Paul Draper on California Wine, Winemakers He Admires, and The Wine That Changed His Life


As part of a feature in the UK publication, Noble Rot, Paul Draper shares his insights on the following six questions:

1. What was the wine that changed your life?
The 1864 Laffite, purchased through Christie’s in the early 1970’s in perfect condition from the Queen Mother’s collection at Glamis Castle. Quite feminine and incredibly complex – enjoyed with friends in 1975 when it was more than one hundred years old.

2. What wine have you been most proud of making and why?
Despite the quality and future of the great 1970, it would be the 1971 Monte Bello that came in first in the combined London/California results in the 30 year repeat of the Paris Tasting, 18 points ahead of the second place wine. It surpassed the other Californian’s and the 1970 Haut-Brion, Mouton and Montrose. The ’71 was from a cool vintage that fully ripened the grapes at 12.2% alcohol and produced a wine that was in perfect balance even in its youth. I would choose it because that balance at 12.2% alcohol allowed it to develop fully over twenty five years and hold that level of quality for more than thirty five years at the time of the 2006 repeat. We tasted it last year at 44 years of age and it showed beautifully.

3. How has Californian wine changed since you have been making wine?
Of course, a great deal has changed for example for some, rather than simply trying to make a good wine, they aspire to make a “luxury wine” with all the hype and high price that goes with that. When I took on winemaking at Ridge forty six years ago there were at most five wineries in California attempting to make truly fine wine. Today there are several hundred. The majority of cabernet based wines that had been picked moderately ripe or fully ripe are now being picked over ripe. Alcohols have gone from the 12.5% /13.5% range to the 14.9%/15.9% range and even higher uncorrected.

4. Which other winemakers make you proud to say you’re Californian?
There are too many to name, but briefly, of those whose wines, techniques or vineyards I am most familiar with: Cathy Corison and Ehren Jordan at Failla for their techniques and style and Elias Fernandez for the vineyard he works with.

5. What’s the best song ever written in, or about California?
From several years in the 1960’s when I lived on the Upper East Side in New York, I would have to pick California Dreaming by Peter, Paul and Mary. The lyrics should explain my choice.

6. If you had to choose, which Hollywood actor would you most like as the next governor of California?
Given the two actors who have been Governor, I don’t think actors are the best choice, but if I had to I would choose Richard Gere or Tom Hanks.

Learn more about Paul Draper.

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