For 35 years now, the ATP branch of our Wine Club has been busy contributing limited-production rareties to the Ridge Vineyards wine canon; introducing such fabled designations as Old School, Mazzoni, and Jimsomare to the vineyard lexicon, and showcasing comparatively under-the-radar varietals like Carignane to great and palate-opening effect.
One of the longest-running and most storied designations in Ridge’s small-production pantheon is the Dusi Ranch; a designation that, while now comfortably enshrined in the ATP annals, actually predates the club! Founded on vines planted in 1923, and tended since 1944 by Benito Dusi (who was then 11 years old!), this is as unique an old-vine Zinfandel property as California has to offer.
Ridge Vineyards produced its first Dusi Ranch wine in 1967, making this new release, the 2010 Ridge Vineyards Dusi Ranch Zinfandel, the 43rd vintage in a long-line of legendary wines.
Many of you may know this fruit without necessarily realizing it. Members of the Zlist tine of our Wine Club trident, for example, have been consuming its offerings in the guise of our Paso Robles designation for years. Paso is indeed where these vines are located, but the Dusi Ranch label is a comparatively rarefied release. While the Paso Robles zinfandel is a comparatively larger-production release, and accordingly distributed across a sizeable swath of our wholesale landscape, at just over 900 cases, the Dusi Ranch is a dictionary-definition limited-production release.
The question likely brewing in your bean right now is; what drives the selection process as regards whether fruit from the Dusi vineyards goes into the Paso Robles designation, or the Dusi Ranch label? The answer, as with anything Ridge, is complex, and often even arguably inconsistent, in that, at the end of the day, the only formula is that there is no formula. But if one had to make generalizations, one could probably say that when growing season stars align in such a fashion as to produce certain parcels of a particular and singular intensity and concentration, those blocks will often be parsed out and allocated to the Dusi side; meaning, the Dusi is probably most generally associated with a kind of Paso-That-Goes-To-Eleven style.
For the 2010 selection, as winemaker Eric Baugher notes on the wine’s back label, fruit from only the “most-stressed old vines” was selected for the bottling. In vineyard parlance, for those of you who might not be familiar, vine stress in a state in which a vine is, for lack of a better term, struggling in some fashion. Struggling for water, for nutrients, for survival.
Vine stress is a subject all its own, to say the least, but in simplest form, productively managed vine stress is a sort of vineyard holy grail; not enough stress induces a sort of viticultural sloth that produces weak, indistinct, personality-less and timid juice. Too much stress will cause a vine to flat-out shut down, and produce, well, nothing. But just the right amount of vine stress can produce juice of great intensity, compression, concentration, and complexity. And it will do so comparatively “naturally.” I put the term in quotes because it’s a hot-button term these days, and I don’t wish to wage in its convoluted waters. But suffice it to say, the point is to tap & manage the “natural” forces and machinations of the vineyard to produce intensity and complexity without retroactive processing in the winery.
So, in hewing strictly to fruit coming off of “stressed” vines, Ridge is able to produce a wine of a markedly concentrated and intense nature, without relying on additives or overtly manipulative processes to do so. For those of who who prefer your wine details to run deep, here’s the full detail:
Benito Dusi Vineyard grapes, hand harvested.
Destemmed and crushed.
Fermented on the native yeasts, followed by full malolactic on the naturally occurring bacteria.
Minimum effective sulfur (35ppm at crush, 68 ppm over the course of aging).
Pad filtered at bottling.
In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions.
And that’s it! Everything else you taste, is just good ol’ grape juice.
And speaking of taste, I spent some time yesterday with our illustrious Monte Bello Hospitality Team, tasting and talking through this wine, and I’d like to share with you some of their impressions:
Regarding appearance, the wine was highlighted for its “dark rich hue in the glass”; reminiscent to one taster of eggplant, and another dark plum. And all but one singled garnet out as a dominant visual tone.
As to aromatics, impressions were diverse: florality and spice were common notations, with fruit notes running a gamut from Montmorency cherry to currant to apple peel, and spice from baked sage to cocoa.
All tasters noted the vibrancy of the acidity on the mouthfeel, and were clearly pleasantly surprised by the seemingly unanticipated freshness. Responses to the tannin profile were largely united around the summation that tannins were smooth, coated, and integrated.
Summarial analysis was both diverse and unified; united around a general sense of “fruit-forwardness,” but unique as regards specific characteristics. One wrote of the finish as having a “hint of sweetness interestingly off-set by a subtle earthiness”; another described the profile as “juicy”; and still another described the finish as “long” and “velvety smooth.”
If I might offer my own summation, I’d say this wine is particularly notable for its excellent and expert reconciliation of ripe and authentically warm-climate fruit with a strident and bright acidity. I am, in general, not often a purchaser and drinker of zinfandels that run to a riper, warmer, sweeter style, but of this particular wine, I am truly a fan; if one wants a fruit-forward zinfandel that is still controlled, precise, and perfectly balanced; one that reconciles ripeness to acidity, fruit to spice, viscosity to velvet, then one should definitely consider the 2010 Ridge Vineyards Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.
Thank you to our tasters: Kirsten Anderson, Barry Campbell, Antonio Favela, Kim Korupp, and Peter Yaninek!