are warm and there is so much demand for pickers. On a Monday,
say, in the old days your whole crew might not show up, or half or
a quarter of your crew might show up.
Draper: Maybe they had too big a Sunday relaxing from the long week or
working extra or whatever reason. In the days before the amnesty
you often could lose part of your crew to immigration. You would
still pick with the few guys you had, but your own gondola- -say , a
large gondola on your truckwould only get a quarter filled, and
the winery didn't want to see that. So you would park it in the
shade, and the next morning your full crew would be in, and you
would complete picking and truck it into the winery.
We discovered that by our truck being there, if their crew
didn't show up we would take whatever was picked back to the
winery that night. We would say, "Listen, if this happens again,
we're not going to be able to work with you. Do you realize what
it costs to have our driver drive up there at four in the morning
and be there at six when you guys start picking? And you didn't
have a full load of grapes . " By having our truck and our driver
there, nothing was picked the day before unless we had actually
said, "Let's start picking the afternoon before, because we're not
going to finish otherwise." So we had a further degree of control
in the vineyard that we grew to appreciate.
Lytton Springs- -we first made those wines for five years in
the early and mid- seventies . As I mentioned, the name Dick had
used for the vineyard was the name of the street he had lived on
in Southern California, Valley Vista. I said, "That's a lovely
name; those "v's" are very interesting. But we're going to call it
something else." I got out the topo maps and old historical maps
and looked at the area of the old Lytton station, the old springs
at the spa and hotel Captain Lytton had built in the last century,
and at the name Lytton Springs Road. There was a spring or two on
Dick's property, as well, so I said, "We're going to call it
Lytton Springs." He said, "It will never sell. Why don't you call
it Healdsburg?" We said, "No, no, no. Sorry."
Hicke: I'd like to ask about vineyard-designated labels. Weren't you
pretty early on with that?
Draper: Oh, yes. We started designating the vineyard in the early
sixties, certainly with Monte Bello, and then the Zinfandel
vineyards on our own ridge. Later we did the same with the
Geyserville vineyard. In 1971 our petite sirah carried the York
Creek designation. On our own mountain we put things like "the
fourteen-hundred-foot vineyard." That was our name for the
Jimsomare Ranch, and the "eleven-hundred- foot vineyard" was the
Picchetti Ranch. In making these separate bottlings we developed
our own designations for them.
As you probably know from our label, we say in equal size,
quite large type on the label, "Ridge," and then "California,"
then the varietal in some cases , and then the name of the vineyard
or the vineyard area. California plays a large part in our
appellation. What it means, of course, technically is that we're
only claiming that the grapes were grown in California. But by
putting the vineyard name down, we are covered by the requirement
that 95 percent must come from that vineyard, whereas for a county
it's only 75 percent, and for a viticultural area smaller than a
county it's 85 percent. When someone just says, "Napa Valley
Cabernet," it only has to be 85 percent from Napa Valley. Sonoma
County Zinfandel only has to be 75 percent from the County.
Hicke: Why did you decide to get so specific and name the vineyards?
Draper: I had come to winemaking through tasting wine and through enjoying
it. I realized that some of the best wines I'd had were good
because the vineyards were good. As I mentioned, a sorting out of
the properties had happened over hundreds of years in Europe. If
that were to ever happen in California, it would depend on us and
on other winemakers keeping individual vineyards separate to
establish their quality and character.
From the very beginning that was our philosophy at Ridge. Any
vineyard we dealt with was kept separate unless it was clear early
on that it was only just okay and was going to need a lot of help-
73 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello, bottled Oct 75
1973 gave us the first significant crop from our
younger vines and, as they too were stressed, their
quality matched that of the old vineyard. In its sec
ond year a part of the vintage lagged in its develop
ment and for the first time with Cabernet we lightly
fined that portion using the traditional fresh egg
whites. The resulting wine is an elegant balance of
oak aging and fine varietal character. It will need at
least four years to show full potential. PD (6/76)
RIDGE wine is made with an emphasis on quality
and naturalness that is rarely attempted. Our grapes
are grown in select vineyards (usually identified on
the label), where they are left to ripen to peak
maturity, often at some loss of quantity. We let the
wine settle and age in small barrels, with only rare
cellar treatment other than racking. Varieties are not
blended unless so indicated on the label. Near Black
Mountain on Monte Bello Ridge, our main vineyard
is 10 miles south of Palo Alto, 15 miles inland from
the ocean, and over 2000 feet in elevation. For re
questing information on ordering wines or visiting
the winery for tasting, please send us a note or call
