Monte Bello is first and foremost a wine of place. That place – high atop the Santa Cruz Mountains underlain by decomposing limestone and Franciscan rock – produces a wine unlike any other. It is our belief that this vineyard with its very low-yielding vines (less than two tons per acre) is capable of creating a wine of great significance, depth, complexity and aging potential – but only if we take care in sustaining it. Our vineyard practices, therefore, do not intervene; rather they use and preserve the existing eco-system through techniques such as sowing cover crops and utilizing integrated pest management to nurture and protect the vines. We do not add anything to the vineyard that is not natural. We are currently pursuing organic certification for Monte Bello.
The Monte Bello vineyard, located only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is part of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, California’s coolest cabernet producing area. It is our practice to let this unique vineyard site create the wine rather than try to steer it toward a particular style in the cellar. We accomplish this through a combination of natural, low-tech, hands-off winemaking techniques: keeping all grape varieties and all parcels separate, fermenting in small fermentors using only natural yeasts, and transferring the separate lots into air-dried American oak barrels to undergo full, natural malolactic fermentation. At many points along the way, we taste each lot and assess its individual qualities. This selection process is crucial to creating Monte Bello, a wine that consistently reflects the character of the vineyard and not the whim of the winemaker.
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 year after year Monte Bello proves to be a consistently outstanding wine with great structure, complexity, and balance. And, in terms of ageability, it has been known to lay down for several decades with elegance and ease.
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 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. The combination of elevation, cool climate, and soil produces a wine that is impeccably balanced and destined for long-term aging, with firm acidity and a consistent streak of minerality.
In 1959, four Stanford Research Institute engineers bought acreage on top of Monte Bello Ridge, a site that had first been planted to grape vines in the late 19th century. In the early years, Dave Bennion took the reigns as winemaker, and in 1962, after three years of producing small amounts of some of the finest wine in California of that era, the four owners re-bonded the winery and released the first commercial Ridge Monte Bello. Paul Draper joined Ridge as winemaker in 1969, making his first vintage of Monte Bello in that year. Production was then re-located to the old stone winery at the very top of the ridge, which was built by Dr. Osea Perrone in 1892 and eventually acquired from the Trentadue family. Dave and Fran Bennion, Hew and Sue Crane, Charlie and Blanche Rosen, and Howard Zeidler never dreamed that their private weekend retreat with its spectacular views of the Bay Area would steadily develop into a world-class winery. But thanks to the distinctive, one-of-a-kind wines produced from this particular piece of earth, it has done just that.