by Laura Ness
You know time is flying when the 40th Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris is being celebrated right and left. That auspicious event which forever forged the legacy of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as the Hollywood Super Couple of the Grape World, took place in 1976.
Eric Baugher & Paul Draper
Just a few years prior to that, in 1969, Paul Draper, a philosopher with no formal winemaking training, joined Ridge. He would go on to become one of the most famous names in all of winedom, producing the #2 California Cabernet in the Judgment of Paris, which pitted his famed 1971 Monte Bello Ridge Cabernet against four top Bordeaux (Number 1 in the overall ranking was the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cab, followed by 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (#2), 1970 Chateau Montrose (#3) and 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (#4).
A re-enactment of the Judgment in 2006, 30 years later, proved the very same 1971 Monte Bello Ridge Cab the clear winner over all the other original submissions, by a very large margin. In between, Draper kept producing winner after winner, continuously raising the profile of this piece of dirt, and with it, the entire Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (which was not even formed until 1981), as a place of prodigious and consistent winegrowing provenance.
Draper recently announced his retirement after 46 vintages, turning over the keys of the kingdom to a new group of winemakers in the Santa Cruz Mountains, eager to make their mark, yet cognizant of the enormous footsteps left by his departure, not to mention the pressure of sustaining that larger-than-life legacy.
Wine Industry Advisor asked some of the next generation of winemakers to share what Draper meant to them and how his legacy informed their winemaking. Even from those who had never met the man, we heard the following: Set a high benchmark for the region. Responsible for the new world’s greatest wines. Established Monte Bello as the best real wine brand in the world. Humble and gracious. Brought a thoughtfulness and philosophical approach to winemaking that showed the world that world-class wines were coming from our region. A thinker, not just in winemaking, but everything. He is one of the most brilliant minds of our time, a true intellect.
What follows are thoughts and postulation from some of the next generation of Santa Cruz Mountains winemakers who are carrying forward the torch passed on by one of the industry’s greatest luminaries as he enjoys life on the other side of the sorting table.
Eric Baugher, Ridge’s current Director of Winemaking, has had the distinct privilege of working beside the man: neither one of them formally studied enology or viticulture. Of all the winemakers interviewed, he knows Draper best, and shares these thoughts.
“As a philosopher turned winemaker, he approached making wine as an artist rather than technologist. This was quite unique at the time, when most of California’s winemakers were enologists trained in an academic setting with heavy reliance on chemistry.
“Paul showed a great passion for understanding nature and balance, applying it to vineyard and winemaking practices, which then shine through in the wines. In those early years in the Santa Cruz Mountains, most producers had very little viticulture and winemaking experience, and most of the wines were variable in quality year-to-year. He was able to bring a higher level of disciplined winemaking that resulted in greater wine quality, consistency and age-ability.”
Says Ryan Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards: “Paul is the Grandfather of the region in my eyes. He is the one that proved to the world that Santa Cruz Mountains can make some of the best wines in the world. I am very thankful for his pioneering.”
John Benedetti of Sante Arcangeli adds: “When I was first getting started— volunteering as a cellar rat at Heart O’ The Mountain and making barrels on the side for myself—I was their canary in the indigenous yeast coal mine. They were following a very conservative UC Davis textbook approach at the time, and I was wanting to go native with my own wines, so that’s what I did.
“I was reading articles on the subject of native fermentation that Paul Draper had written, and interviews he had given on the subject. I was impressed by how eloquent and thoughtful his approach was, and by how generous he was with his findings. I think his wines have always showcased that elegance and intellect.”
Adam Comartin of Comartin Cellars (formerly assistant winemaker at Testarossa), acknowledges the legacy: “He has managed to keep Ridge and the Santa Cruz Mountains (SCM) appellation at the pinnacle of quality at an international level. He set the bar for consistency in SCM wine. To me, Paul has given winemakers confidence to pursue their own style or goals, which sometimes can be compromised by trends or reliance on scores. In addition, he has left us an example of how you can be a minimalistic and terroir driven winemaker, while still embracing technology and further challenging quality through experimentation.”
