The Santa Cruz Mountains, home to some of the world’s most distinct wines, was one of California’s first designated wine grape-growing regions in the United States. The AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation occurred in 1981, five years after the “Judgment of Paris” wine competition, in which a blind tasting by a panel of experts found that a number of California wines were on par with or better than their French counterparts.
Two of these winning wines were from the Santa Cruz Mountains: Ridge’s 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon and David Bruce’s 1973 Chardonnay.
The Santa Cruz Mountains appellation extends from Half Moon Bay in the north to Mount Madonna in the south and links both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. The region offers a diverse range of soil types and varied microclimates ideal for growing a variety of high quality grapes, from dry, sunny peaks and wooded hillsides with valleys tucked between, to open slopes with ocean views, foggy nights and winter rain.
Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains showcase the region’s unique terroir. The coastal influence on the west side produces some of California’s most well structured and complex Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while the various microclimates throughout the mountain range offer some stellar Cabernet Franc as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel with concentrated and intense flavors.
Here is a selection of standout wineries that continue the sumptuous legacy of the region.