For a well-regarded winery near Healdsburg in Sonoma County, especially for those who love Zinfandel and old vines, head to Ridge Vineyards in in Lytton Springs. You’ll avoid the traffic in Napa Valley and have the opportunity to taste single vineyard Zinfandel and world famous Monte Bello wines, all at a vineyard that also uses organic and sustainable practices.
Things to Consider Before Your to Ridge Vineyards Adventure
Ridge Vineyards is one of Sonoma’s most famous vineyards, and it’s ideal for travelers interested in tasting at a winery with country-wide distribution (this is a trusted brand sold in many fine restaurants throughout the United States). Ridge is also the largest grower of organic grapes in Sonoma county.
The ideal visitor is a fan of zinfandel, Rhone-style blends, merlot, cabernet blends, and chardonnay. Ridge is a mecca for those seeking out single vineyard zinfandel and zinfandel blends. Visitors can taste their famous Monte Bello and then relax on the veranda with views of old vines.
Before trekking to Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs, wine tasters should consider a few things:
Travel time: The winery is located a few miles outside the town of Healdsburg, so consider travel time to and from your next destination.
Designated driver: Identify a driver who won’t be enjoying Ridge’s generous pours.
Group size: If you don’t like tasting in larger groups or want to taste specific wines, a semi-private or private tour and tasting is highly recommended.
Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs, an Overview
Visitors can experience Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs via one of their tasting and tour options.
Those with limited amounts of time who don’t mind tasting in the large open room should choose the Tasting Room option. Arrive early to avoid crowds. Note that children are not permitted.
Thorough and laid back tour guides
Tasting with and without appointment
Premium and luxury wines
Focus on sustainability in both the winery and vineyards
Not for people who don’t like zinfandel, Rhone-style blends, or cabernet blends
Can be crowded late in the day without an appointment
Does not offer low-priced wines
Ridge Vineyards is located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, about three miles northwest of downtown Healdsburg, California. For travelers coming from Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, California, it is about 15 miles north on the 101 Highway and then west on Lytton Springs Road.
The winery gets its name from William H. Litton, a seaman, captain, Irish Potato Famine provisions relief shipper, and land speculator, who established a luxury resort for “health and pleasure” at the site to attract tourists interested in natural springs for health purposes. After his untimely death (when he was thrown from a buggy in San Francisco), the property changed hands a few times. Vineyards were planted during the first decade of the 1900’s and some of the original property is owned by the Salvation Army today. 140 years after the establishment of the luxury resort, health and pleasure are still alive at this winery. As you pull up to the tasting room, admire the old vines just south of the winery. Just step inside (or onto the terrace) to partake in the pleasure.
Fans of Ridge also know of the Monte Bello estate, which is located further south in the Santa Cruz mountains high above Cupertino, California. The estate, home to the famous Monte Bello wine, is where recently retired winemaker Paul Draper started as winemaker in 1969. Some years after the success of Monte Bello in the Judgement of Paris in 1976, Ridge purchased the Lytton vineyards.
As you arrive to the tasting room, you’ll see several parking spots right in front. Once those spaces are filled, one can park on the road. Entering the building through a large door, you are welcomed to a spacious, laid back tasting room.
Ridge Vineyards is a large winery by Sonoma standards, with over 420 acres of estate vineyards producing over 450,000 bottles of wine per year. But don’t let the large size fool you, Ridge is dedicated to pre-industrial winemaking tradition as well as sustainability. The winery is made of local clay and straw bales and is powered primarily by solar panels. Most of the vineyard acreage has transitioned to organic.
The Ridge Reputation
Ridge has a reputation for high quality wines within the United States and throughout the wine world. The wines, especially Monte Bello, are highly sought after and collectable. This reputation has been earned through their low yield, consistency in producing wines of good value, experimentation with pre-industrial winemaking practices, and the wine’s terroir.
You can find Ridge wines at many bottle shops and restaurants throughout the United States. And if you are traveling outside the United States, it’s one of the few wineries you can consistently find in the “California” section of international bottle shops.
The wines are bold, yet food friendly. Ridge wines are sought out by enthusiasts and collectors alike as they are Old World Style wines that are fruity without being “big fruit bombs.” The cabernet/cabernet blends, merlot, and rhone blends are popular with collectors and enthusiasts who like Old World style wines with a little more fruit profile.
Ridge has a reputation as one of the wineries to improve the perception of Zinfandel by making more restrained zinfandel blends (typically zinfandel and petite sirah) and single vineyard Zinfandel bottlings. One could age these Zinfandels for a few years, however they are made to enjoy upon release.
Choosing Your Wine Tasting Experience
Ridge has three tasting experiences at the Lytton Springs location as well as a separate opportunity for wine tasting for those in the wine industry. Regardless which tour or tasting you choose, you can hang out on the veranda with views of old vines for more tasting.
The Tasting Room Only Experience
The tasting room is open almost every day of the year, just check ahead to make sure that it is not closed for the occasional private event. The tasting room is composed of a few stations where laid-back yet attentive staff pour a subset of Ridge offerings. If you arrive as a group of eight or less, no reservation is needed.
There are a few different options in the tasting room. One can taste three different flights and the Monte Bello is available to taste for an additional fee.
Estate Tour and Tasting
This tour (which runs from 1 ½ - 2 hours) includes a brief overview of the history of the estate, the vineyard agriculture practices, the history of the vines, the building construction and sustainability measures, harvest and winemaking practices, cellaring, and wine tasting.
The seated semi-private (up to 10 people) tasting includes five pre-selected wines across the Ridge portfolio. Expect a single vineyard, estate single vineyard, and a couple of different blends, concluding with a recent release of Monte Bello.
Century Tour and Library Tasting
Want to spend more time in the vineyards getting up close to the 100 year old vines on the estate? Perhaps you also want to taste older wines with the current vintage? The Century Tour and tasting takes you out into the vineyards in a covered golf cart before tasting selected older vintages with their newer counterparts, also with a selection of fine cheeses. Upon conclusion of the tour, the tasting can be supplemented with an older vintage of Monte Bello to compare to the current release.
Our Tasting Experience
In my most recent visit, I chose the Estate Tour. My visit was in early spring and I was able to book the estate tour time I wanted by booking 72 hours in advance.
The almost two-hour tour included a brief overview of the history of the estate, the vineyard agriculture practices, the history of the vines, the building construction and sustainability measures, harvest and winemaking practices, cellaring, and wine tasting.
The guide was experienced and knowledgeable. She led our group of 10 through the tour of the facilities and the wine tasting. During the tour our guide went into detail on how Ridge is unique from other wineries in its practices. I especially enjoyed learning about how they select oak Barrels from Minnesota (most American oak is sourced in Missouri and warmer climates of the US). Some engineering highlights include learning how the building was constructed, why they stack the barrels on small wooden pegs, and how the staff in the cellar use ziplines to check barrels.
The tasting portion of the tour was over 30 minutes. We tasted a 100% single vineyard Zinfandel, Zinfandel blend with petite sirah, carignane and mataro, a syrah/grenache/mataro blend, the Estate Merlot, and the Monte Bello (blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc). We tasted a selection of three premium cheeses and charcuterie with our wine.
Our tour ended back in the spacious public tasting area, where we sampled more single vineyard zinfandel and the estate Syrah. If the weather was a little warmer and drier that day, we could have enjoyed the beautiful renovated terrace with views of hillsides of old vines.
We were introduced to the different wine clubs available. There was a club available specific to their small production wines (ATP), one for their zinfandel (Z List), and one for Monte Bello Collectors.
Before and after my visit, I researched feedback from others who’d recently visited. Previous visitors were very positive, with a lot of comments on the high quality of the wine and the winery’s reputation, especially collectors of Monte Bello.
I agree with several recommendations to do a semi-private tasting and plan ahead to get the tour time fitting your needs. As I was leaving, the public tasting area was getting fairly busy. Most of the critical feedback on the tour / tasting was in regards to the noise and busy tasting room staff when things get really busy on weekend days.
If you like other wine varieties or the tasting room is closed for a special event, here are some other alternatives in the area.
The Lytton Springs tasting room prominently features Zinfandel, Rhone, and Bordeaux blends. Sonoma Chardonnay and Pinot Noir enthusiasts should check out nearby Simi Winery just down the road. Some of the fruit used in Simi wines also comes from the original Lytton Estate. They have a wide selection of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in addition to Rhone and Bordeaux varietals and blends.
If old vines are your passion, I highly recommend checking out the Historic Vineyard Society website recommended to me by my tour host. There’s a vineyard called Bedrock that predates Lytton Springs by about 20 years, and is a source of fruit for wineries like Ravenswood. If you have a strong preference for bold Zinfandel, you’re probably already familiar with the Ravenswood “No Wimpy Wines” tagline!
If you put Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs on your agenda as a wine tasting destination because you are a fan of organic wines, check out nearby Preston Farm and Winery where you are encouraged to bring a picnic and learn about organic and biodynamic practices.
The Ridge Wrap-Up
After a few days in Napa it was a welcome change of pace to taste some restrained Zinfandel blends and an elegant, food-friendly Syrah. Following advice from other travelers, booking a semi-private tasting a couple days in advance and avoided a potentially crowded public tasting room was worth it!
Make the trek and be rewarded by a thorough yet relaxed tour to understand the Ridge viticulture and winemaking philosophy and taste the fruits of their labor.
Book your experience here — 100+ year old vines await!