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Santa Cruz Mountains: kissed by the Pacific



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The Santa Cruz Mountains appellation has been referred to as “California’s most underrated wine district”, a title it well deserves. Home to some of the most influential wines in California, home to some of the most innovative and experimental producers of pinot noir in the world, and home to a counter-cultural approach to winemaking, the Santa Cruz Mountains is a region truly like nowhere else.

Out of a total land area of 322,000 acres, only around 1,500 acres are planted under vine. The situation has always been this sparse. Great wineries have come and gone in the Santa Cruz Mountains – in no small part due to a tendency towards the devastating Pierce’s disease among vines. In the past decade the region has begun to reclaim some of its former glory, however. Wineries like Rhys Vineyards have earned a cult following among pinot noir lovers, and have begun to turn around a region once looked at as somewhat hit-or-miss from year to year.

The legacy of the Santa Cruz Mountains spans decades. Two wineries – David Bruce and Ridge Vineyards – competed in the infamous 1976 Judgment of Paris, alongside the great wines of France. They both placed – the 1971 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon placed 5th in the Red Wine category, and the 1973 David Bruce Chardonnay placed 10th in the White Wine Category.


Many of the clones being grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains predate the hip modern clones that dominate the other major growing regions of California. These heritage vines are gaining ground among wine writers, sommeliers, and wine aficionados, and are starting to win over the hearts of everyday drinkers with their distinctive flavors.


Tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains is a wonderful experience. The setting – nestled in the mountain range just east of the Pacific Ocean, with hot days and cooler nights – is stunning. Red-tailed hawks soar above largely undeveloped woodland, and there are beautiful hikes to fill the hours between tastings.

The Santa Cruz Mountains’ tasting room culture is one of the highlights of California’s wine country. There are major wineries in the region – Bonny Doon is probably the best known – but even they are unique and quirky. And there are a myriad of small-scale winemakers, producing small quantities of completely distinctive, incredible wine. They offer an opportunity to try something new, and bring away a treasure not found anywhere else.


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Visit California for the wine and the weather