Random Ridge Winery

wines from the mount veeder appellation, napa, california

random press

Articles  

The Sonoma Independent 
– "Renaissance Dude, Surf and Turf" 

"Poet/surfer/vintner Bill Hawley carves out a niche."

By David Templeton

WITH LONG, QUICK strides, Bill Hawley leads a visitor up to the vast, rambling farmhouse that he built--in full appreciation of the romance of it all--with his very own hands. To the left of the house, which was constructed from reclaimed (read: used) lumber, is a wide path that leads around to the back, and then down into the vineyard.

"Watch out for rattlesnakes," he warns, adding, "I kind of like them. They don't eat grapes and they keep away the animals that do."

This is Random Ridge Vineyards, the whimsically titled wonderland located 3,200 feet above the Sonoma Valley, atop the craggy volcanic eminence of Mt. Veeder. It is here that Hawley, a native of Southern California, sometime poet (in the Gary Snyder vein of nature-inspired verse), and a rabid enthusiast of surfing, established himself, along with his lawyer wife Susan, in the late 1970s. Settling in, the pair cleared several acres to make room for Hawley's slowly fermenting vision: the creation of an independent winemaking business producing unique, world-class wines that would capture the muscular essence of all that is Mt. Veeder.

Today, by all accounts, Hawley has done just that. Producing no more than 1,000 cases of wine per year, Random Ridge has charmed its way to the forefront of an expanding number of small "boutique" wineries. Priced in the middle to high range ... Hawley's product is in great demand, as much for its character and flavor as for its understandable scarcity.

"They are all handcrafted, all wonderful wines across the board," gushes wine consultant Les Ferguson of Traverso's Gourmet Food & Wines in Santa Rosa. "All of the Random Ridge offerings are just exceptional. The red table wine is as good they get. It's ready to drink now, and it ages wonderfully."

Handcrafted wines

It is a charming, homey little phrase that is dangerously close to becoming an industry cliché, yet in Hawley's case, the description "handcrafted wines" is completely apropos. He tends his own crop, with only one hired hand and the occasional conscription of his two sons. He also farms other small-scale vineyards, thanks to a variety of handshake deals that give him use of his neighbors' grapes. The grapes are sent down the mountain to Peter and John Wellington, who operate a small winery in Glen Ellen, and with whom Hawley has been collaborating since 1981, when they began bottling wines under the Random Ridge label.

And speaking of that label, the handcrafted category has no handier or craftier a label than the wildly enchanting, look-Ma-I-can-draw-type badges that are affixed to each bottle of Random Ridge wine. The "Old Wave" zinfandel features a chimerical cork riding a surfboard, a reference to Hawley's lifelong, wave-riding hobby. The Random Ridge Red Table Wine is a hallucinogenic montage of tiny images: dangling horseshoes, hat-waving buckaroos, and, of course, surfboards. The sangiovese label is even less fancy: two bravely drawn wine glasses, exchanging a wave of multicolored drips, and nothing else."

We are inside the house now. A light-filled, multiwindowed beauty, Hawley's home is eccentrically designed, its wraparound lofts and creative use of space the result of working with whatever materials were available at the time.

"My first career was in construction," he says, explaining his house-building know-how. "After I bought this property, I was working at different wineries in the valley. I'd started collecting reclaimed lumber and windows and stuff. Whenever I thought I had enough to work with, a contractor buddy and I would take a look at my pile and figure out what to do with it. We'd build on the house until I ran out of material, and then I'd start collecting again."

Since his home is too far away from town for the county to provide electricity, Hawley powers it with solar-powered roof panels and a number of generators. Leading the way through the house, he points out his collection of surfboards--several rooms worth--ingeniously stored on the ceiling, where they fit nicely between rafters. The walls are adorned with paintings, photographs, and framed poems from writers the Hawleys respect.

Bill Hawley's own writings, most of which he has self-published in low-volume quantities throughout the years, stand in a place of honor beside other poets' works.

A brief peek into the bathroom reveals Hawley's enthusiasm for old-fashioned sinks and fixtures. "I have kind of a sink fetish," he admits with a grin. "I have antique sinks all over the place."

