The Historic Vineyards of the Monte Bello Estate
The properties that now comprise the Ridge Monte Bello Estate were first developed and planted to wine grapes during the late 1800s and early 1900s by four different, unique owners.
In 1885 Osea Perrone, a San Francisco doctor originally from northern Italy, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. He terraced the slopes and planted vineyards. He dug into a ravine next to a natural spring, and built his winery using native limestone. The Monte Bello winery was completed and bonded in time for the 1892 vintage. Finished wine was transported to San Francisco, where it was bottled (and also sold from barrel) by the Montebello Wine Company. After Osea’s death in 1912, ownership of the property passed to his nephew, also named Osea, who had worked on the ranch. Young Osea expanded the operation to over five hundred acres. He held onto the property during Prohibition and, after repeal, restarted production. Perrone died in 1936, but limited production continued until 1943, when the winery closed and the last vineyards were abandoned.
By the late 1960s, the Ridge partners (see background information below within the “Torre” history) were ready to expand, and the larger Perrone winery, a mile up the hill, was the logical choice. They contacted the Trentadue family, who, in 1957, had bought the abandoned winery and forty acres for day trips and picnics in the country with family. In 1968, the partners succeeded in purchasing the portion of the Perrone property that included the old winery and began its restoration. In 1969 winemaker Paul Draper was charged with re-equipping the winery and production commenced with the 1971 harvest.
Ridge leased additional acreage from the Trentadues, and planted Bordeaux varietals, ultimately buying those parcels in 1987. The historic winery is the heart of the present Monte Bello production facility. Osea Perrone, the younger, and his crew, 1916
In 1890, John Torre, a successful Nevada cattle rancher purchased one hundred acres on Monte Bello Ridge, planted vines, and built a barn atop a cellar dug into the hillside. In 1908, John’s nephew Vincent and wife, Dominica, left Nevada to run the vineyards and winery at Monte Bello, acquiring the property upon John’s death in 1913. The Torre winery produced mostly zinfandel, selling it for shipment by rail to New York. Prohibition closed the Torre winery in 1920 and the vines died out over time. After several changes of ownership, William Short acquired the property, including the old winery barn, and replanted the vineyard to cabernet sauvignon and a small amount of chardonnay. By 1959, Short, weary of the work, sold the land to four scientists from Stanford Research Institute, Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, and Howard Ziedler.
Initially, the partners intended to sell the grapes, but one of them, Dave Bennion, made a half-barrel of wine from the 1959 harvest—his first foray into winemaking. Its quality convinced the partners to re-bond the old winery, and to undertake the venture that would become Ridge Vineyards. Dave, with his partners, went on to make seven commercial vintages (1962-1968). Paul Draper—impressed by the exceptional 1962 and 1964—joined the group as winemaker in 1969. Paul assisted with that vintage and made the 1970 and 1971 on his own, the last to be made in the old Torre Winery.
Today the oldest vines are those planted by William Short in 1949. The old Torre winery building now houses the Monte Bello tasting room and guest hosting facilities.
Charles Rousten purchased seventy-five acres on Monte Bello in 1903. His property was just above Klein’s, and a mile below Torre. He planted vines and built a winery, BW (Bonded Winery) 180, where he made his wine. During Prohibition, he replanted most of the vines to prunes, but kept about eight acres of vineyard. After repeal, he produced a little wine until his death in 1941, when his son, Charlie, inherited the property. Charlie operated the winery until sometime in the 1950s, when—fed up with the increasing paperwork demanded by the federal authorities—he famously refused to pay the federal excise tax on his wine. He dumped all the wine on the ground in front of a federal agent, and threw him off the property. He tore out the remaining vines, closed the winery, and focused on prunes, cattle, and hay.
When Charlie died in 1990, he left his land to Lois Ortmann. A high school teacher during the day, Lois developed a successful horse boarding operation on the ranch. In 2007 Lois signed a long term lease with Ridge on thirty-seven acres and new vines were planted starting in 2008. Today, Ridge farms all four ranches, producing several red wines—Monte Bello, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Merlot, and the Historic Vineyard Series wines—and limited quantities of white wine—Monte Bello, Estate, Jimsomare, and Mikulaco Chardonnays.
Klein Ranch Pierre Klein (1855-1922) was an Alsatian who came to California in 1875. For years, as manager of the restaurant in San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel, he championed the best of California wines. In 1888 he purchased 160 acres on Monte Bello Ridge (currently known as the Jimsomare Ranch.) Determined to produce a fine claret in the style of the Médoc, he planted Bordeaux varieties on their own roots. In the early 1890s, he began selling his Mira Valle wines to several San Francisco restaurants; in 1895, he entered his wine in the Bordeaux Exposition, where he took an honorable mention At the Paris Exposition of 1900, he won two gold medals—one for his Claret, the other for his “Grand Vin”—known as the “Château Lafitte of America,”
When phylloxera attacked his vines after the turn of the century, he did not replant. Retiring in 1910, he sold the property in 1913. In 1936, it was purchased by the Schwabacher family of San Francisco who renamed the property “Jimsomare” from their names Jim, Sophie, Marie. Although Klein’s Bordeaux varietals had died out, a small nineteenth-century zinfandel vineyard survived. Ridge bought those grapes, and made its first Jimsomare Zinfandel in 1968, Ridge convinced the family to replant the Bordeaux varietals, and a small amount of chardonnay. In exchange, Ridge provided rootstock, and a promise to purchase the grapes. The first cabernet bottling was in 1978.
By the late 1990s, the Schwabachers no longer wished to manage day-to-day farming, and signed a long-term lease with Ridge. Today, Ridge farms the original Klein property as part of its Monte Bello Estate.
Members of our Monte Bello Collector program receive priority, and in some cases exclusive, access to the wines produced from the Monte Bello Estate. Click here to learn about becoming a member.
For more information on our Monte Bello Estate, click here