Santa Cruz Mountains AVA

Blog Post

American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are defined as agricultural regions that have distinct climate or geographic features that impact the way grapes are grown. There are 267 AVAs in the United States, and more than half (147) are in California.

At Ridge Vineyards, our winemaking style is dedicated to highlighting specific patches of ground. An AVA’s climate, soil types, and topography impart unique attributes and directly contribute to a wine’s character. Here, we explore the ways that characteristics of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA are expressed in our wines.

Santa Cruz Mountains Climate & Geography

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981. Its territory spans three counties: Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo. It was among the first to be defined by its mountain topography. Based on elevation, it largely follows the fog line along the coast, extending down to 800 feet on the eastern slope toward San Francisco Bay, 400 feet on the western slope to the Pacific Ocean, and extending toward the ridgecrest at 3000+ feet elevation. These varied aspects and elevations create a myriad of microclimates throughout the entire AVA.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is home to the Monte Bello vineyard, located only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is one of California’s coolest cabernet-producing areas. The Monte Bello vineyard ranges in elevation from 1300′ to 2700′ above sea level and is composed of unique green stone and clay soils layered over decomposing and fractured limestone. Limestone is not found in the well-known Cabernet-producing areas of Napa and Sonoma Valleys, making the soil composition at Monte Bello a unique and important contributor to the wine’s distinctive character.

Characteristics of Santa Cruz Mountain Wines

The vines are low-yielding (less than two tons per acre), which lends to the intensity, depth, and complexity of the wine. The combination of elevation, cool climate, and soil produces a wine that is beautifully balanced and destined for long-term aging. Well-structured tannins, firm acidity, and a consistent streak of minerality are the hallmarks of this wine and are directly attributable to the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

Our Santa Cruz Mountain Wines

Monte Bello has often been called America’s First Growth, as it is the finest domestic example of a classic Bordeaux blend in which cabernet sauvignon predominates. Exhaustive tasting of test blends during the assemblage process determines how much, if any, merlot, petit verdot, or cabernet franc will be included in the finished wine. Each grape variety makes a contribution to the flavor and structure of the wine — with cabernet sauvignon often showing cassis and adding tannin, merlot giving plum character and a bit of softness, petit verdot contributing dark color and earthiness, and cabernet franc adding fragrance and a hint of spice. Each vintage is different, but Monte Bello is a consistently outstanding wine year after year with great structure, complexity, and balance. The Monte Bello wines are also very age-worthy and have been known to lay down for several decades with elegance and ease. 


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