He's a hard one to describe, this Bill Hawley. Vintner-poet-surfer-builder-farmer-father-husband-­sink fetishist. One description he does not appreciate is the word eccentric.

"I don't think of myself as eccentric at all," he shrugs. "I prefer 'rugged individualist.'"

But a term that he will allow to be applied to himself is the word lucky. "I am lucky," he states gratefully. "I wouldn't say that I'm fully content. I don't know if I ever will be. But it's certainly a good life I've got. I don't know how I could live any other way."

He gazes out the window, a sweeping view of his vineyards and all the tree-filled vastness of the mountain beyond. "If I ever had to go get a real job again, I'm sure I could do it," he acknowledges. "But I'd be pretty bummed."

 


The Examiner  "Bill Hawley- A Winemaker Using Martial Arts Principles"

"There is no secret recipe to great wine, ‘it is made in the vineyard.'"

By Paul Rest

Read the article here

 

The Sun "Flying Wizzbanger Rides Again" 

Random Ridge's Old Wave "keeps you coming back for more" 

By Bradley Gray 

"...Back on the Plaza, our adventure leads to The Wine Exchange of Sonoma. Here we find a fantastic wine simply called Old Wave. 

Old Wave is produced by Random Ridge Winery, and the Grateful Dead-looking label depicts a surfing cork. 

Old Wave is a Zinfandel, and it features classic Zin-like aromas on the nose: pepper, black fruit and potpourri spice. 

The wine itself is seamless, and it's the texture that really makes this one shine. 

It shows plenty of spice and raspberry, and keeps you coming back for more..." 


The Press Democrat "Mountain fruit a cut above?"

Mountainous location makes for a big difference in Hawley's wine 

By Peg Melnik

"Hawley's property is above the fogline and he says it's the duration of the sun shining on the vineyard that gives his wines their rich flavors. 'It's not hotter, but it's more intense,' he says. 'There's a lot less filtration of the rays. I wish I could say it in a more scientific way, but I was trained as a poet.'" 

To read the whole article, click here


The Sun – "Find Me Some Wines I Can Afford!" 

Random Ridge's second-label Windfall shows promise

By Bradley Gray

"Another great value came from The Wine Exchange of Sonoma, where Dan Noreen wasted no time in directing me to the 2000 Windfall Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley ... Windfall is the second-label from Random Ridge Winery, who is up on Cavedale Road. This wine shows a touch of coffee bean, roses and mineral on the nose, with flavors of tart cassis and cranberry that give way to dark fruit flavors. This wine has a lot of structure, and should really be something in a few years ..!" 

 

Wine Business Monthly – "The Porch" 

By Jake Lorenzo 

"The hand-hewn vineyard struggles to survive on steep, dusty hills and the views are more than spectacular spreading all the way to Oakland, the Golden Gate, and beyond."


The Sun – "Searching for Wine Values" 

2003 Willy Nilly is "showing lots of fruit and a lovely, lively balance." 

By Lance Cutler 

    "Bill Hawley lives high in the rugged Mayacamas mountains, about as close to heaven as you can get while still in Sonoma Valley. His 2003 Willy Nilly is a blend of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 percent merlot. For those of you tired of all those overblown, highly extracted, oaky reds, this four-year-old wine is ready to drink. It's showing lots of fruit and a lovely, lively balance."


Idaho State Journal "Winemaker keeps his passion pure" 

Hawley stays focused on what truly matters– making his wine

By Penelope Reedy

"High on a 2,200 foot ridge on Mount Veeder, at the end of a 7-mile, one-lane, dirt track of switchbacks, hippie/surfer/poet/winemaker Bill Hawley tends to his hillside vineyard. 

Hawley, 50, built the house on the property in which he and his wife, an environmental attorney, and two sons live. On a good day, they can see San Francisco peeking out of the distant fog. The house, made of wood, stone, and tile, is open and airy exuding a peaceful Zen quality. The structure also houses Hawley's surfboard collection suspended from the ceiling in several rooms, as well as paintings by artists he admires. 

A former 'cellar rat'  and a passionate winemaker Hawley learned the art by apprenticing at the Carmenet Winery in Napa, Calif. Random Ridge is Hawley's label. 