Nathan Kandler, winemaker for Thomas Fogarty Winery, founded in 1981, has walked both in the footsteps of Paul Draper and Michael Martella, who has been at it for over 30 years at Fogarty, established in 1981. “In the 1960s, the Santa Cruz Mountains was the back woods. It’s pretty remarkable how Paul set the bar so high for an estate wine and site expression.”
Olivia Teutschel, winemaker at Bargetto, notes: “He has brought relevance and legacy to this region. The consistent quality of his wines has made SCMs a recognizable name in the global wine world.”
Nicole Walsh of Ser (also winemaker for 16 years at Bonny Doon), never met Draper, but his influence is palpable: “I applaud Paul’s commitment to pre-industrial winemaking as they like to call it, or minimal intervention, more natural winemaking. He has made consistent, high quality wine that I, for one, strive to emulate.”
We then asked about their winemaking approaches, what they were doing to change the perception of the region and what they thought the region should be known for. Their answers show a convergence of talent and effort. This is a group Paul will certainly be proud to watch in his golden years.
How Has Your Approach to Winemaking Changed in the Last Five to Ten Years?
Eric Baugher: “Very little has changed in my winemaking approach in the last 10 years. It certainly has from my earliest years at Ridge. I’ve developed a greater sensitivity to tannins, focusing more on that during fermentation, to avoid over-extraction and imbalance. In the vineyard, working closely with our highly knowledgeable and experienced viticulture team, to make the call on when to harvest as the grapes reach peak flavor with ripe tannins, and lower alcohol potentials. Going forward, it will be very much the same. The disciplined winemaking will continue.”
Ryan Beauregard: “Starting in 2010, my wines went 100% native yeast. I was first influenced this way because of Ridge. I also used American Oak in the beginning because of Ridge. However, I switched to French Oak in 2013.”
John Benedetti: “When I started out, I wanted to go all native, all the time. But in recent years I have come to like the results I get from a mixture of native and inoculated fermentations. I no longer have a hard-and-fast doctrine that I follow— instead I follow a more fluid program that allows me to adapt to the vineyard’s needs, with a less-is-more approach to additives being a core principle behind my fluid approach.”
Adam Comartin: “My vision of winemaking has always been BALANCE; Balance of fruit, acid, oak, and ripeness. Over the last 5 years, I have had the benefit of experiencing and learning more techniques to consistently achieve my style and balance in the wines. Looking forward, I plan to experiment more with different vineyards/sites, specifically within SCM, and try new experimentations in the cellar to keep pushing the quality envelope.”
Nathan Kandler (Fogarty): “If we can learn anything from Paul, he paid attention to site. His focus was incredible. I’m listening to each site. It takes a long time to learn, and every year adds a new chapter.”
Olivia Teutchel (Bargetto): “After graduating with a degree in Enology, I found my goals have shifted from focusing on chemistry to focusing on the vineyard. I got used to looking at the numbers and expecting certain things from year to year. I have grown to learn that you can’t always depend on the numbers and that each vintage is different and that’s how it should be.”
Nicole Walsh (Ser): “I think there was a big change in the way I approached winemaking that started around 2007. I was managing Randall’s estate vineyard and making the wine from the estate. I was utilizing organic and biodynamic farming practices and wanted to make sure that the resulting wine allowed the expression of the site.
“I used only indigenous yeasts, and followed no ‘recipe’ as I had in the past. I had such a connection with the fruit I had been caring for and was using more intuition and sensory analysis to make winemaking decisions. Since that time I have continued to learn and have become more scientific with the wild yeast cultures, cold soaking, etc., but have maintained my commitment to the same “pre-industrial” practice of winemaking.”
How Do You See The Next Generation Changing the Perception of the Region?
Eric Baugher: “What makes this region so special is that it is comprised of only small producers. The large commercial/conglomerate wineries have stayed out of this region and haven’t tarnished its image. The yields are low, the difficulty of raising a crop is high, and the real estate is insanely expensive. This keeps the big producer out and allows the region to be made up of many small, mostly family, operations that can specialize in the many different grape varieties that can tolerate the cool climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and make some of California’s most interesting wines.”
