Paul Draper is the contrarian Californian, self-taught, European-oriented, philosophical and analytical winemaker pursuing his beliefs in his winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains north of Los Angeles.
He is a pioneer who got Californians to enjoy quality with his wines made to reflect terroir.
First, he is a proponent of naturally made wine, and regards himself as an interpreter of nature. You will never find over ripe grapes and exaggerated oak flavours in his wines, as they are all well balance and reflect the vintage. Most importantly, Paul Draper at 69 advocates charging reasonable prices for his wines and regards wine as a beverage to enjoy rather than worship and horde. He was also the first to recognize and promote the notion of single-vineyard in California.
Draper understands grapes, grape variety, and terroir. He understood well before anyone else in California Zinfandel’s unique flavour profile and helped popularise it. He sought Zinfandel vineyards dating back to 1880 – 1900, as he knew from his travels in Europe that old vines yielded fewer but high quality grapes.
He buys his fruit from growers who care, and are proud of their grapes, regardless of the distance to the winery. He may buy from Napa, Amador -, Sonoma County, Lodi or Mendocino.
His Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon is often compared to Chateau Latour although he ages his in American white oak barrels.
studied philosophy at Stanford University, and later joined the army. During his stints in France, Italy and Spain he learned the languages, and appreciate their foods. In 1966 he decided to become a winemaker and first went to Souverain in Napa Valley.
Then went to Chile with the Peace Corps. He started to make wine from local Cabernet Sauvignon with his universality friend Fritz Maytag in the crudest possible ways imaginable. During these crucial, formative months, it occurred to him that reading well written scholarly wine making books would suffice for him to master the art and science.
In 1968, he went to Bordeaux and spent a few days at Chateau Latour absorbing as much as he possibly could. Upon his return, he started working for Ridge producing excellent Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon and blends.
In 1986, all partners at Ridge wanted to sell. The winery was sold to Akihiko Otsuka who told Draper that he wanted him to stay and make wine as he saw fit, but the winery had to sustain itself.
He has been making wine there ever since with great success, but always recognizing contributors to his winemaking – grape growers, vineyard managers and winery workers.
His famous saying is: “ You may be the astronaut – but don’t forget who put you up there.”
Paul draper’s Zinfandels are legendary blends and include Zinfandel (75%), Carignane, Petit Syrah or Mataro or whatever grape in that vintage seems to fir the flavour and texture profile he is looking for.
He wants to make wine well into his 80’s and 90’s.
California is blessed with a talented, modest, and realistic winemaker – Paul Draper.