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Kevin Hamel

Nice to read Paul being so forthcoming and honest about what they do, and that occasionally you gotta intervene. I also agree whole-heartedly that adding back water that may have been sucked out of grapes by hot dry weather (growers call a dry north wind "the sugar wind" because sugars jump through dehydration) is way gentler than r/o or spinning cone.

By the way, I am recalling the mid '70s when some of my friends at Davis became a little disillusioned with a change in style of the Ridge wines which had gone from super powerful to a more food-friendly one. I think this was prompted by Paul showing some of the Ridge wines to some French colleagues and hearing them say "Tastes like Algerian wine."


Great Def. of Natural wines from local winery Ridge, and Paul Draper


In the early days of my co-founder (Pamela Heiligenthal's) wine judging career, I remember taking her to the newly opened Monaco Hotel in San Francisco for dinner at
"The Grand Cafe" as a celebration for being invited to judge the San Francisco
International Wine Competition as we looked over the wine list Ridge Monte Bello 1988 stood out as a wine that I thought was a must taste for her prior to judging, so she would have Draper's classic style imprinted on her memory. I only wish this article was available for her to read so she would truly understand what she was tasting. Thanks Alice and Paul.


Very well written...and reasoned.

Wes Barton

Alice, I highly recommend you visit their Monte Bello location. Stunning views, 1880s winery...

Other traditionalists I think you'd like include Jeffrey Patterson at Mount Eden, Joe Davis at Arcadian and Kevin Harvey, team at Rhys Vineyards, and Bob Varner at Varner Wines.

Eric Johnson

Agree wholeheartedly with Wes Barton. If you haven't been there, a trip to Monte Bello is not to be put off further. The drive up is spectacular and the facility, as comfortable and charming as a you would imagine a country farm getaway might be. Historic in so many ways. See my casual pictures in a post I did after our visit in February at wineslacker.com.


Thank you Paul Draper (and Alice) This is compulsory reading for anyone who loves and appreciates "fine" wine and the work of those responsible for it.


I love what Paul has to say. I am curious, though, about this line:

"My experience of growing fine wine and of tasting wines made with 0ppm to 10ppm is that unless the minimum effective level of SO2 is used the wines will not consistently express terroir."

Just what is the lack of sulfur obscuring? Or is it that low sulfur wines have more going on microbiologically, and these can vary too much (for his taste) from year to year?


Maybe I can get Paul to answer. I've heard this before, about how a bit of sulfur can focus a wine, (and I admit, I've experienced this as well, but there are so many other variables.) I also would love to get his take on that 2002 Ridge he had to put through Reverse Osmosis, and again, with perfect transparency, he put it on the label.

Kevin Hamel

Hank, Alice, What a little sulfur does, especially post alcoholic fermentation, is bind up acetaldehyde which has a very distinctive aroma (Vin Jaune, sherry). Perhaps by stating "... the wines will not consistently express terroir." he means that our (his?) understanding of these terroirs does not include notes of acetaldehyde


Well thought out, Kevin. On the other hand, I've had plenty of wines without any sulfur that have none of those notes, and part of me thinks this is in part winemaking husbandry as well as terroir.

Kevin Hamel

Sometimes the aldehyde is pretty subtle, but still exerts an effect on aromas right at the end of fermentation. I liken its subjugation to sanding a piece of rough-sawn wood - suddenly the grain is exposed and highlighted. A very interesting, if converse, interaction between sulfur and aldehyde was illuminated by some researchers at the Longashton Station of the University of Bristol when I was working in Portugal. They were trying to unravel, or at least get their brains around some of the truisms that had operated in the port trade as late as 1979. Among Port producers, the color of young Port wines was said to "close up" or get darker a month or so after the fermentation was arrested. It was discovered that the aldehyde in the brandy was binding up the sulfur which had been added at crush (usually 100 ppm) and thus mitigating the bleaching effect sulfur has on color.

Kevin Hamel

Oh, and regarding the interaction of winemaking husbandry and terroir, well, in some parts of Italy people use butter, in others, olive oil...


I'm sure different yeasts from different terrors in different vintages produce different amounts of aldehydes. So eliminating this phenomenon with sulfur would seem to me to obscure terroir. It might make for a cleaner, purer tasting wine, though.

Kevin Hamel

Hank, I think it's all about baseline. I've know people with terrific palates who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day...

Wes Barton

He's just saying that without a certain amount of stability there isn't a reliably healthy ecosystem in the ferment. While microbial activity can add a lot of complexity, if a population becomes dominant, it produces a wine that is "flawed", where that flaw has nothing to do with site expression, and obscures the site expression as much as picking way too late or pummeling the wine with oak.

So, too little SO2 means taking a high risk of making an inferior wine for absolutely no reason. He's also clear that too much SO2 kills off microorganisms that would contribute greatly. A lifetime of tasting has shown this, and Ridge's more controlled studies have shown that judging by tasting the resultant wines, there is an ideal SO2 level to maintain in a fermentation to make the best wine.

Vinos Ambiz

Great post. A sensible common sense take on the natural wine 'debate' without getting bogged down on minor technicalities like how much SO2 can be added, etc.

Terje Meling

When it comes to fermentations and naturalness it always becomes a bit difficult talking about terroir and site specificity. As acetaldehyde produced during fermentation most likely will vary from year to year, depending on yeast concentrations in the vineyard, strains, when the fermentation starts etc., it seems to me that the compound is more vintage specific than site specific and, thus, there may be a certain mutual exclusion between the concept of terroir and the concept of naturalness. To me naturalness is often to accept certain minor defects (not major) in the pursuit of high drinkability, meaning that site specificity sometimes will have to yield to a superior goal. However, from personal experience I have observed bottled wines presented with a certain amount of acetaldehyde clear up after a certain time in bottle, at least if the wine is not stripped of reactive compounds by sterile filtration, so the two goals might not be mutually exclusive after all. Fascinating compound acetaldehyde!


Yes, it is. I remember when I was stomping for Kevin Kelley in 2008 one afternoon, the syrah was getting a little acetaldehyde-ish and he said he liked it, it told him everything was working and it usually resolves itself. I suppose trust in the process is important.

It's not the same, but Laureano Serres told me this story about his 2006 BB Escollades (it's on the HardCore in Catalonia post #2)

It is Garnacha blanca. It was became oxidized quickly. He decided not to sell it. His wife used the wine to cook. "One day she tastes it and it's not bad. She says to him, Laureano, why don't you sell it? Everyday she takes some and she says, "Laureano, this is really good!" "My wife likes normal wines, not artificial so he doesn't know what to think. I taste. It's not 'oxidated' anymore. " It sure wasn't."

The wine was waxy, riesling-like, nutty, interesting, slite honey with a long beeswax fresh, rain water finish. Thanks so much for writing in.

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