In 2000, Ridge was fortunate to procure a lease on property just above our Lytton Springs vineyard. This benchland jewel had been planted to grapes before Prohibition, but abandoned for the rest of the twentieth century, and used as pasture. We knew the soil well. (It’s Sites loam, for those who care to know.) Over the next two years, we planted the land to our four favorite zinfandel selections. By 2006, we knew we had a wonderful site for a stand-alone wine that could showcase the exuberance of pure Dry Creek Valley zinfandel; we labeled it “East Bench.”
Ridge had been experimenting with organic grape-growing for several years prior to 2008, when we decided to phase in organic certification. The transition period for such certification in the U.S. is three years. The designated acreage is farmed organically, using only organic soil amendments, crop protectants, and fertilizers. At the end of three years, your organic certifying agent incorporates a site visit with a thorough review of crop-input records—coordinated with the California Department of Pesticide Regulations to make sure that only organic crop protectants were used. At the same time, you must register with the state the amount and type of organic acreage and crops. Once you pass inspection, (and pay fees to your certifying agent and the state!) your grapes can be labeled as “organically grown.” When you have received certification, the agent will inspect your ranches and records annually.
East Bench is the first of our estate wines to be labeled as made with “organically (and sustainably) grown grapes.” East Bench was our organic certification guinea pig: the vines are young, and come from a single small ranch with a single soil series, all on gentle, mostly-flat bench terrain. In short, it was chosen because it was easiest. Our Lytton Springs vineyards, on the other hand, comprise five different soil types in multiple blocks, including vines of widely varying age on varying terrain that includes flats, slopes, and hillsides.
We have moved slowly and carefully in the quest to grow our grapes organically, and are now the largest organic grower in Sonoma County, and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We have chosen organic certification so that our farming—free of conventional chemicals and additives—is as traditional as our winemaking.
~ David Gates, VP of Vineyard Operations