(408) 867-3233. DRB (1967)
ESTATE CROWN, MONTE BELLO, 2300-2600 FEET
BOTTLED OCT 1975 ALCOHOL 12.8% BY VOLUME
PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY RIDGE VINEYARDS
17100 MONTE BELLO RD, CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA
73 Zinfandel, Geyserville, bottled October 1975
The long Indian summer of '73 allowed the Geyser
ville vines to go well beyond full maturity. The Lytton
Springs vineyard, located on the same hills, produced
a small proportion of similar grapes. Together they
avoided the raisin quality of many late-picked wines
and achieved this clean, rich varietal fruit. Though
enjoyable tasting in the spring, it should be laid
down for at least three years. PD (10/75)
RIDGE wine is made with an emphasis on quality
and naturalness that is rarely attempted. Our grapes
are grown in select vineyards (usually identified on
the label), where they are left to ripen to peak
maturity, often at some loss of quantity. We let the
wine settle and age in small barrels, with only rare
cellar treatment other than racking. Varieties are not
blended unless so indicated on the label. Near Black
Mountain on Monte Bello Ridge, our main vineyard
is 10 miles south of Palo Alto, 15 miles inland from
the ocean, and over 2000 feet in elevation. For re
questing information on ordering wines or visiting
the winery for tasting, please send us a note or call
(408) 867-3233. DRB (1967)
LATE PICKED CRAPES FROM TWO HILL VINEYARDS
BOTTLED OCT 1975 ALCOHOL 14.3% BY VOLUME
PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY RIDGE VINEYARDS
17100 MONTE BELLO RD, CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA
53 tons from 48 acres
90 Monte Bello, bottled March 92
This ideal growing season produced lower-than-usual yields
and a marked concentration of fruit, color and tannin. We
made a separate wine from each of the ten different sections
of the vineyard. In the assemblage, the softer, less intense
wines amounting to twenty-five percent of the total
were held out. The first press was included, and a portion
of the wine was fined early in the aging process to moderate
tannin. It is well-balanced, full, and quite lovely now, but
will continue to develop for another twenty years. This may
be the finest vintage since 1970. PD(2/92) j
Founded in 1 959, Ridge was one of the first of today's
small, fine California wineries limiting production to
achieve the highest quality. From the beginning, close
adherence to traditional winemaking techniques has set
Ridge apart. This approach determines our style and
includes extensive use of natural yeasts, submerged cap
fermentations, racking for clarity, and filtering only when
necessary for stability. Our winery and estate vineyards are
located above 2,300 feet on Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa
Cruz Mountains, overlooking San Francisco and the Bay
Area. To order wines or visit, write or call (408) 867-3233.
O )\ "IAIN'S H
I'M* )Ol i< I O!
I ' S.A.
85% CABERNET SAUVIGNON, 10% MERLOT, 5% PETIT VERDOT
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS ALCOHOL 1 3.5% BY VOLUME
CROWN, PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY RIDGE VINEYARDS BW 4488
1 71 00 MONTE BELLO RD, BOX 1 81 0, CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA 9501 4
90 Geyserville Vineyard, bottled February 92
We recently made a vine-by-vine count in the old plantings
on the Geyserville Vineyard. From this accurate breakdown,
we discovered that zinfandel rarely exceeds the seventy-five
percent required for varietal labeling. Consequently, we are
using our proprietary vineyard name, Geyserville, and listing
each variety at the bottom of the front label. In 1990, ideal
conditions produced ideal ripeness. We increased the new
oak used in aging to give definition to the wine's rich berry
fruit. It is sensuous and complex, even now. Six to eight
years of bottle age will moderate the fruit and spice, fully
maturing this excellent wine. PD(1/92)
PRODUCT OF CALIFORNIA, U.S.A.
Founded in 1 959, Ridge was one of the first of today's small,
fine California wineries. From the beginning, close adher
ence to traditional techniques has set Ridge apart, and
includes racking for clarity, and filtering only when necessary
for stability. Located above 2,300 feet on Monte Bello Ridge
in the Santa Cruz Mountains, we overlook San Francisco
Bay. For information on ordering wines or visiting us for
tasting, please send a note or call (408) 867-3233.
64% ZINFANDEL, 18% PETITE SIRAH, 18% CARIGNAN
SONOMA COUNTY ALCOHOL 1 3.9% BY VOLUME
PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY RIDGE VINEYARDS BW 4488
1 71 00 MONTE BELLO RD, CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA 9501 4
-in which case it became part of a blended wine. Usually
everything is kept separate until we are convinced that it can't
stand on its own. In that case we have come up with names like
"coast range" (until somebody named their winery Coast Range, and
we decided to drop it) . We called the blended wine California
Zinfandel for a while. Ve had a vintage of San Luis Zinfandel,
because it came from all over that county. Today we make a Sonoma
Zinfandel blend in any year that enough wines are selected out of
the single vineyards. They are usually held out for not being
typical or not intense enough. So from the beginning we did
single vineyard labeling.
Hicke: It was part of your philosophy?