Ryan Beauregard: “The quality bar has been raised significantly in recent years. Wine is not just wine. It is a jewel. Next generation winemakers are more interested in recognition than financial gains: they are focused on terroir and old world techniques.”
John Benedetti: “My hope is that we will raise both the quality and, more importantly, the consistency bar and put forward a larger core group of focused producers who are consistently showcasing the same high quality that Ridge Monte Bello and Mount Eden Chardonnay have showcased for years. I feel like there is a handful of producers here now who are working on producing those kinds of wines consistently, which is really exciting. There has been a re-focusing among a core group of producers here that is very encouraging.”
Adam Comartin: “I think the new group of SCM winemakers brings a new level of education and experience to the region. Our experience outside the appellation, both technically and stylistically, will help elevate the quality of the vineyards and the wines. Most important, with more talented winemakers, our appellation will have more examples of the quality and consistency the region can offer. I think consistency is the key word here…I feel confident that the new generation will bring a level of consistency to the AVA that has not been seen.
Rather than having a few shining stars (Draper at Ridge, Jeffrey Patterson at Mount Eden), there will be many stars collectively showcasing the diverse vineyards of SCM.
Lastly, our new generation of winemakers is more socially engaged and in the market promoting the appellation and wines, which gives a broader, more personal view of the region.”
Nathan Kandler: “It’s a challenge when you’re not the new kid on the block anymore (Fogarty was founded in 1981): it’s so counter to California culture. How do we stay relevant, on the cutting edge of style, without being a slave to fashion? We focus on appellate blends, but also spotlight distinct vineyards.”
Olivia Teutchel: “New winemakers might try different varietals, styles and blends. I also think more sub-AVAs will form as the region develops and more vineyards are planted.”
What Should the Region Be Known For?
Eric Baugher: “We are not Napa or Sonoma, and we are certainly not Central Coast…we are the Santa Cruz Mountains, one of Earth’s most distinctive cool-climate mountainous winegrowing regions. The landscape is rugged, thick forest, rocky outcroppings, ocean views, resulting in low yields that produce graceful, yet powerfully complex wines. “
Ryan Beauregard: “West side Pinot and Chard equivalently. I don’t think that Pinot is the shining star for SCM: Chardonnay is neck-and-neck. Cabernet from the East Side or higher elevation West Side: Beauregard Ranch is one of those sites. I think our Cab rivals Monte Bello.”
John Benedetti: “I’d say Chardonnay makes up the largest portion of my cellar from this area because I feel we have some very distinctive chardonnay vineyards here, especially in the Ben Lomond Mountain sub-AVA. I’m a fan of a few local Pinots: Fogarty, Beauregard and Windy Oaks. You will also see some Cab/Cab blends from Beauregard Ranch and Ridge in my cellar.”
Adam Comartin: “Diversity. Our vineyards and wines are small production, artistic and very limited. As for varietals, I think Chardonnay, Pinot then Cab. As a varietal, Chardonnay seems to be the most expressive and consistent in the many diverse micro regions, climates and soils of SCM. Pinot Noir is a close second, but seems to be more limited on where it can achieve the highest level of quality. Cab Sauv has proven to be exceptional, but only in very selective vineyards.”
Nathan Kandler: “As I travel across the country, I am convinced Chardonnay may be the thing we do—not better—but different, in a very distinctive way.”
Olivia Teutchel: “This region produces some wonderful Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet wines, as well as a lot of other great wines. I think the focus should be on the region and not just on the varieties we produce.”
Nicole Walsh: “I think the region should be known for Pinot and Bordeaux blends. I am not sure there are enough producers making varietal Cabernet? I see a very distinctive flavor profile from the region for those varietals, and I think there are enough quality producers that there is a good representation of the area.”
While each winemaker has, like Draper did, their own style, approach and varietal focus, it is clear they all have embraced—or are learning to—three of his lifelong lessons: 1. Pay attention to the site. 2. Don’t get caught up in trend-chasing. 3. Be disciplined in your approach, because discipline is the mother of consistency.
It is entirely possible—indeed, most plausible—that in the hands of the next generation, the best days of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA are about to dawn anew. We know Paul Draper will be cheering them on.