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