Draper: Yes. Of course, it horrified a lot of people, but we were so
small it wasn't a problem in the marketplace. But it was funny,
rather than buying just one case of our Zinfandel, a good retail
store would buy one case of each of our Zinfandels. Suddenly,
rather than moving one case to that customer, we had moved four or
five. An old friend of my partners was Al Bronstein. When he set
up Diamond Creek, one of his reasons for keeping all the vineyards
separate was to find out what the different slopes and soils on
his vineyard would produce, but he also knew from the start what
he had learned from Ridge, that you could sell more wine by simply
not putting it all in one pot. In his case, he had one piece of
property and three vineyards on it- -I mean three types of soil
that he designated as vineyards. He commented to me way back in
those days, "I certainly learned that lesson. I'm going to be
able to sell three cases instead of one if I keep them separate."
So there turned out to be a method to our madness, but I'm
afraid it came after the fact. The real motiviation was to find
out how good each vineyard was .
Natural Yeasts and The Symbolism of Wine
Teiser: What do you do about yeasts?
Draper: You've got to remember I was a philosophy major. Also I was
interested in the reasons behind things, their symbolism. I think
there's no question but that one of the reasons I was attracted to
wine was that it is and has been throughout western civilization
such a powerful symbol. It has been a part of the ritual of the
most important religions of the western world. It has been the
central symbol for transformation, whether physical or spiritual
for thousands of years .
Unlike any other nondistilled alcoholic beverage, wine is
made from grapes; in the grape, fully mature, all the elements
are present to naturally change it into wine.
That is not true of beer, where you must take the grain and
extract the sugar, and in the dawn of civilization, masticate it
so the yeasts in your mouth would be added, and it would ferment.
That's how they think the earliest beer was made, and today you
cook the grain and add a cultured yeast. Man is essential to beer-
making for fermentation to take place. Distilled spirits, of
course, depend entirely on man and his process of distillation.
With wine, you have the cluster of grapes growing in the
vineyard. In the grape itself the balance of sugar and acid is
such that there is sufficient sugar to form alcohol to a level
that will make a stable, sound beverage in which pathogens cannot
grow. Also there is enough natural acid to give that beverage
livliness and interest.
On the outside is a dusty coating that, let's say, Mother
Nature put there for a purpose. You can polish that coating off
and make the grape nice and shiny. That coating is called the
bloom. As the winds blow through the vineyard, stirring up the
natural yeasts from wherever it is that they reproduce in nature --
on wood, on the soil, on decomposed fruit- -those yeasts stick to
the bloom on the grapes. If picked and put into a receptacle and
broken or allowed to just deteriorate enough so that they break
themselves, the yeast on those skins then attack the sugar in the
juice. Without any assistance from man, wine is made. How good a
wine? That's where man comes in. He's got to begin to take care
of it. In the grape are all the elements needed to make wine.
That's the reason why it's the symbol of transformation. You have
this simple but delicious fruit that, through a natural process,
becomes something as exotic, stimulating, and incredible as a
glass of wine. That is so amazing that the transformation it
symbolizes has stayed with us through the history of western
So natural yeast; that's why we use it. Can we as men and
women really improve on nature in this case? Why not tie into the
symbolism of something that separates wine from all other
alcoholic beverages, that shows why wine is special, not just
another intoxicant, not just another drug. Why would I stick with
natural yeasts? It gives meaning to what I'm doing. I'm not in
the driver's seat; there is a natural process going on here that I
can assist by choosing the vineyards, by watching over the wines,
applying my experience and my team's experience to how we handle
the wines. But the wines in a sense make themselves. That's far
more interesting to me than simply producing another commodity.
Teiser: What happens if the yeasts that are there aren't very good ones?
Draper: I've never met a yeast that I didn't like, [laughter] No, that's
not quite true. We have at least forty fermenters, some of them
quite small, and we use those forty fermenters at least two and a
half times over in each vintage. So let's say that's a hundred
fermentations at least. As a matter of fact, now that I think of
it, there are a lot more than that, so I guess we use them three
times over, [laughs] Anyway, more than a hundred fermentations
every vintage for my twenty- five years. More than 90 percent of
those have gone on their natural yeast, and not one of the wines
was injured or damaged by the natural primary yeast fermentation- -
by the yeast that carried out the alcoholic fermentation.
Now, you can say that from the beginning we were being
careful. We knew what we had to do to promote fermentation, and
we were watching it to make sure that it started fermenting. We
were smelling it every morning first thing to make sure there was
no off character. If it didn't start to ferment after seventy- two
hours and began to develop some off odors, we would then start it
with a selected yeast strain or a starter from another tank. But
that was on average one tank in a hundred where that would happen,
and because the fermentation did not begin, not because there was
some off character.
There are now a lot of winemakers , some very technological
winemakers, very competent people, who are working with natural
yeast, who are beginning to champion the cause with, of all
things, white wine, which I think is much more difficult to deal
with. Then, of course, that carries over to red wine and what
advantages there might be with natural yeast fermentations in
terms of distinctive quality. What are they perceiving when they
do parallel experiments of a natural yeast fermentation against
what they had been doing earlier with selected yeast strains? I
could cite someone like David Ramey, who is an excellent example.
He's at Chalk Hill. Dave might show you two wines and say, once
it has been revealed what they are, "Don't you find that the
natural yeast fermentation is more complex, sweeter, more mouth-
Teiser: Another point at which the University of California went in
Draper: Oh, yes. In those early days, they insisted on the fact that so
many wines were being spoiled that one of the things you had to do
was use a selected yeast strain to carry out fermentation. There
was such a lack of knowledge after Prohibition, and old fermenters
were so rotten from being dried out that really draconian measures
were needed. And they were right in terms of the bad wines that
were being made. But it didn't even occur to them- -did any of them
think about the fact that there was something basically different
about vine and whiskey? Any number of the winemakers of that era,
as far as I can see, seemed to have preferred bourbon or scotch to
wine. That probably included many of the famous old names of the
industry. Is that what wine's all about? Not for me.
So the idea was introduced that to make sound wine you had to
use selected yeast strains. You've got to start somewhere, and if
you're not making sound wine, that's one of the things you
certainly would look at. But for us, natural yeast fermentations
Secondary fermentations, the malolactic- -we didn't own a
filter of any kind for my first ten years at Ridge, so that meant
that we had to get a full malolactic in every wine, including the
small amount of Chardonnay we made. Working with natural yeasts,
we didn't think about buying a commercial maloactic starter, so we
have gone with natural malolactics in the winery from the very
beginning. This last year, for example- -and this is really early -
-the natural malolactics were done by Thanksgiving in all the
wines with the exception of Chardonnay, which is still slowly
The Paso Robles Zinfandel in San Luis Obispo County comes
from one of our old vineyards and is owned by Benito Dusi. He has
a brother, Dante, next door, but we work with the grapes from
Benny's ranch. We bought our first grapes there in '67, and we
started taking them every year from '76 on. They are harvested
fairly early in September because of the somewhat warmer climate.
This last year three weeks after pressing the wine still had not
started its maloactic fermentation. Our other wines were being
pressed off, and Geyserville and Lytton Springs were starting
through malolactic on their own. Here the Paso Robles was sitting
in a tank at about 68 Fahrenheit, and I said, "Wait a minute. We
can't afford to have those tanks tied up. I want that wine to
finish and be barreled down so that we have the use of those
tanks, and it's just not showing any signs of moving."
So for the first time in ten years I said to one of my
assistants, "Okay, order up some malolactic bacteria. We have to
start this tank. We can isolate the dregs, and dispose of them
away from the winery, not on the ridge, and we'll do a very
careful cleanup so that we won't inoculate with this commercial
culture. We want to continue with our natural culture, whatever
it is we have. But let's do it." So we bought the culture. I
have two Ph.D.s in microbiology on the staff, one of them full
time who did his Ph.D. work on yeast. He cultured up this bacteria
and built up a starter slowly through doubling each time it
finished and had it going very nicely. He built up enough to fill
a tank of about a thousand gallons. It stopped dead. By now
another ten days had passed and we were desperate for the tanks.
I said, "Okay, take another thousand gallons, draw it off,
and add a hundred gallons from one of the natural malolactics we
have going." In ten days, five thousand gallons of Paso Robles on
natural bacteria from Geyserville was finished, and our thousand
gallons on the cultured bacteria was still sitting there, barely
moving. So I understand when people complain that even using
cultures they have a hard time getting the malolactic. I vastly
prefer the natural approach.
1978 was a good lesson. It was a warm year and there was a
lot of sugar. A lot of North Coast Chardonnays stuck; that is, the
primary fermentation stuck. At Ridge we had virtually nothing
stick; it was all on natural yeast. The yeast was apparently
acclimatized to higher sugar levels and the higher alcohol as it
built in those wines. So we use natural yeasts because it works,
at least for us.
There is an Italian named Martini who got his Ph.D. at Davis
who has written on yeast, and I understand that his point of view
is that winemakers think that the yeast comes in on the grapes,
but in fact there are wine yeasts on the equipment in the winery
because the wineries aren't sanitary enough. There's a famous
story of a crusher up at Simi ten or fifteen years ago. All the
wines were getting inoculated, and they finally tore this thing
apart and found in the surge chamber, which they had never
cleaned, that there was a very viable yeast culture, and
everything that was pumped through was getting inoculated. I'm
sure there have been other wineries with similar problems. They
were then adding their selected strain in the tank, but the wines
were already going "on their own."
So we started an in-house project, because of Hiro Oguri's
expertise with yeasts, isolating yeast from the grape skins just
prior to harvest and then growing them out and identifying them.
