First off, I fell in love with Ridge back in my Alaska days – we’re talking 1991 or so. Back then I didn’t know the rich history (first vines planted in 1885!), I just knew when I tasted them (well, DRANK them) I knew immediately I was drinking something special, long before I had honed any serious wine tasting chops. The energy, the BALANCE (even in Zinfandel, which is more often showy and rambunctious and even flat-out dessert-topping yuck sometimes), the finesse, the restrained power. It wowed me, and it was actually affordable for a guy who waited tables, bartended and then got into the sommelier world. In fact, one of the very first wines I ever decanted tableside as a “sommelier” (I don’t have any letters after my name, to be clear) was a 1986 Ridge Petite Sirah. This wine alone can be an epiphany, especially for those of us who were raised on Napa’s often brutalistic, peppery monolithic monsters of the past.
I moved to St. Helena in 1997, got a job at a winery, and went to Ridge in Lytton Springs ALL THE TIME (not even an hour away). I absorbed the story. I tasted as much as I could. WaIked the ancient Geyserville and Lytton vineyards. Read the wonderful book about Zinfandel called Angel’s Visits (a must). I dreamed of an alternate life where I was a freewheeling stoner camping in the vineyards up on Monte Bello, making wine naturally and soaking up the mountains, like Dave Bennion (founder) and his co-founding buds, living the dream up in the clouds. Then I put my resume on Monster.com in late 1999 (it was new then) and promptly forgot about it. Then I applied for a job at Ridge as a tasting room manager. I was THAT smitten. I mean, I was already a starving tasting room manager with bigger dreams, after all. To my surprise, they wanted to interview me. They told me to plan to spend the whole day being interviewed by 3 people. HUH? The day came. I drove up to Monte Bello, heart pounding, morning fog rising, new opportunities bouncing around my brain. I met with the General Manager, who toured me around the tasting areas and office, met Donn Reisen (the legend) and we talked. Then, he said: “Paul is coming down, he’s going to give you a tour of Montebello”. PAUL DRAPER? I nearly had an extreme blood pressure event. THE Paul Draper??? A private tour of the secretive Monte Bello? What has happened? Am I a celebrity and nobody told me? NO ONE gets to do this?!?!? We walked, talked, I went through the old winery in a daze.
It was magical, honestly. Then we sat on the back porch of the tasting room and Paul opened a ….you guessed it….1986 Petite Sirah. BOOM. Mind completely blown. We drank, talked more, and then Paul, kind, hyper-intelligent soul that he is, left me with another Ridge higher-up for more discussion. I drove down feeling like I had eaten a pot brownie (which is possible, I vaguely remember a sandwich and cookie or something at some point). Wow. How could this be? I drove through terrible traffic and depressing apartment complexes in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, etc.
The next day I got a call from a Texan who had seen my resume on Monster. Did I want to start a rare wine dotcom based in Napa? I’d be the one to build it, from scratch, with his help. Oh man was I interested. But…Ridge. They offered me a job. It was a good one, an amazing opportunity (and if I took it I bet I’d still be there). I contemplated living in Cupertino or some such. Looked at ads for apartments. Yuck. I asked if there were any kind of living arrangements NOT in the city – up the hill somewhere maybe? A little town nearby…? Not really, they said…I said, I want this job, a lot, but is there ANYTHING on the property maybe? A wall tent even? A shack? **For context, I was living in a magical little shack in Angwin, above St. Helena, in the country (sort of). I was NOT a fan of busy cities at that point in my life**. Nope, they said, there’s simply nothing. Also, I had fallen in love (what’s a story without some romance?), so if I took the job and moved to Sunnyvale, I’d be giving that up. It was heartbreaking, but I turned the job down.
And started an online wine company, one of the early ones, in 2000. And I married the person I fell in love with. We live in St. Helena to this day, and we drink a lot of RIDGE!!