A highlight of our recent trip to Sonoma was a long-awaited visit to the Ridge Lytton Springs tasting room and winery. This unique facility is primarily solar-powered, and built with hay-bale construction (rye hay, I’m told, which is the most critter-resistant). One doorway has glass panels so you can actually see the hay-bale construction.
The room was packed, and the ‘bottle service’ section on the patio overlooking the vineyard was completely full as well, on this Saturday afternoon. What immediately struck me about the famous Lytton Springs vineyard, immediately outside the facility, was the incredibly wide spacing between the rows. I couldn’t stop staring at its uniqueness, and it is well explained in the fact that when the vineyard was planted, tractors were not specifically made for vineyard work, and land was far cheaper than it is today, so wide spacing was perfectly acceptable. No sense in ripping up some of these 100+year old vines just to space them closer together.
In the tasting room, there were two widely varied options, as one expects from Ridge Vineyards, since they have such a broad production of wines. Not the entire lineup, by any stretch, but a wide array of Zinfandel (as one would expect sitting amidst Zinfandel vines), Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Listed as the ‘Single Vineyard Flight’, and extremely well-priced at only $10.00, I was again reminded at how approachable and affordable a visit to Healdsburg/RRV can be for wine lovers. As opposed to $25-100 tastings in much of Napa, world-class wines can be sampled throughout this very large and diverse county at only a fraction of the price, and, with most, waived with purchase. Of this flight, the ’09 Mazzoni Ranch Zinfandel was my favorite, and one of my favorite Zinfandels of the day, with a balanced combination of earthiness and lush fruit, drinking perfectly right now. The ’06 Geyserville is a fun tasting as well, for those who enjoy Ridge Zinfandel but scarcely wait to see how they age.
One additional flight was offered in the tasting room, the Estate Vineyard Flight w/Monte Bello, at $20.00 per tasting – again, a veritable bargain considering the legendary wine featured in this flight – winemaker Paul Draper’s flagship – the Ridge Estate Monte Bello.
In this flight, you’ll see two vintages of Lytton Springs – 2006 and 2011. Again, any wine lover can appreciate the ability to taste two vintages of the same wine side-by side, to appreciate both how the wine can change, and to determine what your own stylistic preference might be with those wines. If you prefer a more acid-driven, leaner style, maybe let it integrate and age a few years. If you prefer lush, bright fruit, and a bit more mouthfeel, drink them early! The highlight for us, however, was the 2010 Monte Bello, which I noted the nose smelled of dark chocolate, blue fruits, and had a bright and spicy character to it. Fantastic weight on the mouthfeel, and that big and bold flavor profile dies off quickly but the finish lasts a very long time. Definitely this wine will age gracefully (we had the pleasure of sampling a ’95 Monte Bello side-by-side, as well, to compare) but is fantastically enjoyable at present. While our bottle in the cellar may not last long, I’m confident that no matter when we open it, we’ll enjoy it.
I was left with a burning desire to join one of their fantastic wine clubs (I believe they invented the concept of a wine club), and thus we did leave after signing up for the Monte Bello Collector club, which gives us futures pricing on each vintage of Monte Bello (2 bottle minimum purchase), plus access to each of the wines offered off the list. I wouldn’t hesitate to join either of the standard lists (ATP or Z List), as the quality and consistency from this winery is top notch.
For those who wish to see the detailed tasting notes from our sit-down tasting after the tour, you can find them on the Wine Talk forum here.
If you have the opportunity to visit this tasting room and winery, do ask the staff to tell you the story of this legendary winery. I won’t reveal much, as there is much to tell, but the history of the vineyards, and of the winery, are worthy of inquiry. It gives you the opportunity to sample BOTH tasting menus, as well! One humorous note: the vineyard borders a Salvation Army rehabilitation center – perhaps not the most ideal spot!