Then we did the same thing as soon as the grapes had been crushed,
and then twenty- four hours later, forty-eight hours later, and so
on in the fermentation tanks from those same grapes . We found that
we started with the Kloeckera yeast dominant as fermentation
began, in roughly the same proportions as they had been dominant
on the grape skins in the vineyard. There was Saccharomyces , but
there was far more Kloeckera initially in the tank. Within a very
few days the Kloeckera began to be dominated by the Saccharomyces
which went on to finish the fermentation. This is the classic
result one would expect on how the yeasts on the grapes inoculate
To look at the question of yeast inoculation from the
equipment, we washed the receiving hopper, the crusher, the must
pump, the must lines and fermenting tank with caustic soda
followed by a citric acid rinse to clean the contact areas. Before
this careful washing, we found that when it had received only a
normal washing after the previous crush three days before , there
were Saccharomyces yeast on the equipment. After the careful
washing we could find virtually no wine yeast. We then crushed
old vine Zinfandel grapes from Geyserville through this very clean
equipment and within two and a half days had a vigorous
uninoculated or "natural" fermentation going in the tank. For us
it is clear. The wine yeasts come in from the vineyard on the
grapes. They can build starter cultures on less than very clean
equipment, but the yeasts originate in the vineyard, not in the
winery. You never wanted to know so much about yeast as I am
willing to expound. [laughs]
Teiser: You speak as if you are not aware of or there were no economic
constraints on what you were doing- -that you had time to do this
and that and try that .
Draper: I'm aware of how incredibly fortunate we have been. One of the
things I've said was that the circumstances at Ridge were ideal
for me to be able to realize myself as a winemaker. When I was
offered the opportunity to become an equal partner, after I had
been at Ridge for about two or three years in the early seventies,
I took that opportunity. Because of that generous, and I think,
intelligent offer on the part of the other major shareholders,
I've stayed at Ridge for twenty- five years, whereas many
winemakers have moved around.
Economic constraints. We started very small. We
bootstrapped our way up. We only grew as we saw a demand for our
wine. As demand increased and we could not fill it, we would look
for another vineyard and make more wine. We had not jumped in,
planted vineyards whose ultimate quality was unknown, and built a
multi-million-dollar, fifty -thousand- case winery and then gone out
and tried to build a market. We had time on our side by starting
back in 1962 with our first release. There were only seventy-seven
cases of Monte Bello that first year. There are four thousand
cases now with a total production between fifty and sixty
Our market was built word-of -mouth. We have never done
advertising. I think once a year we do a full page ad in one of
the map books for wine touring in California, and on rare occasion
we have put a small ad in some periodical to support a cause. We
have never done a spot on radio, for example. We depend on the
press to write about us and that has been important.
Because it was a bootstrap operation and because all of us as
the major shareholders had to put up our homes as collateral for
the corporation's bank loans, we were very well aware that we
couldn't afford to lose money. This was not a "boutique," which is
a casual designation I resent. In the mid- seventies , by the time I
had been at Ridge for five or six years, we were breaking even and
becoming just barely profitable. We're very lucky. We have been,
here in the early nineties , in the midst of a very tough wine
market, first with the recession and then with all the
competition. Without increasing our production- -and we don't
expect to do this again-- we increased our gross income by 50
percent last year.
Draper: We started small, but most important, from the beginning our
focus was on quality. We did not try to make what somebody told us
the market wanted but made what we knew to be quality and
presented it to the market. If our customers agreed with us by
buying it, then we could continue. That's really been our test:
to take what we see as quality and put it out there.
Teiser: Have you had failures?
Draper: Oh, there's no question. In these thirty-one years or more we
have bottled on average fifteen or twenty separate wines on
average every year. That would be twenty times thirty; that's six
hundred different wines as a minimum. Among those wines, there
have been a couple of roaring failures. We have made up names for
how awful they were. We have one (that I didn't make, thank God)
that was labeled tawny rose\ It smelled like vermouth. It
smelled like we had added herbs to it. It was the strangest thing
in the world. We have produced wines that have gone through the
typical Brettanomyces secondary yeast fermentation during aging.
Some have ended up incredibly complex, others have lost their
fruit and, for me, their quality.
We have a long history. We worked with a vineyard in Sonoma
making Cabernets and Merlots. The soils and climate there produce
some of the highest acidity that we have ever seen. We had wines
that after malolactic had a Ph below 3.2. That is not wine that
is going to be considered sensuous by the public. Can you imagine
Merlot at that Ph that has also extracted quite good deal of
tannin? It's not going to be very pleasant wine and certainly
not meet the expectations for that varietal.
It can still happen that a small- -thank God small- -lot of
wine, out of all these two hundred and some lots that we start off
with, may develop high volatile. Luckily we have a small vinegar
program. We sell fine vinegar at our sales room. If we have a
wine that is beyond the pale, we put it down in our vinegar barn a
mile from the winery, and we produce a bit of in-house, barrel -
aged vinegar- -very good, we think.
So sure, we've had our failures, and I'm sure we will
continue to have failures. The idea is that all the wines that we
permit to carry our label will be the best that we can possibly
produce from the grapes we harvest.
Ridge Vineyard, 1992.
Photograph by Joel Simon
OTSUKA PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY BUYS RIDGE, 1986
Teiser: Tell me about the sale of Ridge to the Japanese pharmaceutical
Draper: Starting in the early eighties a couple of the partners who had
been involved for thirty years let us know they really wanted to
step back. We looked at the possibility of going public. One of
the partners who had come in in that era was Bill Hambrecht of
Hambrecht & Quist, and he had taken Chalone public. He and Phil
Woodward were the two major owners of Chalone stock at that time.
