In 2007, Ridge took out a long-term lease on much of the old Rousten Ranch to replant the vineyards—hoping that they produce wines that can contribute to our Estate and our Monte Bello.
The Rousten family purchased this beautiful property for a song in 1901 or 1902, right after a major wildfire had swept through, burning all but a few firs, oaks, and laurels. The family fortunes changed right after the 1906 earthquake, when several springs magically appeared on their property. (We have seen our own wells respond the same way after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.) They quickly planted grapes and an orchard, and entered the wine business. How they managed during Prohibition is anybody’s guess, but the winery reopened afterward, only to close in the late 1950s when Charlie Rousten, the sole heir, decided he would rather dump his wine than submit to requests from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that he cement his cellar floor. At least that is the story as I heard it from Charlie.
When Charlie passed in 1991, he left his properties to Lois Ortmann, a now-retired schoolteacher who is also an avid horseperson. Ten years ago, Lois recognized that vineyards would be a great way to use her land, and we were sure that good grapes could be grown there. By 2008 we had the first phase planted to cabernet sauvignon (3.9 acres), cabernet franc (2.5 acres), and petit verdot (1.2 acres).
This was followed in 2010 by the second phase of planting: chardonnay (5 acres), and more cabernet sauvignon (6 acres). This year, we are in the middle of planting the last phase: cabernet sauvignon (2.1 acres), and rootstock, to be budded to a Bordeaux varietal yet to be determined (2.3 acres). In 2015, we will plant another 3.9 acres of cabernet sauvignon.
Having a property that hadn’t been planted to winegrapes for half a century presented us with a unique opportunity to do a little experimentation with clones. We love our La Cuesta clone of cabernet sauvignon, which we have used extensively in the newest replantings at our Torre Ranch, and we are excited about our newest/oldest cabernet sauvignon clone, Fountaingrove—the old vines planted in 1949, which we have cleaned of virus, and begun to plant. But there are a lot of other clones out in the world that we thought might add further complexity to our wines. With that in mind, we planted small blocks of several different clones of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and cabernet franc.
The following is a short description of the clones we have planted at Rousten Ranch at Monte Bello.
1. Fountaingrove clone. From vines planted in the 1890s at a commune near Santa Rosa. This clone was used in 1946 to replant cabernet at Monte Bello on vineyards abandoned during Prohibition.
2. La Cuesta clone. Propagated from vines Martin Ray planted at Mt. Eden in the 1940’s that came from Rixford’s La Cuesta winery in Woodside, planted in 1884. The original source were cuttings from Margaux.
3. Mt. Eden clone. Essentially the same DNA as the La Cuesta clone but has been ‘Meristem’ treated and certified. We planted 2.1 acres of it at Torre and we are considering further plantings at Rousten.
4. Jackson clone. Cuttings originally taken in 1964 from vines planted in the 1890s at the Jackson field station in the Sierra foothills. Very low yields, good intensity, have to watch excess vigor.
5. Shaw clone. Cuttings were taken from the Shaw vineyard (now Wildwood/Kunde in Glen Ellen) in 1939 by Professor Olmo of UC Davis. The original vines date back to the 1890s. Yields are low, quality high; can be excessively vigorous.
6. The See Ranch clone. From vines in the Oakville district of Napa dating back to 1969.
7. Four of the best Bordeaux clones from the certified French nursery system (ENTAV), chosen for the quality of their tannins and aroma. We will see how they do in California.
8. Argentine clone. A clone imported from old vines at Mendoza. Average yields, good color, and tannins.
1. Two ENTAV Bordeaux clones; one gives good structure and the other aroma.
2. An old Italian clone. Moderate yields, elegant wines.
1. The Mt. Eden clone supposedly originated with cuttings collected in the 1890s from Champagne by Paul Masson.
2. An old Wente clone. Ripens early. Elegant, complex wines.
3. A clone from the old Robert Young vines in Sonoma. Good acidity, low yields.
4. Two ENTAV Burgundian clones. One gives richness, with moderate acid. The other gives good productivity with aromatic, elegant wines.
To assess their quality, we will ferment each of these clones separately as they mature over a number of years. In the meantime, we will plant the old California clones: La Cuesta, Fountaingrove, Jackson, Shaw, Mt. Eden and Wente. When, as we expect, some of the other clones prove their quality, we will be able to create a mix of the best. This should produce more complex wines, and avoid a monocultural approach as we replant the rest of the abandoned vineyards on Monte Bello Ridge.
~ David Gates, VP, Vineyard Operations