by Fred McMillin
for October 15, 1999


Winery of the Week

The Draper Caper



Ridge is without doubt one of the top half dozen wineries in California...[due chiefly] to the genius of chief winemaker and chief executive Paul Draper. (James Halliday's Wine Atlas of California)

The Rest of the Story

How did Paul arrive at Ridge, which is located on a 2,600 foot ridge of Black Mountain, not too far from Stanford University?

Let's go back to 1960. Electronics Prof. Dr. David Bennion talked three of his fellow scientists at Stanford Research Institute into renovating "an old vineyard and a ramshackle wooden cellar" on the mountain to make wine for themselves and friends. The wines were so good that seven years later Dr. Bennion left the Institute to become full-time winemaker and president of his new, commercial Ridge Vineyards. All went so well that Dr. Dave soon needed help.

Paul Draper At a tasting in 1969 he met a Stanford philosophy grad who had just spent the past year winemaking in Bordeaux. They both believed fervently in finding the best grapes and letting the wine generate with minimum interference. His name was Paul Draper (pictured). By 1984, "the onetime hippie haven was producing more than forty thousand cases of wine a year!" Paul replaced Dave, who was killed in an auto accident on the Golden Gate Bridge a few years later. (Sources: Leon Adams and David Darlington)

That was the only Ridge tragedy. Today, as the New York Times reported, many of the wines are completely sold out soon after release. My tasters rave about the Zinfandels, the Cabs, and the Chardonnays. Back as far as 1993 I held a tasting of top California wines, and the winning bottle?...1991 Lytton Springs Zinfandel by Ridge. (My lucky S.F. State University - College of Extended Ed., is about to taste the 1997 vintage, after I discuss it on NBC TV.) Halliday calls the Chardonnay super-sophisticated, the Lytton Zin "classic," and the other wines as "Oympian class," "fruit oozing out of every pore," etc. and here's how Paul does it.

Paul's Approach

"Great wines begin with the earth. Once you identify a magnificent site, gain full, long-term control of it."

"We harvest by TASTE, not by numbers (sugar content, acid content, etc.)"

"Similarly, decisions on when to press, when to bottle, etc., are based on TASTE, not numbers."

Conclusion: You know whose taste we're talking about!


To find outlets, contact Donn Reisen's office, (408) 867-3233, Fax (408) 868-1351.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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