We asked his opinion. Bill, who loves what he does and- -what can
I say? Excellence is the name of the game for him- -said, "If you
will take my advice, do not go public. You will be in a fish bowl,
and you no longer will be able to do what you want to do. You may
have an open market for your stock so that those who want to get
back out can easily do so, but the nature of the business will
change. It will never be the same again."
We took his advice. As the eighties progressed, two of the
partners passed their seventieth birthdays. They wanted to be
able to help their kids. They wanted to be able to step back. One
partner, who had set up a foundation supporting excellence in the
arts, wanted to be able to use the funds for his foundation. So
there was pressure to look for people to step in and buy a major
number of the shares. In 1986, when we were looking most
seriously, there was very little market for wineries. We had
Hambrecht & Quist evaluate the business, go over it with us, and
come up with a price that we could agree on. Then we authorized
them, not to go out and seek people, but if people approached
them, then to discuss the possibility of a sale.
The only people who approached them looking for wineries in
that year were two of the largest firms in the alcoholic beverage
business, both foreign owned, and one of the major international
firms in the food business, also foreign owned. Those were the
three . They talked to the chief executives involved and briefed
them on this on a basis of confidentiality, so that's why no one
knew that Ridge was for sale .
You may recall that on January 1, 1987 there was a major
change in the tax situation relating to capital gains. What that
meant was that if we did not sell in '86, the price that we had
fixed for the winery would have to go up several million dollars
in order to have the same return for the partners. We had decided
that was exactly what would happen. It was an incentive for the
people interested to take some action. In early December, one of
my partners, Carl Djerassi, a past president of Syntex, a
professor at Stanford, and head of a high-tech business, asked if
we would mind if he notified an acquaintance of his in Japan who
headed a family- owned pharmaceutical firm, and was very interested
in wine. For ten years or so, he had worked with this individual
through licensing agreements or joint ventures in the
pharmaceutical business, and he had shown interest in this
partner's involvement with Ridge.
We said, "Not at all." The man was Mr. Akahiko Otsuka- -
A. Otsuka. The family-owned pharmaceutical business is called
Otsuka. His father, who has since retired, was chairman. I think
it was on the fourteenth of December that Mr. Otsuka was to be in
this country to break ground for a pharmaceutical research center
up in Seattle, so he brought the man who is head of the food
division in the company to visit Ridge. This man was their top
food taster and an expert wine taster.
We tasted young wines and then went out to dinner. We tried
some old Monte Bellos; we tasted a '70 alongside a '70 Mouton
Rothschild blind. Mr. Otsuka said, "I don't know my California
wines, but the wine on the left is Bordeaux." He was correct. But
the quality of the Monte Bello side by side with the Mouton was
such that it was enough to convince him of the quality of what we
That was on the fourteenth of December, and on the thirtieth
or thirty- first of December we closed escrow. For a Japanese
company of their size to close escrow in two weeks on a purchase
of this size is unheard of.
The reason that we agreed to go ahead with the sale after he
expressed his interest was based on his philosophy and how he
looked at Ridge. The large multinational corporations had all laid
out plans for what I might call "Chateau Monte Bello" with the
quantity of that expensive wine being seriously increased. Two of
the presidents offered this identical comment, "We will find or
build a little winery on the North Coast, and you can hire an
assistant to make your Zinfandels for you. We will make a major
investment at Monte Bello and re-structure the business."
Fortunately for me they all said, "It is dependent on your
agreement to stay on under as long a contract as possible to run
Mr. Otsuka had said, "I want nothing to change. Ridge has
been pursuing quality for all these years, and I want that to
continue. I do not intend to interfere in any way in the
business. I would like to see more wine come to Japan, but I
don't want it to come at the expense of any existing markets. If
we increase production slightly in the future, say at Monte Bello
through future plantings, I'd like to see part of that increase
come to Japan. You will be the decisionmaker at Ridge. All I ask
is that Ridge remain profitable."
It is Mr. Otsuka 's interest in fine wine that led a company
not in the wine business to get involved with Ridge. Here we
are, almost eight years out, and it has been a marvelous
relationship. Everything that we discussed has in fact taken
place. As long as that continues, I will remain as chief
executive officer, chairman of the board, and winemaker at Ridge.
Teiser: That's a wonderful story.
Draper: A lot of people initially were shocked that something that to them
as American as apple pie would be sold to a foreign company, and
especially a Japanese company. I had thought about it, of course,
a great deal. One of the things that I liked was the comment from
the owner of a top wine property in France, discussing this same
issue. He said, "When somebody from a foreign country, Japan for
example, buys a Matisse at auction, it goes to Japan, and that
piece of art is no longer available to audiences in the west.
When someone in another country buys, in this case, a famous
French vineyard, its value is as a French vineyard. It does not
move to Germany or to America or wherever just because that's the
nationality or residence of the owner; it remains in France. Its
excellence is based on the soil, the climate, and the quality of
what it produces there."
In the same way, Ridge is a California vineyard and winery,
and its value is that. It is no more English, German, or
Japanese; it is simply Ridge.
IDEAS ABOUT THE FUTURE
Teiser: Do you want to talk about the future you have in mind for the
Draper: [pauses] Sure.
Teiser: Should I ask you how long your contract goes?
Draper: I have a contract that renews every five years. If all goes well,
I could be here into my seventies.
As for the future , in one sense much of the same . But what
the same is, I realize from some of my assistants who have worked
elsewhere in the industry, is that we probably taste the
individual wines more often and follow them more carefully than is
typical in the fine wine business. Hopefully it's not obsessive.
We've been able to continue our attempt to perfect the wines and
understand what we're doing in terms of the structure of the
wines, the color, the tannins, and so on. In the last four
vintages, we have had very good weather. We've come close a couple
of times. It was such a late start this last year in '93.
Instead of setting at the end of May, we didn't set until July on
Monte Bello Ridge. When we did set, we got a beautiful crop, and
we had to do some serious thinning. But it was so cold up there in
the spring. 1993 was the latest set in my twenty- five years.
What that meant was that the entire growing season was pushed
back a month. You catch up. By vraison you've caught up a bit
and by harvest you are not far behind a typical year. So you are
gradually catching up right through the season. We normally would
start picking on the first of October at Monte Bello, within a day
or two. It's not traditional; it just happens that way. We have
our first fully mature Merlot, say, and then right behind it some
This year we picked some Merlot on the second, but we didn't
start Cabernet until the eighteenth. It wasn't this famous word
"hang time;" it was simply that we needed that length of time,
after such a late start, to get the grapes fully ripe. You may
remember that after a period of cold and even a little rain in the
first or second week in October, we had the most incredible Indian
summer. That fully matured the Monte Bello. All the Zinfandel,
with the exception of one vineyard, had been picked in September,
fully ripe, a lovely vintage.
We have had '90, '91, '92, and '93, four vintages where the
weather has turned out to be optimum- -cold nights, warm days,
fully mature grapes at the end of the season, both in Zinfandel
and in Cabernet. We have never before had four vintages of this
quality in a row. We know more, and we are doing better, but we
also have had great weather.
The future for us is gradually replanting some of the old
Cabernet vineyards to what has really worked for intensity, and
that is closer spacing using a vertical curtain. We hope to
purchase or lease more of our old Zinfandel vineyards, controlling
more and more of our source material. We've been moving that way
all these years, and we will continue. We still do limited
releases to see what different varieties are like. In 1990 we
started making a little bit of Mataro , known in France as
We have always made the Petite Sirah from York Creek. I've
convinced Fritz Maytag to plant more small blocks of Petite Sirah
up there. That will be coming in over the years. To get him to
do that, we had to guarantee him Napa Valley Cabernet prices; so
we'll be paying Cabernet prices for Petite Sirah. We think it's
worth it. On that soil and that climate, we think we can make
wine, and have made wines from Petite Sirah, equal or superior to
some of the greatest Rhones . I'm much more interested in working
with a varietal like Petite Sirah that is uniquely Californian
than something like Syrah that was virtually nonexistent here
until recent years. It's a wonderful grape, but it's a French
varietal. It produced its quality and it built its fame in
France, not here. Whereas Zinfandel and Petite Sirah have done
what they have done in the world, as far as quality, in
California. So they interest me.
We have made Chardonnay since 1962, tiny quantities. Starting
in '84, enough young Chardonnay vineyard on Monte Bello Ridge had
reached to full maturity that we had to make a choice either to
let those grapes go elsewhere or to really take Chardonnay more
seriously. Since '84 we have, and it amounts to roughly 10 percent
of our production.
All of those things will continue. My intent is not to grow,
or if we do, to grow very, very slowly in size. It has always
been more profitable for us to improve the quality and therefore
be able to sell our wine at a higher price rather than to make
more of it. I think at some stage quantity--! wouldn't want to
say where the cutoff lies- -can interfere with the quality you are
producing. I think that's something you want to avoid. As
winemakers, as owners, your style of life and the nature of your
involvement with wine changes if you get much bigger. Of course,
if you're very large, you enter the commodity business. You can
be in the commodity business at our size, too. There are all kinds
of reasons for staying small.
Teiser: That's a wonderful description of a winery. I don't know how many
interviews we've done, but I know we don't have a better
Is there anything you want to add?
