Aspen Times Weekly: Ridge Comes to the Mountains |

Aspen Times Weekly: Ridge Comes to the Mountains

by Kelly J. Hayes

If you go ...

For reservations to the Ridge Vineyards Dinner on Dec. 12 or any of the Eight K Winter Wine Dinner events, call 970-923-8035.

Eight K is located in the Viceroy Hotel at 130 Wood Road in Snowmass Village.

So it’s on. With Thanksgiving’s arrival and the slopes opening, it is officially time to welcome the start of the winter season. And that means winter wine dinners.

In Snowmass, at the Viceroy’s Eight K restaurant, there is an exciting Winter Wine Dinner Series on tap that will bring some of California’s best vintners to the oh-so-cozy Vista Room. Wines are only a part of the equation, with the other being the bold mountain cuisine prepared by executive chef Will Nolan. Anyone who has been to Eight K over these past few winters knows that the New Orleans-born-and-bred (and fully tatted) chef has been turning out dishes that are as enticing as any in the Roaring Fork Valley. The opportunity to imbibe great wines paired with his Creole-inspired flavors makes for a sublime dining experience.

The series, basically a once-a-month gathering, kicks off on Dec. 12 with wines from Ridge Vineyards. Jan. 28 sees Napa cult cab producer Canard, and on Feb. 18 Emeritus Wines, a single-vineyard Pinot specialist, will be pouring in Snowmass. Then, March 22 will bring a should-not-miss-it event with the great Grgich Hills Winery of Napa Valley. An impressive lineup indeed.

The dinners are $150 per person, not inclusive of tax and tip. Seating is limited to a maximum of 32 guests per dinner for the five-course meals. If you are a local and driving to the Viceroy, parking is free when dining at Eight K, and if you are a member of the Very Viceroy Club you’ll get your 15 percent discount as always.

The chance to taste the wines of Ridge Vineyards is one of the highlights of the year for oenophiles.

“These are special wines,” said the Viceroy’s director of wine, Rick Lang, in an understatement. “When I came here five years ago, one of my goals was to get Ridge in the house. Now we have.”

Lang’s esteem for the wines extends to Ridge’s longtime winemaker, as well. “There are two autographs I have ever coveted in my life,” he said. “One was Bob Dylan, and the other is Paul Draper.” He was referring to the bard of the generation and one of the most important winemakers of that same generation.

Draper was a Stanford philosophy major who took his first job in the American wine industry in 1969 as winemaker for a small Santa Cruz mountain winery owned by a group of Stanford professors. Ridge Vineyards, which has roots going back to the 1880s, possessed a magical vineyard called Monte Bello that produced, and still does produce, exceptional cabernet sauvignon. As a post-graduate student, Draper had some experience making wine in Chile, but he was learning by doing in those early days. He proved to be a quick study, however, and in the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris, his 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet took fifth place.

But his greatest contribution to the world of wine may be his rediscovery of and obsession with the production of great single-vineyard Zinfandel. Draper fell in love with both the old vines and the flavor profiles of the grape and began to search California for vineyards that had been planted in the 1880s and 1890s that were still capable of producing great fruit. Traveling far and wide, he has produced Zinfandel from over 100 different vineyard sites. He also advocates aging a wine that is more often than not consumed in the first few years following the vintage.

Draper and Ridge wines are products of the vineyard. Today Ridge is one of the largest growers of organic wine grapes in California with wineries at the original Monte Bello vineyard and in Sonoma County at Lytton Springs. Ridge’s philosophy is to let the grapes grow, juice flow and wines to basically make themselves. The less intervention the better. Draper is strongly opposed to over-oaked wines and believes that high alcohol is a sign of a wine out of balance.

“This is a Zin din featuring four outstanding examples of Ridge,” Lang said. Pairings include recent releases, including 2011 Zinfandels from Geyserville and Paso Robles and a 2012 Lytton Springs Zinfandel. There also will be a 2012 Ridge Three Valleys, which is led by Zin but also includes bits of Carignane and Petite Sirah, with a pinch of Alicante Bouchet.

For his part, Nolan has built a menu that includes a foie gras beignet, a pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin and a bison Wellington. Yes, you will be well-fed.

“Though he is hardly a wine geek, Will has an uncanny ability to create spot-on pairings with wines,” Lang said. “This should be an amazing meal.”

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at

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