'I don't even understand why plants grow, but I can grow them,' Hawley says. 'Like the Burgundians in France, I learned by observation.'

Winemakers, Hawley says, seek a very different end result in their fruit. Rather than desiring huge, healthy bumper crops, winemakers stress their vines in order to develop complexity of flavors. 

A small operation, Hawley markets only about 1,500 cases of his luscious wines a year, all at reasonable prices. Producing the product holds more interest for him than selling it. 

'Farming is my number one passion making the wine,' he says. 'If I can do that, I can keep it pure.'"


Sonoma Valley Magazine "Sonoma's Surfers"

Bill Hawley: the "granddaddy of all surfers in the valley" 

By Jean Ayers

"As a vineyard owner and winemaker, Hawley finds ways to combine his wine marketing trips with surf trips. Random Ridge vintage is featured in restaurants from New Zealand to Fiji, Hawaii to Europe, because of Hawley's frequent surf trips." 


The Sun "Random Ridge captures terroir and passion" 

"Poetic wines, teepees, and surfboards define Mt. Veeder Winery"

By Bradley Gray 


The Sun "Bill Hawley: Poet, surfer, art collector, winemaker"

The story of Mt. Veeder's Random Ridge, part II 

By Bradley Gray

     Bill Hawley cut his wine-making teeth in the '70s at Coturri Winery in Sonoma. He tells me he was more of a "participant" than an employee, and it was the time there that inspired him to start his own winery, Random Ridge. Today, Hawley's Random Ridge produces somewhere just over 1,000 cases of wine per year, and his first commercial release was in 1988. Prior to that, he was making home wine. 

To read more... click here!   

  

The Beach News– Vintner influses soul into stuffy winemaking industry

Hawley's surfer influence contributes to a unique and highly-praised product 

By Gary Taylor


 North Berkeley Wine 
– "New Star-Old Wave"

"Bill expresses his enthusiastic free spirit and drive for excellence in his style of Zin."

    We're certain that you are well aware of our obsession with Zinfandel made from ancient vines. Old Vine Zins are responsible for some of the finest, most distinctive bottlings that we know. The 1997 Old Wave Zinfandel from Bill Hawley completely fills the bill. As passionate about his wines as he is about surfing (take a look at the label), Bill expresses his enthusiastic free spirit and drive for excellence in his style of Zin. As a long time advocate of controlling soil erosion, organic and dry fanning, he has at times butted heads with more traditional California winernaking practices. His attention to the maintenance of these 90+ year old vines and the red volcanic soils in this Sonoma Valley vineyard yield what Bill calls, "the taste of the earth." Sounds similar to what our European friends have said for years. Yes, there is something fresh and unique about this winemaker and his Zinfandel, and that is what makes it so special. Brambly earth and pepper spice aromas surround the intense berry fruit. Deep pitched flavors of the darkest and most succulent berries mixed with a floral root spice reminds you of licking your fingers after picking fresh blackberries. Its full body has no hard edges and hits every inch of your mouth while the dense yet pure fruit is a hallmark of this soon-to-be-legendary vintage. As with all wines that are treated with such care and dedication, production is small. One of the best!


Sonoma Tribune – "Fire Rages On"

August 2, 1996

By Michelle Bouchet 

Click here to read about the 1996 fire that almost devastated Random Ridge


 

Wine Reviews 

 

     For better or worse, richer or poorer, Random Ridge winegrower Bill Hawley has never chosen to send his wines out to competition, focusing on the making rather than the marketing. But the wines are occasionally reviewed by those that do manage to find them!


  

The Napa Wine Project – David Thompson – 2013 

Random Ridge yields "balanced and food friendly" wines

Read review here

 


Piedmont Post – "The Mount Veeder Magic" May 2013 Pierre Dumont 

 Random Ridge Cabernet Reserve Among Mount Veeder's Finest

 

The Mount Veeder AVA (Arnerican Viticulture Area) is one of the up and coming regions of Napa Valley. It is tucked away in the southwest corner of Napa Valley west of Yountville and Napa. The mountain was named after a German Presbyterian, minister, Rev.Peter Veeder, who lived in Napa during the Civil War era and used to hike the mountain. 

