That’s Silicon Valley parlance for “drink between 2013 and 2021” and a “95 point rating.”** These hexadecimal assessments may even be modest for Ridge Winery’s 7D5—I mean, 2005 Monte Bello. As I mentioned to my hosts last Sunday, at Ridge’s First Assemblage tasting for the 2008 Monte Bello, I have yet to taste such a complex 2005 Cabernet (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc), so much so that it demands being set down for at least 15 years. Winemaker Eric Baugher insists that the current vintage, an uncharacteristic blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot portends to become one of their benchmark releases, superior, in fact, to the 1971 Monte Bello that placed first in the 2006 reenactment of the Judgment of Paris.
Your West Coast Oenophile tends to be a bit of an agnostic when it comes to Ridge. I have always held them in exalted esteem not so much for their single vineyard Zinfandels but for the “off-varietal” selections they produce intermittently: Mataro (Mourvèdre), Carignane, and Grenache, as well as single varietals and blends with Syrah and Petite Sirah. But the real virtue of the winery comes out on a crystal-clear day like Sunday, where panoramic views from some 2200′ up make Silicon Valley look like a vast Legoland below—a realized metaphor, as some might say.
Ridge is not the only winery on Black Mountain. As you approach the hairpin turns en route to the summit, you first encounter Picchetti, a winery and preserve that is all too frequently overlooked by Ridge pilgrims, much in the way the more demure Jan Smithers got overlooked for the amply-endowed Loni Anderson on WKRP in Cincinnati. If you somehow manage to miss Ridge, you’ll encounter the rarely-accessible Fellom Ranch Winery. Almost as far up the mountain, on the side of Montebello Road overlooking the valley, Don Naumann operates his eponymous Naumann Vineyards from the aerie he built just below Ridge’s original operations. Like Fellom Ranch, it is only open on select weekends and by appointments.
Last Sunday, Naumann held a couple of private tastings and put out their sandwich boards to direct visitors to their deck. Having never had the opportunity to visit this winery, I took my chances and veered off to the side on my way back from the Assemblage tasting. I would hazard to guess that few, if any, would-be burglars would set their sites on a home 16 miles up an inexorable series of hairpin turns, so it’s a fairly safe assumption that a stranger traipsing across your back porch at 5 PM is likely there to try your wines. Even though Don had already closed up for the day, he happily brought out two glasses and two bottlings each of his Chardonnay and his Merlot. The latter, which he grows on his two Montebello properties, quite clearly constitutes his pet project and his passion show in the wine. The 2004 Estate Merlot was an honest, fruit-forward expression of the varietal, easily drinkable now and a wonderful complement to a lighter cut of beef or a red meat medallion (think ostrich)! In contrast, the 2005 Estate Merlot is a wine waiting to happen, not quite the two decades before the Monte Bello will reach maturity, but easily three-five years away from hitting full stride.
Don and I must have spent close to an hour sitting on his porch, over looking the expanse of Santa Clara County, discussing winemaking, viticulture and my plans for Sostevinobile. He could not have been more hospitable. Recently, the Ginkgo Girl and I rented Bottle Shock, a somewhat apocryphal version of the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting. I recall Bill Pullman’s Jim Barrett telling Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) how people in the Napa Valley were different and genuinely bonded together as a community. Jim Warren of Freemark Abbey always used to tell me, “It isn’t just the wine. It’s the lifestyle we have here.” I wish I had understood that better while he was still alive. The same could be said for the beauty and tranquility along Montebello Road and the people who inhabit it.
There is a pre-fab, monlithic conformity to much of Silicon Valley that seems, apart from the form & functional design of the Apple product line, almost impervious to a sense of aesthetics. Fortunately, this rigid orthodoxy has not made it up the way of the Valley’s western slopes. The people who operate the nearby Lehigh-Hanson Cement Quarry have ambitions to expand their operations significantly, a move that would have significant environmental repercussions throughout the nearby region, including the vineyards on Black Mountain. To counter this proposed devastation, please visit and endorse Quarry No!
**The hexadecimal conversions were hard enough to derive. Please d
on’t even think to ask for them in binary!