Draper: I've alluded to it all the way through, but I would say that the
dedication to quality of the partnership, the founders and the
major shareholders who joined them, through all these years has
given a great deal of satisfaction to everyone involved with Ridge
and has led to our success. We were a public corporation, so we
would have shareholder meetings every December, usually the first
or second Saturday. First, Charlie Rosen would give all of the
financial data- -try to get all that out there. But that's not
what our shareholders wanted to talk about. They wanted to talk
about the vintage, the wines, what we were doing. They had long
since become convinced that they would never get any major
monetary dividends beyond the good wines they received, but to be
a part of this search for quality was what they really wanted. It
was an unusual group of people, and I don't mean just that core of
major shareholders; I think we probably had two hundred or more
small shareholders, including two or three Nobel Prize winners.
It was an amazing group. The sale was very difficult for them.
It wasn't a question of profit; it was just simply something they
were a part of and was a part of them.
The way the partners worked together- -my relationship with
Hew Crane, Charles Rosen, and Dave Bennion over those years --was
so close. All of them were strong individuals, and we all had our
opinions, but we worked so well together. Nothing else would have
done in terms of accomplishing what we were able to accomplish.
I'm deeply grateful to all of them for the opportunity they
provided me .
Teiser: That's a wonderful description of a winery and relating it to
various other factors and to history. Thank you very much for
giving so much thought to this .
Draper: Thank you both for doing what you are doing.
Transcriber: Judy Smith
Final Typist: Merrilee Proffitt
TAPE GUIDE- -Paul Draper
February 10, 1994]
Tape 3, Side B not recorded
February 17, 1994]
Tape 5, Side B
INDEX- -Paul Draper
Amerine, Maynard, 39, 49
Armstrong, Sam, 13, 43
Beaulieu Vineyard, 47
Bennion, David, 24, 26-27, 30,
31-32, 38, 41-42, 44-45, 74
Binz, Gordon, 46
Bronstein, Al, 61
Bugato, Henry, 30
California Glass Co., 28
Chapel let, Donn, 25
Chile, wine industry in, 15-24,
cooperage, 18-22, 45
Crane, Hew, 44, 74
Daniels, Robin, 48
Dash, Mike, 46
David, Narsai, 47
Dourthe, Phillipe, 19-20
Druin, Robert, 40
Dusi, Benito, 64
Eisele, Milt, 53-54
equipment, 32-33, 35
Eschen, Chester, 55
Esola, Ernie and Lina, 55
fermentation, submerged cap
method of, 32-36
Foley, Dennis, 48
Fountain Grove Vineyard, 38-39,
Frei, Eduardo, 23-24
Gallo, Ernest, 39
Gates, David, 57-58
Gemello, Mario, 44
Gigal, Marcel, 35
Hambrecht, Bill, 69
Higby, Bob, 8
Ichinose, Ben, 48
Inglenook winery, 47-48
Italy, wine industry in early
Knudsen, Bob, 38
labels, vineyard -designated, 60-
Larkmead Vineyard, 38-39, 48-49
Louis Martini wines, 38-39
Lytton Springs Vineyard, 56-57,
Maytag, Fritz, 12-13, 17, 24, 43,
McCloskey, Leo, 42-43
Monte Bello Winery, 27-30
Nervo, Frank, 56
Oguri, Hiro, 46, 65
Otsuka, Akahiko, 70-71
Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., 69-71
International, 15-17, 43
Paso Robles vineyard, 64
Perrone, Osea, 27-30
Peterson, Carl Jr. , 8
phenol ics, 34
Picchetti winery, 33
Potluck Restaurant tasting, 38,
Potterbin, Walter, 42
Ramey, David, 63
Ridge Vineyards, passim, 22, 24-
Robinson, Jancis, 52-53
Rosen, Charles, 26, 44, 74
Rubin, Hank, 47
Sherwin, Dick, 56
Short, William, 26-27
Silvani, Anthony, 28-29
Souverain Cellars, 15
soybean production in Chile, 13
Stanford Research Center, 26
Stewart, Lee, 15
trademarks , 30
Trentadue, Leo, 57
Trentadue, Victor, 57
Trentadue vineyard, 54-55
United States Counter
Intelligence Corps, 6
University of California at
Davis, 49-50, 63
vineyards, passim, 50-61
wine industry, California, 37-43
winemaking literature, 16, 52-53
winemaking techniques, 16-17,
Winkler. Albert J . , 49
yeasts, 36, 61-66
York Creek vineyard, 54, 73
Cabernet Sauvignon, 15, 21, 23,
35-36, 39, 44, 47-50
Mataro (Mourvedre) , 73
Petite Sirah, 15, 73
Zinfandel, 15, 32, 33, 48, 52-
53, 54-56, 61,64
Cabernet Sauvignon, 26, 36, 44,
53-54, 72, 73
Chardonnay, 26, 51-52
Petite Sirah, 73
Zinfandel, 51-52, 54, 56-57, 73
Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area
in 1932 and has lived here ever since.
Stanford University, B.A. , M.A. in English;
further graduate work in Western history.
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco
since 1943, writing on local history,
business and social life of the Bay Area,
and the wine industry of California and Italy,
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Co-author of Winemaking in California, a history,
An interviewer-editor in the Regional Oral
History Office since 1965.