Tales from: Ridge Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley (Part One)

When we started planning for my visit to the Dry Creek Valley, my new best friend, Anne Alderete, asked near the end of the process if there was any place that I wanted to visit. Almost in passing, I mentioned that I had never been to Ridge Lytton Springs–not the oldest winery in Dry Creek, nor the largest, but perhaps the one that possesses the most far-reaching reputation. When Anne sent me the final itinerary, there it was:

“1:00-3:00pm: Picnic lunch at Ridge Lytton Springs…with wines + tour.”


After the morning bike ride with Catherine and Donald Goodkin, I had about an hour to get over to Ridge (luckily, Catherine and Donald took it easy on me during the ride, so I was raring to go). I arrived at Ridge and was quickly introduced to Eliot Nett, the Hospitality Coordinator and my guide for the next two hours. He grabbed a couple of stems and few bottles and we headed off to the end of the impressive patio for the tasting.

Ridge Patio

Our table and view for the tasting.

Ridge Chard2012 Ridge Estate Santa Cruz Chardonnay: Retail $50. Rich and creamy, with just a bit of oak, but the active acidity holds it all together. This goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and aged on 95% American oak, which you do not see all that often. Paul Draper, the legendary winemaker at Ridge, feels that American wine should be aged in American oak. This wine is really nice and I think it would certainly appeal to both Chardonnay lovers and the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd. In fact, if the ABC crowd had started on this wine, they might never have strayed. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

A quick note about Ridge’s use of American oak. When most people hear “aged in American oak” they brace themselves for a smokey spoonful of splinters with a dash of vanilla extract. Not the case with Ridge. This Chard, along with the other wines that followed, did not have the mouthful of sawdust–hardly. The oak was restrained, integrated, fabulous. The secret? While the vast majority of American oak barrels are kiln dried, Ridge air dries their barrels. Like. They. Do. In. France. So is it the difference in the oak? Or is it a difference in the production of the barrels? I might need to do some more comparisons….

2012 East Bench Zinfandel: Retail $28. This wine comes from the youngest vines in the Ridge line-up (they average 15 years old), and this is the only Ridge that is 100% Zinfandel (all the rest are blends). It is called “East Bench” since the vines lie on the bench between Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. While the wine is rich and chocolatey with great balance, the finish is a bit abrupt, but the sharpness continues all the way through. Overall, I found this the most “jammy” of the lot, more of a classic Zinfandel style. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2012 Geyserville: Retail $38. This is a field blend of 71% Zin, 19% Carignane 7% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro, 1% Alicante Bouschet. There is a bit more bright red berry fruit here, and a bit more refined, perhaps. It seems as though the other varieties help to tame the Zin, producing a more well-rounded wine. A big part of the Ridge production (15K cases produced in a “normal” year), this could really convince me to become a Zin drinker. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2005 Lytton Springs2005 Lytton Springs: Retail $50 (Library), $38 (On Release). Another field blend of 77% Zin, 17% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane. Wow. Almost a double wow. Impressive–very expressive on the nose and the palate with great depth and complexity. As I am one that likes what happens to Zins (and Ridge Zins in particular), you could easily hold onto this for another 5 years (at least). Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

Next, Eliot pulled out the big guns. I have never had any Monte Bello, but I have certainly heard of it. This is the wine that made, and continues to help define Ridge as one of the leaders in California wine. First made in 1962, the 1971 Monte Bello was one of the wines that was in the Judgement of Paris in 1976. It did not win that day, but when the tasting was re-enacted with the same wines 30 years later (in 2006), the 1971 Monte Bello took top prize.

Yeah, that Monte Bello.

2010 Monte Bello2010 Monte Bello: Retail $160. 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc. The Cab comes from 65 year-old vines, grown at 2500+ feet of elevation in the Santa Cruz mountains. Unlike many of the other wines in the Ridge line, this is not a field blend as all the varieties are fermented separately, aged in American oak (see above), and then blended. First, let me say that this is young. Not young as in “could use a decant” but young as in “opening this now could set off a political/religious argument that could determine an election.” The tannins were stringent and the wine was as tight as a drum, but that finish. Wholly cow. Mind blowing. With a moderate 13.2% alcohol, this is not a big Cali Cab, but it is a “big” wine in a different sense–as in the kind of impression it makes. If you have a child born in 2010, buy a case of this, and forget about it. When he turns 21, pray that he prefers beer. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.

We are just getting started here, folks. We went through several more wines at Ridge, and had lunch. I then returned to the Goodkin home for another “tasting” (I put that in quotes since it was unlike anything I had experienced prior).

Stay Tuned….


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Wine, Zinfandel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Tales from: Ridge Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley (Part One)

  1. renenutet13 says:

    Great post Jeff! I was particularly interested in Ridge’s approach to the oak and your comments about the ABC club. As a former member who has now converted to the way of the Chard, I have some friends still in denial, but I live in hope of turning them.


  2. Nancy Chovancek says:

    My husband would love the Monte Bello!


  3. Really enjoyed their wines when I visited their winery above San Jose. Awesome!!


  4. Damon says:

    Lucky dog!


  5. Duff's Wines says:

    Have always loved Geyserville and Lytton Springs. Have not wandered to the Monte Bello but am lusting for a ‘big’ cab that isn’t 14.5% and over oaked like so many.


  6. I wish my palate was developed enough to fully appreciate your descriptions. All these wines sound absolutely amazing! The best line – pray he likes beer. Ha!


  7. Wow. It both looks and sounds like a great couple of hours. Ditto Tina’s comment above – I don’t think my taste buds are sophisticated enough to appreciate the different flavours you describe.


  8. northernbike says:

    all of us out here appreciate the sacrifices you make for this blog 🙂

    there seems to be a whole world of californian wine unknown to me. I don’t know if I go to the wrong shops or if it all gets drunk before it can be exported but this blog is one mouthwatering insight into what I’m missing out on after another.


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