 

 Mount Veeder is the largest AVA in Napa Valley, yet because most of it is covered in Redwood forest and plantable pockets ofland are scarce only 1.3% of Napa Valley grapes come from Mt. Veeder. Mt. Veeder is actually an island of ancient seabed pushed up into a mountain, surrounded by volcanic soils that typify the rest of NapaValley. This appellation, with wine production severely limited by nature, has the longest growing season and the lowest yields in Napa Valley. Rugged mountain terrain above the fog with steep slopes, render shallow topsoil resulting in tiny berries, with intense flavor concentration yet soft tannins.

 

At a recent tasting featuring Mt. Veeder AVA wines I was amazed not just by the quality of the wines but by the variety of grapes grown there. Cabernet is king, but the region is also is great for Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The following wines are the standouts of the Mt. Veeder appellation:

 • 2007 Random Ridge  Cabernet Reserve, $35

 

Firm, intense and concentrated, showing rich focused cassis, licorice, blackberry, toasty oak with hints of violet. Impressive finish where the fruit and tannins are well integrated. Made from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc. While $35 is not chump change, compared to the price of other Mt. Veeder wines this counts as a good value.



Huffington Post – Sangiovese: Italy's Most Ubiquitous Grape – Richard Jennings –  March 2012

 

"The best [Sangiovese] I've had to date was the 2007 Random Ridge Fortunata, with fruit from Napa's Mt. Veeder." 

 Whole Article 



RJonWINE.com – "Fabulous Terroir and Impressive Wines: Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting" –  Richard Jennings – October 2011 

Random Ridge among highest reviewed at 2011 tasting 

Whole Article 


 


Connoisseur's Guide

1997 Surfer Dude of the Year Award 


Gourmet Magazine 
– November 1997 – Gerald Asher

Vines Among the Redwoods

"... the Zinfandels of such tiny producers as Lore Olds at Sky and Bill Hawley at Random Ridge are memorable of course, almost any Mount Veeder wine can, on occasion, seem too intense, and therefore overly dramatic. But that goes with the territory."


Wine & Spirits – 
October 1997 – Rod Smith

"Old Vine Zinfandel"

"... Random Ridge (tiny amounts of majestic zin), the Old Wave bottling especially impressive..."


Surfer Magazine – September 1997 – Gary Taylor

Better With Age

"What do walking the nose and walking on grapes have in common? If you asked vintner/surfer Bill Hawley, owner of Random Ridge wines, he'd tell you they're complimentary... Hawley, a lifelong surfer and winemaker, has carved himself a niche... What's even better is that Hawley has remained close to his surfing roots, using labels such as "CloudBreak" and "Old Wave" for his wines. The art on the labels, according to Hawley, "are a humble nod to the late Rick Griffin." On top of that, his one-man business enables him to take two or three good surf trips a year to exotic locations.

"As difficult as it might be to imagine a man with a Hawaiian shirt perpetually dangling from his tan, fit frame discussing [fine wine], make no mistake about his wine-making abilities. Hawley's wines have been hailed across the board and regularly hold top 10 positions in wine reviews." 


Sonoma Wine Exchange Catalog – Fall 1997

[O]ne of the very finest examples of this varietal we've ever tasted.

"1994 Random Ridge. 1994 was a spectacular year for Mt. Veeder grapes and from them Bill Hawley produced one of his best wines ever. Bill's Random Ridge vineyards are at 2300 feet on the northeast side of the mountain ... This is a big, serious wine that shows copious quantities of sweet black fruit. Rich flavors of berry, smoke, earth and spice make this a Cabernet for all hearty dishes. It will also reward patience.

"1996 Cloudbreak Chardonnay. Winemaker and vineyardist Bill Hawley has never failed to impress with his unique blends and his hand-colored, entertaining labels. This old vine Semillon made from 90-year old vines may be his finest effort to date, red or white... The wine was entirely barrel fermented, sur lie aged, with 70% malolactic fermentation, and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The richness, length and depth are remarkable for a wine of this price -- or any price for that matter. This is one of the very finest examples of this varietal we've ever tasted and bears comparison to a top white Graves from Bordeaux. So if you're burned out on Chardonnay, come on over!"


