1996 Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot

1996 Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot

Wine Information

96% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon




Monte Bello


Santa Cruz Mountains

Alcohol By Volume


Vintage Notes

After an early, promising start, the vines were hit at bloom by a severe storm and two weeks of cold, windy weather. The crop was cut by forty percent. That, and exceptionally warm daytime temperatures, matured the fruit ten days earlier than usual. Circulating the juice over the skins twice daily quickly extracted full color and firm tannins. We press based on taste, rather than a fixed number of days, achieving a sensuous balance from the start. The intense fruit required only a minor amount of cabernet sauvignon for additional structure. This lovely example of cool climate merlot will be enjoyable within a year of release, and will develop depth and complexity with five to ten years of bottle age. PD (4/98)


In 1974 the six-year-old vines on the Point at the upper Monte Bello vineyard produced our first few barrels of merlot. We combined them with an equal amount of cabernet sauvignon, and, over time, compared this wine with the regular hundred percent Cabernet Monte Bello. From the outset, the quality of the merlot/cabernet equaled or surpassed that of the unblended version, convincing us to plant more merlot vines as space and resources allowed. Starting with vintage 1975, merlot has been included in the Monte Bello whenever our tastings so dictated. By 1991, as the younger plantings matured, sufficient wine remained after the Monte Bello assemblage for a separate merlot release. We have made a limited amount of this exceptional wine each year since then.

Growing Season

Two major storms in January and March were followed by warmer-than-average weather in late March and April. Development of the vines was slightly ahead of normal when a storm struck in early May, just as the flowers emerged. Many were knocked to the ground, reducing merlot yields by more than forty percent.

The small crop and unusually warm summer hastened ripening, and harvest began two weeks earlier than usual on the ridge. One merlot parcel (at 1800 feet on the lower Monte Bello vineyard) came in by mid-September; merlot on the middle and upper vineyards was picked in the final days of September.


Just out of fermentor, the wines showed great finesse, and an intensity attributable to low yields. They were so well-balanced that we added only a tiny amount of cabernet sauvignon for structure and spice. About five percent of the wine was racked to new american oak barrels, and the remainder to two-year-old american oak. This lovely, complex wine shows what merlot can become when site, climate, and winemaking allow. Beautifully structured and balanced, it can be enjoyed as a young wine. Firm tannins and rich body assure its development over the next ten years.

Consumer Tasting Notes

Average Rating: 92.5

No. of Tasting Notes: 4

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