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The great wines of Ridge Monte Bello, the California we love

The great wines of Ridge Monte Bello, the California we love

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2010-02-15

Ridge Monte Bello is the most exciting vineyard in California today and one of the wines that everyone must taste once in their life…to dispel certain prejudices!

One of the virtues of wine is to further friendship between nations, create bridges and lead to encounters… French wines have done more for the country’s reputation throughout the world than sales of TGVs, nuclear power stations and Ariane rockets. The art of wine is a fundamental part of France’s heritage, though this seems to have been somewhat forgotten by successive governments.
 
Conversely, perhaps the time has come to tell the French, so sure of themselves and prone to prejudice, that they are also making some fine wines in the US!
 
Beyond the clichés, you can find wines of rare elegance in California that are not necessarily as pumped up as Schwarzenegger! Wines with a real sense of place that proudly display the “Designed Wineyards” label. On tasting these American wines – many of which, it must be said, owe much to the expertise of the Bordeaux region – you might think that the similarities between France and America in the early 21st century outweigh the differences and that a country capable of producing such wines is worthy of respect!
 
120 km south of San Francisco in the mountains of Santa Cruz, the Ridge Monte Bello vineyard faces the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 700 metres. The well-ventilated vines, planted in terraces in 1885, benefit from remarkable coolness and are today cultivated organically. Monte Bello is California’s Cabernet Sauvignon territory, producing wonderfully classic wines which, with time, achieve a complexity comparable to the greatest Pauillacs.
 
A terroir, a climate, a grape variety… All that’s missing is a man, and Ridge Montebello would not be what it is without Paul Draper, who assumed control of the vineyard in 1969. A philosopher who studied at Stanford University, this exceptional character is no technology obsessed winemaker, but a humanist in search of finesse and authenticity. His wines are as natural as possible, produced from fine grapes that are harvested when ripe and ferment in small vats, without the aid of industrial yeasts, maturing gently in new American oak barrels before being assembled. Draper is constantly tasting them, relying solely on his senses and refusing any kind of technological assistance.
 
When it comes to tasting, his wines are all fascinating for their freshness, drinkability, elegance and capacity for ageing. A lovely garnet-red colour, a vaguely balsamic nose evoking incense and graphite, a slightly peppery taste of black cherry … They express the serenity of their maker but can also be sweet and sensuous. Although Ridge Monte Bello 1995 is as complex as a great Latour, all the vintages after 1997 are noteworthy as, from this point on, Californian wines became increasingly powerful and rich in alcohol. As for Paul Draper, he never yielded to temptation and his wines have always remained fluid and light, never exceeding 14°.
 
Ridge Monte Bello wines are certainly very expensive (over €100 a bottle) but, considering their standard, they are much less than the grands crus classés of Bordeaux!

Ridge Monte Bello is the most exciting vineyard in California today and one of the wines that everyone must taste once in their life…to dispel certain prejudices!

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