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.

  • David Bruce Winery

    Los Gatos

    One of the 12 California wineries to compete in the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” David Bruce Winery still consistently takes top honors in competitive tastings, and has earned an international reputation throughout its nearly 40 years for its commitment to producing the greatest Pinot Noir in the world. Their 1997 Central Coast Pinot Noir ranked in Wine Spectators “Top 100 – The Most Exciting Wines of 1999.” Located off of Summit, David Bruce is a sight to behold, set in the picturesque backdrop of their gorgeous estate vineyard. Reserve their outdoor picnic area and pack a gourmet lunch to enjoy after your tasting.

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  • Alfaro Family Vineyards Winery


    At Alfaro, you’ll be treated like family. In 1997, Richard Alfaro and his wife Mary Kay acquired an aging 75-acre apple farm in Corralitos and turned it into a thriving vineyard. Alfaro’s estate grown wines reflect the unique terroir of their land, and their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are highly regarded as some of the best around. Their most recently planted eight acres was CCOF certified organic in 2010. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view of the vineyard from their deck. Voted “Best Local Winery” 2012, 2013 and 2014 by the Good Times readers’ poll.

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  • Equinox Winery

    Santa Cruz

    Centrally located on Swift Street, Equinox has been producing sparkling wine since their first vintage in 1989, and moved to their current location in 2005. Owner Barry Jackson performs the methode champenoise process with carefully selected Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, making sparkling wine in the time-honored way. He also produces still wines under the Bartolo label. Equinox offers a scintillating tour of the methode champenoise process. Don’t miss this brilliant Santa Cruz bubbly.

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  • Windy Oaks Winery


    Just up the road from Alfaro, Windy Oaks sits on a ridge in Corralitos, overlooking Monterey Bay. Winemakers Jim and Judy Schultze produced their first vintage in 1999. At Windy Oaks, winemaking begins in the vineyard, with fully sustainable farming using organic and bio-dynamic practices. Their philosophy is to use minimal intervention to fully preserve the quality of the grape achieved in the vineyard. Every effort is made to let the wine evolve naturally to its best expression, and once you taste one of their well structured, subtle yet intricate Pinot Noirs, you will know that it clearly has.

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  • Beauregard Vineyards

    Bonny Doon

    The Beauregard family has been working the land of Bonny Doon for four generations. Their mission is to grow premium wine grapes that highlight the distinct terroir of the north county area. Through the use of old world wine-making techniques, their wines are simple in the sense that they are pure, letting the true nature of the grape shine through. Their 2013 Beauregard Ranch Chardonnay won Double Gold in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and their award-winning Zinfandel has received rave reviews. Welcoming and picturesque, their tasting room is located in a historic building that operated as a general store at the start of the 20th century and later a local watering hole called, the "Lost Weekend" bar.

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  • Thomas Fogarty Winery


    Perched atop the Santa Cruz Mountains on Skyline and surrounded by vineyards, stunning panoramic views of the Bay Area can be seen from the tasting room and large deck of this mountain gem. Founded by Dr. Thomas Fogarty in 1981, with Michael Martella in charge of winemaking and viticulture, this winery was originally known for their Burgundian style Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. More recently, Thomas Fogarty has become widely recognized for their Bordeaux style red wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah – all grown in their southern estate vineyard.

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