AWG Correspondent

Martin D. Redmond

Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Photos

Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Review

Regions: Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley AVA, California

Reviewed: March 23, 2014 by Martin D. Redmond
Published: April 7, 2014

Ridge Vineyards is an iconic California winery that has long been benchmark for world class wine. They are best known for producing single-vineyard premium Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon Blend ("Monte Bello"), Zinfandels, and Chardonnay. Ridge has two estates properties - Monte Bello, located in the city of Cupertino in Santa Clara County, and Lytton Springs, located in the city of Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

Ridge Vineyards commenced full-scale production as a commercial winery in 1962, but the history of the original winery dates back to 1885 when Oseo Perrone, a doctor from northern Italy purchased the land. He terraced the steep slopes and planted vineyards. Using native limestone, he constructed the Monte Bello Winery, producing the first vintage under that name in 1892. The winery included a unique cellar, built into the mountainside on three levels. Today it is Ridge's production facility.

David Bennion, and his three partners, all engineers from nearby Stanford Research Institute (SRI) purchased the land from Short in 1959. The partners initially intended to sell the grapes on the property, but Bennion made a half-barrel of wine from the 1959 harvest. Its quality convinced the partners to re-bond the old winery, and undertake the venture that became Ridge Vineyards.

By 1968, production had increased to about three thousand cases annually. In 1969, Paul Draper, a Stanford graduate in philosophy, joined the partnership. It wasn't too long after that, that Ridge gained an international rep when the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello, under the direction of winemaker Draper, took fifth place in the "Judgment of Paris" in 1976 against nine other French and California wines. Here's what's really cool though, the 1976 Monte Bello unanimously took first place in The Judgment of Paris 30th Anniversary when it was tasted against the same wines thirty years later!

Draper, a pragmatic winemaker, not an enologist, has been the guiding light at Ridge ever since. His knowledge of fine wine, and traditional methods complemented the minimal intervention, "Pre-Industrial Winemaking" approach pioneered at Ridge. Today, Ridge is on the forefront of providing consumer with information about what's in the bottle, including a list of actions and ingredients.

Lytton Springs ("LS"), Ridge's Dry Creek Valley estate, is home to vineyards that date back more than 100 years. The vineyards were part of the estate of Captain William Litton, who during the last half of the 19th century, developed the springs in the area and built a hotel and spa for San Franciscans looking to take to the waters.

Draper saw these old vines and made the first Lytton Springs bottling in 1972. In 1991, Ridge was able to purchase the Lytton Springs Winery and the old vines surrounding it. In 1995, Ridge added Lytton Estate West, which reunited the vineyards that were part of Captain Litton's original vineyards. The vineyards are a field blend of old vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and small amounts of Mourvedre and Grenache.

In addition to the Lytton Springs, Ridge has three other estate vineyards, Monte Bello, Geyserville (first release 1966), and their newest property East Bench. Additionally, they source fruit from other high-quality vineyards.

Tasting Experience:  Lytton Springs, which was recently featured in Food & Wine - Best California Wineries To Visit, is essentially an above ground cave whose walls are made of a mixture of clay from the vineyard, sand, and straw. It is a solar-powered winery insulated with straw bales. The spacious tasting room, which fronts the modern winemaking facility and barrel room, has a contemporary feel with lots of glass and a wooden tasting bar. And if you want to take your tasting outside (the Dry Creek Valley has absolutely gorgeous weather in the Spring and Fall – Summer can get toasty), there is plenty of covered seating and tables available along the side of the tasting room.

Ridge offers three unique tasting flights, "Single-Vineyard" ($5), "Estate Single-Vineyard" ($10), and "Estate Single-Vineyard w/ Monte Bello" ($20, and includes their flagship Monte Bello). The tasting room staff is friendly, and among the more knowledgeable (without being too pretentious) that I've experienced.

The Wines:  I tasted the following wines during my last visit to Lytton Springs:

• 2011 Estate Chardonnay – A layered Chardonnay with a lush, harmonious, tropical fruit, apple and vanilla character that is complemented by wonderful acidity.

• 2011 Paso Robles Zinfandel – One of just two 100% Zinfandel wines produced by Ridge. It's a great exemplar of a Paso Roble Zin with a deep, juicy black cherry, chocolate, and spice character.

• 2011 Ridge Zinfandel Pagani Ranch – A blend of Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, and Petite Sirah sourced old-vines (100+ years old) with a exotic, ripe blackberry, plum, licorice and spiced vanilla character

• 2011 East Bench Zinfandel East – This is other 100% Zinfandel wines produced by Ridge. It's a delicious mix of ripe black and red fruit, and spiced licorice aromas and flavors.

• 2011 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch – There are not a lot of Cali producers making varietal Carignane. Ridge's is a beauty sourced from 60-80 year old vines. It shows enticing black cherry, raspberry and slight floral smoky aromas. It medium-bodied with lively acidity, well integrated tannins and black cherry, raspberry, and vanilla flavors.

• 2011 Lytton Springs – A perennial 90+ point wine. The 2011 is a blend of 82% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, and Carignane. It's well-structured with bramble, red fruit, and floral aromas, and black cherry, currant, and licorice flavors.

Insider tips:  Book the $30, 90-minute estate tour and tasting. It features a ride through the vineyard in an open-air shuttle, and culminates in a glorious Zinfandel tasting that showcases the best of what Dry Creek Zinfandel offers

If you have the opportunity to go to a Ridge event where they are pairing their wines with food, go for it! Ridge does a fantastic job of working with preferred vendors to create perfect pairings for their wines. For example, my last visit featured some phenomenal pairings including, Grilled Sonoma Lamb Brochettas, Padron Pepper Chimichurri paired with the 2011 Pagani Zinfandel; and Duck Fat Fried Fingerling Potatoes with a blue cheese fondue paired with the 2011 Lytton Springs! Plus they always have a surprise wine from their cellars with a bit of age on it that's always a treat!

Address & Contact Information: 650 Lytton Springs Rd. Healdsburg, California 95448. Telephone: 707-433-7721, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 11:00-4:00.

Overall Rating:  

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