Paul Draper has thrown down the gauntlet. A recent letter by Mr. Draper reads in part: “We refer to Ridge winemaking as pre-industrial and hope to encourage other fine-wine producers to voluntarily entrust their customers with a list of their ingredients.” Though not a provocative suggestion on the surface this should be considered a challenge to all competitors, follow suit in the transparent production of “fine wine.” Wineries that are significantly larger or smaller than Ridge represent different sectors of the wine market and different quality levels, while they should give serious consideration to the wisdom behind Ridge’s efforts at transparency, Mr. Draper’s letter suggests that they can be excused for abstaining from listing ingredients. Wineries in direct competition with Ridge however, should consider following Ridge’s example unless they have something to hide.
While “fine wine” is a relatively subjective term, there can be no confusion about the esteemed few producers sitting at the very top of the mountain, quality is quality. Setting aside the supreme importance of terroir and respectful vineyard practices as given, top tier wines are most often the result of traditional winemaking. Would anyone argue the methods that continue to produce the most rare bottles of Burgundy? The distinction between tradition and modernity in winemaking is especially important in the New World because the rich history of traditional Old World winemaking is, by definition, not fully applicable. Traditional winemaking (regionally & varietally based) is studied by all winemakers but because these methods have been born out of the dirt of European terroir they are not calibrated to work with the same precision on New World terroir. The rise of U.C. Davis early in the winemaking history of California spoke to this reality and suggested that a scientific approach to traditional techniques would be the best way forward in the New World. As a result, winemaking in California has evolved into a hybrid of modernity and tradition; some adhere closely to tradition while other seek to take advantage of all the wonders of modern science.
Wineries seeking to produce “fine wine” in the traditional sense, seek to express the individuality and full potential of their land through a chosen grape. As Ridge now shows, the ingredients for great wine are almost as simple as the definition. Land, grapes and man. Within the hybrid system of the New World however, many legally allowable and safe modern techniques are available to winemakers in order to rescue, enhance or otherwise manipulate wine. While these techniques can be assets for both customer and producer they can also obscure one important fact for said customer, that the land was not up to the task in some fashion. Would you consider a wine that had Ultra Purple or Velcorin to be worthy of “Grand Cru”status?
The challenge has been presented.
Read the suggestion for transparency in Ridge/Paul Draper’s own words: