Paul Draper has brought down the curtain on nearly half a century of making wine at the renowned Ridge Vineyards in California, announcing his retirement this month.

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Paul Draper, an idol as much among winemakers as California wine drinkers, has used his 80th birthday to officially cease being chief winemaker and CEO of Ridge Vineyards.

Turning 80 ‘seems a most celebratory age to step back’, he told Decanter.com this week. He will continue to be chairman of the Ridge board.

‘I have had a great time, pursuing my craft, my calling, for 50 years – three in Chile, 47 at Ridge.’

Paul Draper: Looking back

Draper, named Decanter Man of the Year back in 2000, can look back on 47 years of considerable achievement.

As a vocal and persuasive champion of old vine Zinfandel, he did much to preserve California’s living viticultural heritage.

He has won for Ridge’s legendary Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon a merited reputation as California’s most dependably age-worthy and exceptional rendition of that variety.

And in his firm but never polemical adherence to a classical paradigm in winemaking, Draper has made Ridge Vineyards a beacon of balance and consistency in a state where wine styles sometimes seem to be in constant flux.

Recognition has been appropriately forthcoming.

In 2000, Draper become the third American to be named Decanter Man of the Year, joining Robert Mondavi and André Tchelistcheff.

He has received the Institute of Masters of Wine Winemakers’ Winemaker Award. As recently as 2006, he was also named winemaker of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle.

New generation at Ridge

For some time now, Draper has been quietly handing over the reins.

Eric Baugher, who becomes chief operating officer and winemaker of Ridge’s Monte Bello winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, joined Ridge in 1994: the 1995 vintage over which he presided is just reaching maturity.

John Olney, who joined Ridge two years after Baugher, will now assume responsibility for Ridge’s Lytton Springs winery in Sonoma. And David Gates, who joined Ridge in 1989 as vineyard manager, becomes senior vice president of vineyard operations.

‘Though we have made the major tasting decisions together, they were the ones managing all of the day to day winemaking for the past decade,’ Draper said, with characterisic modesty.

‘These are their wines, not mine, and these wines have achieved the most consistent high quality of any decade in our fifty year history.’

It’s Draper, however, who may be said to have given Ridge its soul.

Editing by Chris Mercer.

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