This spring, we introduced our Collector members to the 2013 vintage of Monte Bello during the string of Assemblage tastings held here at Monte Bello. But behind the scenes, at our winery just a mile up the road from the tasting room, our production team was busy bottling the 2014 vintage that will be released next year.
We felt this would be a great opportunity to give you some insight into our bottling process.
At Ridge, we have always taken great pride in creating wines that are crafted with minimal human intervention, and this pre-industrial philosophy carries all the way through to bottling. This final stage in crafting our wine is crucial and we are meticulous about all the details involved. The wine is treated with the utmost care to ensure its quality and longevity.
After our wines have completed their barrel aging in the winery, they are pumped to the bottling facility right next door. As it arrives, the wine is passed through a pad filter to remove any remaining sediment (protein/lignin that remains in suspension) which hasn’t settled out during barrel aging. The gentle pad filtration step is removing those compounds for brilliant clarity to be achieved. The process is carried out softly and gently, to avoid harming or damaging the wine.
The next stage of the process will involve this wine being transferred to a holding vat, this will be the last transfer before the actual bottling. The air-tight vat sits directly above the bottling room to where the wine will be dispensed using gravity alone, again in the spirit of using natural processes and being gentle to the wine. The exposure to oxygen is carefully monitored as exposure of wine to oxygen leads to oxidation and loss of aging potential.
Below the vat, our team is busy setting up the final stages of the process in the bottling room. Empty bottles arrive and are inspected as each one must be flawless. Our bottles are produced locally, only a ninety minute drive east of Silicon Valley. They are freshly made and are typically free of dust and debris. They receive a blast of compressed air and then vacuum to pull out any lingering particulates. Each bottle is then inspected visually to ensure there are no impurities or flaws.
After passing inspection, each bottle enters the bottling and corking process. The filler/corker unit is called a monoblock filler. The equipment model is called the synchrofill made by the Italian family Bertalozzi, who are world-famous for their bottling equipment.
We are now directly below the dispensing vat and gravity is the only power source for this process. As each bottle is filled, it is then promptly sealed with a cork. We use minimum effective sulfites in barrel aging, however, no further sulfite is given to the wine in advance or during the bottling. Many wineries elevate sulfites during bottling to prevent oxidation. We do not take that approach. Utilizing Nitrogen, an inert/heavy gas, protects wine from oxygen pickup; the risk of oxidation is minimal.
Within seconds of this process, each bottle will receive its classic silver cap, making it recognizable as a Ridge wine.
As the process nears its end, each bottle is labeled, making it officially part of the 2014 Ridge Monte Bello vintage. The final step will be to mark each bottle with a laser inscription. This ensures that we can trace back the origin of any bottle should we need to.
So, what do we think of this 2014 vintage? Here is what Eric Baugher, Chief Operating Officer and Winemaker for the Monte Bello winery, has to say…
“It was the quickest harvest in our fifty-three-year history. Never before has the entire Monte Bello vineyard ripened in the month of September, right on top of the zinfandel harvest. We were fermenting all varieties at the same time, filling up the winery quickly, and having us work non-stop. Fortunately, we had plenty of capacity to let every lot ferment as long as necessary. That allowed us to get excellent extraction in all the lots. As usual, both primary and secondary fermentations were natural. They both were slower-than-normal, but eventually completed in time for assemblage tastings in late January. The blend we arrived at represented a 37% selection, of a truly classic Monte Bello. It is an elegant wine with tannins nicely coated by rich mountain fruit. High natural acidity gives it a refreshing quality and will provide an aging potential of 25-30 years. It has wonderful fruit appeal and excellent overall balance for drinking young, but it will reach secondary flavors and gain complexity with another ten years of age.”
This wonderful wine will now undergo its final period of rest before being released to futures holders within our Collector membership program in the spring of 2017 and publicly in the fall.
Retail Sales & Hospitality Lead
Ridge Vineyards / Monte Bello