10 Questions with Paul Draper: #4!

Interested in questions of oak, and wine? Want to know why Ridge still so heavily favors American Oak? Then read on, and enjoy Q&A #4 in our ongoing special  ten-question series with Paul Draper!

4-    You are one of the few remaining enthusiasts of American oak. Most people think of coconut and sweet vanilla notes when they think of American oak but your wines are very elegant. How is it possible to make such elegant wines using American oak and what is the advantage of using this kind of barrels?

In the 19th century the first growth Chateaux of Bordeaux participated in several lengthy experiments with oak from different regions.  The Chateaux at that time were using oak from the Baltic region. Their consistent results in these ten year experiments listed three Baltic areas in first, second and third place, Riga, Stettin and Lubeck, with American white oak in fourth place, Bosnian oak in fifth and French oak in sixth and the least favorite in all the Chateaux.  Only with the first World War and the poor relations with Germany did the Chateaux turn to French oak.  Most California producers who used or still use American oak did not insist that it be air-dried as in Europe rather than kiln dried quickly in a very hot enclosed building.  They typically did not select the regions or the coopering methods carefully and their wines gave American oak a bad reputation.  We believe after forty years of experience and comparing the wines each year against a small control of the best French oak barrels that American oak properly dried and coopered is as good or in our opinion finer than French oak.  Far more American oak is used today in California and in the world than was true twenty, thirty or forty years ago.  The cult and best known wineries in California pride themselves on imitating the French and using French oak unquestioningly without experimentation.

***Do you have a question for Paul? Let us know! wine@ridgewine.com***

(“10 Questions for Paul Draper” questions composed by Rodrigo Mainardi of Mistral, Brazlian Distributor for Ridge Vineyards)

Paul Draper grew up on an eighty-acre farm in the Chicago suburb of Barrington. After attending the Choate School and receiving a degree in philosophy from Stanford University, he lived for two years in northern Italy. Later he attended the University of Paris and traveled extensively in France, gaining practical experience in traditional winemaking. In the mid-sixties, with a close friend, he set up a small winery in the coast range of Chile and produced several vintages of cabernet sauvignon. He joined Ridge Vineyards in 1969, and presently resides atop Monte Bello Ridge with his wife Maureen and daughter Caitlin. He is known for his crafting of fine cabernets and chardonnays from the Monte Bello estate vineyards, and as a pioneer in the production of long-lived, complex zinfandels.



Categories: History, Paul Draper, Press Reviews, Winemaking

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4 replies

  1. I am loving this series. Brilliant answers all of them!

  2. A fascinating response, as ever!
    One thought as to WHY French oak is so prevalent is apparantly, Napoleon Bonaparte insisted on planting forests of oak (which can take 100+ years to mature) to ensure that future French naval shipyards had sufficient quantities of wood to build ships!

    Despite the French building the first ironclad, La Gloire, Britain launched the biggest battleship of the age, HMS Warrior in 1860, some 60% bigger than La Gloire. It was so overwhelming, it never fired a shot in anger in all its service, yet itself was superceded by a whole new class of British battleships in 1864!

    But back to wine …… I was recently fortunate to taste a 5 year old Puligny Montrachet from each of five different barrels. They were made from each of the five French forests; Allier, Tronçais, Limousin, Nevers and Vosges. Each wine was different yet had the same base liquid, the same treatment, but huge differences in taste were obvious to all!

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