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The Remarkable Contributions of Paul Draper

By Stephen Eliot, with Charles Olken

From the earliest days of my involvement with wine, Ridge Vineyards has occupied a special place in my thoughts, and, for well over forty years, I have regarded its long-time winemaker Paul Draper as one of the architects of California’s extraordinary rise to international vinous fame in the 1970s. Ridge’s legendary Zinfandels of the time, most memorably the 1970 Jimsomare, the 1970 Occidental and the 1973 Montebello bottlings, which as I recall were priced somewhere around $5.00, and the extraordinary 1970 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon were among the first few wines that turned me from a diligent would-be academic into a compulsive collector and life-long student of wine. I vividly recall driving up the serpentine Monte Bello Road to the decidedly rustic winery and meeting Paul for the first time in 1976 and have since regarded Paul as one of the more articulate and capable winemakers it has been my pleasure to know.

A couple of days back, we received word that Paul, having turned 80 this last March, has decided that the time had arrived to end his days as winemaker and winery CEO and retire from day-to-day duties at Ridge. You can see the particulars and the winery’s carefully conceived plan of succession for yourself at, but I suspect that, like me, if you have followed fine Californian wine for any time, that the announcement strikes a very personal note. Just three weeks ago, Charlie and I made the trip up to the winery to participate in a remarkable tasting of older Ridge wines inspired by those of the Rhône, and it was hard not to sense the history and significance of the place as we sipped our ways though wines dating back to 1974.

Now, I do not mean this missive as a eulogy of any sort, Paul will continue as Chairman of the Board at Ridge and his influence will no doubt continue to be felt, yet it is hard not to see his retirement as the end of an era. It is one of those events that compels poignant nostalgia, and this morning as I think about just how far California wine has come over the last fifty years, I feel an especially deep appreciation for Paul’s role in making it all happen.

I am not at all worried that Ridge will somehow lose its bearings. The truth is that winemakers Eric Baugher and John Olney who respectively oversee operations at the original Monte Bello Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains and at Ridge’s Lytton Springs Winery in Sonoma have both been at the helm for twenty years, and, while Paul certainly had a guiding hand in the creation of wines from both, he also points out that for some time “these are their wines, not mine and these wines have achieved the most consistent high quality if any decade in our fifty year history.”

Still, Paul’s mark is and will continue for many years to be indelible in defining what California wine can be, and, as he steps back, I would offer a heart-felt “job well done.” I will not say “adieu” but prefer “au revoir.” Thank you Paul, and we will see you around.


Charles Olken adds: The growth of the California wine industry from 1970 to now is what brought CGCW into existence in the early days of that time period. Over the years, Ridge has remained a dominant name, and its place at the top of the winery greatness lists has barely ever wavered. It is a remarkable achievement that is marked by an incredible list of great wines, high honors and, on a personal note, the placement in my cellar of more Ridge wines than those of any other winery. Paul Draper has been there as the steady hand that moved Ridge from a hobbyist producer founded by a bunch of dedicated amateurs in the early ‘60s to a winery for all to admire and to keep on admiring. Thank you, Paul.

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Ridge / Paul draper
by Bob Cooley
Posted on:7/3/2016 6:04:35 AM

What remarkable winemaker and visionary. I have known ridge for my whole cearrer since starting in 1977. And Paul's head marketer/ President /  Donn Reison. I to have been ( and still on ) on the ATP program / the Z list / Monte Bello / always very well made wine(s) and a story. In every release shipment. I all way look forward to the reading material in the shipment.  Paul thanks for all of the history lessons and great wines. Enjoy every day.  Best regards. Bob Cooley / grower / consumer / Wine Marketing

What (other) wines does Paul Draper drink?
by Bob Henry
Posted on:7/4/2016 10:59:02 PM

Readers of your blog/guide might be familar with the "Winemakers' Recommendations" website:

One of the questions I always ask winemakers upon first meeting them is:

"When you're not drinking your own wine . . . what wines do you drink?"

Their spontaneous and authentic "vote of one's own wallet" answers provide invaluable insights.

Charlie and Stephen, when the next conversational or correspondence occasion lends itself, I would encourage you to pose that same question to Paul Draper (and report back the response) -- a wine luminary who doesn't appear to suffer from "cellar palate."

[ ]

~~ Bob





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