My recent post on Essence wines elicited a few rather specific queries, so I thought I’d just do a quick post to try and speak to them; in all cases, it was necessary that I speak to Paul Draper, so although I’ll certainly be paraphrasing here, the core of the information I’ll be offering does indeed originate with “the source” …
The first question raised had to do with a 1979 Essence that one reader/commenter wasn’t certain fit a portion of Paul’s definition of what makes an Essence an Essence (“The wine was vinified from grapes that were intentionally left to hang on the vine”); the reader/commentor indicated he thought that the 1979 Essence was comprised of fruit that had over-ripened “by mistake.”
In speaking with Paul about this, I think it’s safe to say there is a kernel of truth in this contention. Due to a confluence of somewhat unexpected factors in the vineyard over the previous two vintages, primarily climatic in nature, the condition of the vineyard in 1979 was such that a substantial amount of fruit was dropped early, making for a very small crop that ripened much earlier than expected. Accordingly, Ridge was rather “caught off guard” in that, by the time sugar sampling commenced, the remaining fruit has ripened far more rapidly than expected. While there was still an even smaller portion of fruit that was ostensibly “normal,” the decision was made to declassify the Monte Bello that year (releasing the majority of the juice under the Santa Cruz designation), and instead work with what Mother Nature had unexpectedly delivered; ideal ripening conditions for an Essence. So while it’s essentially true to say that the over-ripening was not expected, planned for, or even necessarily desired, at the same time, the decision to make an Essence in 1979 was still very much in keeping with the general philosophies deployed by Ridge as regards vineyard management; namely, the vineyard determines what the producer will do, not the other way around. To summarize, the 1979 Essence was sort of both mistake and inevitability.
Which leads me to my next answer, which has to do with the question of just how Ridge selects a vineyard for Essence production. Basically, as things stand now, the only properties Ridge will consider for the production of an Essence are the Geyserville and Lytton Springs properties, the reason being that direct influence on, and oversight over, a vineyard is fully necessary to determine whether or not the stars have aligned in such a way as to make an Essence a possible; meaning essentially, that because Ridge will not FORCE the creation of an Essenceper se, rather, we will only RECEIVE it should one essentially appear (via a suitable and appropriate confluence of growing conditions), it is vital that Ridge be able to closely monitor development in the vineyard at all times, watching for that elusive synchronicity that enables the promise of an Essence to emerge.
So, regarding the question of whether or not a Petite Sirah Essence is on the horizon, it’s accordingly quite difficult to say. Paul is a firm believer that Zinfandel is absolutely a brilliant varietal for what he deems to be a “naturally produced” red dessert wine (as opposed to dessert wines that require some form of “intervention”, i.e. alcohol or sugar being added in the winery), but he does not rule out the possibility of a Petite Sirah Essence either; I would say the difference is that, with every vintage, Paul hopes to see conditions emerge that will make a Zinfandel Essence possible, while with Petite Sirah, he’s not looking for it per se, but he would make one if conditions were right.
I hope this serves to answer the queries that were posed, but please feel free to keep the questions coming! And I thank you for your engagement!