California Grapevine 
– July 1997

Highly recommended.

"1995 Old Wave ... attractive, briary, spicy, jammy, ripe berry fruit aroma, big rich, smooth, high extract. Very enjoyable to drink now. Highly recommended."


Oddbins Fine Wines Catalogue – 
London 1997

a phenomenon

"Random Ridge could accurately be described as a phenomenon... the setting is reminiscent of a 50's homestead... handcrafted, well-knit [wines]...

"1993 Random Ridge Table Wine. Steven Tanzer, International Wine Cellar, "Juicy, tobacco-flavoured fruit offers good ripeness and balancing acidity and a Bordeaux-like shapeliness." 


Gary Snyder – April 1997

"... great wine..."


The Wine Advocate 
– 1997, Issue 112 – Robert Parker

[I]ts forward charms are difficult to resist.

"89+ - Random Ridge 1994 Red Table Wine. Made from a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc grapes, grown on Mount Veeder, Random Ridge's 1994 is a fruit- driven, intense, medium to full-bodied wine that exhibits excellent winemaking. With its copious quantities of sweet, jammy black fruits intermixed with smoke, earth, and spice, this wine possesses structure and tannin, which is masked by a flashy display of fruit, glycerine, and extract. With another year or so in the bottle, this wine will undoubtedly settle down and become more focused. An intriguing, grapy, unevolved, dense, spicy wine with considerable potential, its forward charms are difficult to resist. Drink it over the next decade, but don't be surprised to see it develop more complexity, and last for 10 to 15 years."


Wine Spectator 
– December 1996

1993 Random Ridge Cabernets. Score: 86.


Los Angeles Times 
– Dan Berger

Former 'Longhairs' True to their Environmental Roots

"Thirty years ago, when the counter-culture staged sit- in protests and raged about the environment -- and middle America called them kooks -- some "longhairs," frustrated at intransigence in the establishment, moved to northern California.

"Many wound up in the then-little-populated California counties of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino... the growth of the California wine industry in the early 1970's coincides with the move of disaffected city-dwelling, environmentally conscious youth to the hinterlands, many of whom wound up in the wine industry.

"In the last decade, some have reverted to their original philosophy and adopted the organic farming methods that are proving effective for the making of fine wine.

"... With tiny wineries such as Random Ridge in the Napa Valley... full organic farming is in full effect.


California Grapevine 
– September 1996

1994 Zinfandel

1994 Random Ridge. Old Wave, Sonoma Valley. Medium- dark ruby with purplish tinges; attractive, intense, briary, spicy, ripe berry fruit which developed with airing; medium-full to full body; big, rich, jammy flavors with a slightly tart acidic core; medium to medium-full tannin; slightly tart finish; lingering aftertaste. Superior quality. Very highly recommended.


Wine Enthusiast – August 1996 – Dan Berger

Unknown Sonoma 

"Random Ridge: Surfer Bill Hawley began to make wine a decade ago from his own six-acre vineyard high in the Mayacamas Mountains. The vineyard, now 10 acres, is on Mount Veeder, accessible through a remote Sonoma Valley road. "The Napa/Sonoma county line goes right through my property; my house is in both counties," he says.

"Hawley's production, including a joint venture with Wellington, is 700 cases. The Random Ridge red wine is a 50-50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc blend; Wellington uses Random Ridge as a vineyard designate. About 90 percent of Hawley's wine is sold "within an hour's drive of my home." He also makes Old Wave Zinfandel from a 90-year old Sonoma Valley vineyard and a tiny amount of Cloudbreak Chardonnay.

"Hawley moved here in 1972 to attend Sonoma State University (and wrote a thesis on the influence of Zen Buddhism on the San Francisco school of poetry), built his own home, hand-embellishes each wine label, farms all the grapes he uses."


North Berkeley Wine Catalog – June 1996

No Random Success -- Ride the Wave

"The 1994 [Old Wave] Zinfandel is one of the finest 94's we have yet tasted. The 1993 Mt. Veeder Red Table Wine is full, serious Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc... Tiny production, hand-embellished, and full- flavored wines represent perfectly the free spirit of Bill, but rarely see retail shelves. . . The flavors are hedonistic, jammy, structured and totally seductive." 


