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by Fred McMillin
for June 22, 2000

 

The Lytton Legacy


Prologue

The Ridge winery's Lytton Springs is one of the world's best Zinfandels. Lytton Springs???


Origins

1864—Near what will soon be called Lytton Springs Road, Tennessean Andrew J. Galloway plants 40 acres of vines just north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. His best varietal is Zinfandel.

1875—A Captain Litton develops a resort near the Galloway property. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad builds a station there a few years later, but misspells the name as Lytton. The misspelling sticks.

Old Lytton Vines

Old Lytton vines.

1907—On Lytton Springs Road, more Zinfandel is planted in a vineyard that will be acquired by Healdsburg's Edward Norton after Repeal, along with a partner. (Edward's father, Capt. Louis Norton, fought in the war against Mexico, then settled in Healdsburg, and in 1885 planted Zinfandel in his new, 110-acre vineyard.)

1972—Ridge's guiding wine genius, Paul Draper, discovers old Zinfandel vines along Lytton Springs Road. "One look at those old vines convinced me. I bought all but a couple of tons immediately. At bottling time, I decided to name the wine after the area, Lytton Springs, rather than after the particular vineyard. The wine was an instant success."

1984—Five hundred yards to the west of that remarkable Zinfandel were some equally appealing vines. Paul bought 'em. It was the old Norton Ranch! Paul calls the 240-acre tract Lytton West, and the earlier purchase Lytton East. So let's look at the grape sources for our...


Wine of the Day

Ridge 1997 Lytton Springs (80% Zinfandel)
Grape sources:

  • Lytton East—107-year-old Zinfandel, with a sprinkling of other varieties growing among them (Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignane)
  • Lytton West—44-year-old Zinfandel, with a sprinkling of Grenache, Carignane, and Mataro.
    Rating—James Laube gives Lytton Zins his top award, FIVE stars. Other critics call it "classic." Half of my tasters rated it EXCELLENT and half gave it a SUPERB.
    Contact—The office of Vice President Donn Reisen, who wrote me nearly a decade ago that "we continue to search for areas with the best Zinfandel." I must say, "It's working, it's working!" Phone (408)867-3233, FAX (408)868-1350. URL, www.ridgewine.com
    More About Ridge—See the Oct. 15, 1999 WineDay titled, "The Draper Caper".
    Price—$27.50 range


    Postscript

    The Care and Feeding of Zinfandel:
    Ridge Vineyard Manager David Gates gives us these insights about California's most widely-planted red wine grape.

    Zinfandel needs moderately warm areas to develop the rich, jammy fruit characteristics we prefer. It can handle heat better than Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Zinfandel can do well on many types of soils, as long as they are lean and mean. Rich soils reduce intensity of flavor.

    We've made careful comparisons of using trellises versus letting the vines stand alone, (pictured). The head-trained vines (no trellises) yield smaller grapes with fuller flavors.

    And after all this work you can still have a train wreck if you pick at the wrong time...too early, and the flavors are a little green and disappointing. Too late and you loose the lush fruitiness. Chemical analysis isn't totally reliable. The solution is to taste the grapes, and when in doubt, let them ripen a little longer.

    Class dismissed

    Credits:
    History of the Sonoma Viticultural District by E.P. Peninou with Unzelman and Anderson
    Prof.Gudde's Place Names of California
    Historian Charles Sullivan's Wine Companion

     
    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

     
     


    This page created June 2000

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