Restaurant Wine – Ron Weigand, Issue No. 46

an outstanding Zinfandel

"93 Old Wave. * * * * * Rich, very spicy, and intensely flavored (blackberry, black pepper) an outstanding Zinfandel, which emphasizes flavor impact over refinement."


St. Helena Wine Center Catalog – June 1995

"1992 Random Ridge Red Table Wine. From the densely planted Random Ridge Vineyard on the edge of a caldera in the Mt. Veeder area, this unfined, unfiltered 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is big, rich, and impressive. Complex concentrated black cherry, cassis and ripe plum aromas, and flavors with spicy, floral notes give high standing to this newcomer. The unique, hand-embellished labels are eye catching and memorable. Only 240 cases produced -- catch a rising star while you can!"


Press Democrat – September 1994 – "Dan Berger's Wine Cellar"

"Some of the best new labels on the shelf are from newcomers who have developed new wineries on existing vineyards. Among these are excellent producers with names such as ... Random Ridge... Today adventuresome consumers can have good, fairly priced wine in almost every price range -- wine that's better than it's ever been."


San Francisco Chronicle – April 1989 – Rod Smith, The Wine Page – "A Fine Crew of California Zinfandels Ages Well"

It could only be described as a fine Zinfandel in its prime. That was the case with the 1979 Quantum Leap, made by Sonoma County grapegrower William Hawley from his own vineyard in the Mount Veeder area. As a dry late harvest wine, it showed another classic zin style that is unique to the variety. Inky purple and very, very ripe, it showed volcanic Zinfandel flavors and a dusting of black pepper in the long finish.


Sonoma Index-Tribune – October 1985 – John Lynch

Poet and grape grower honored for vineyard control efforts here"

"Bill Hawley earned his college degree in Contemporary Poetry. But he has developed equal talent in expressing his work with his hands... Hawley, 33,... has been selected as 1984 "Cooperator of the Year" by the Sonoma Valley Resource Conservation District for his efforts to control hillside vineyard erosion."


San Francisco Chronicle – November 1983 – George Snyder

A Winery Fights to Keep Topsoil

"...We don't want erosion and we don't want to use pesticides and herbicides here,' Hawley says. 'I guess the bottom line is that we want to hold onto the soil. It's that fine, red, volcanic stuff that gives our grapes their distinctive taste. The French call it the 'taste of the earth.' It's something we just don't want to lose.'

random press


Our 2009 Mount Vedeer Cabernet Sauvignon was featured on the undercover and exclusive website, The Wine Spies as "the best wine that we’ve ever tasted from this quirky yet very talented winemaker".

 

Excerpts from the article:

"Bill’s Random Ridge 2009 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is the best wine that we’ve ever tasted from this quirky yet very talented winemaker. The wine is flavorful, delicious and so very elegant. We’re crazy about it and we are certain that you will be, too.

This delectable Mount Veeder Cabernet was the biggest hit at our most recent tasting panel. One of our panelists (Agent Nebbiolo) is even buying a case to hand out to his very lucky neighbors.

Did we mention that this wine is incredible?"

 

Look:

Deep, dark, almost midnight crimson at its core. Nearly perfectly opaque, transitioning to a lighter ruby edge.

Smell:

Big, bold and aromatic, this wine exudes aromas of dark mixed berry compote, braised plum, sweet tobacco leaf, fresh forest floor, white pepper, and hints of cocoa powder.

Taste:

Smooth and wonderfully balanced, with concentrated fruit notes of grilled plum, stewed black cherry, and dried blackberry. These dark fruit flavors overlay notes of sweet leather, sandalwood, espresso bean, and dark chocolate truffle, with slight touches of anise and pomegranate tea.

Finish:

Truly elegant, this wine is incredibly smooth and finely balanced, with the dark fruit slowly trailing into a well structured, lovely finish.

Pairing:

A garlic-encrusted roast rack of lamb, served alongside rosemary-rubbed red potatoes.

"> Wine Spies Rave About Random Ridge

Press for Random Ridge: December 2013 feature by the Wine Spies


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