POSTED ON January 6, 2018 | IN Santa Cruz Wine Country, Tasting Rooms | BY Joe Becerra
Ridge vineyard Montebello old barn

The old barn tasting room originally constructed in 1904

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello makes for a unique wine country visit

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is one of California’s most esteemed wineries. Ridge’s wine was one of the California wines entered in the “Judgement of Paris” competition in 1976. The tasting was revisited in 2006 and 2015 with the same wines, California vs Bordeaux. While the Ridge wine was not the top selection in 1976, it was the best in the next two taste-offs. Paul Draper, the winemaker for 48 years, is one of the most respected winemakers worldwide. That should be reason enough to want to visit Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello. Yes, the wine is fantastic, but we love other aspects of visiting this winery.

There are two Ridge Vineyards locations. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is the original winery (1959) and  Ridge Lytton Springs (1991) is near Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Monte Bello specializes in Bordeaux varieties, but Lytton Springs is all about Zinfandel. We visited Ridge Monte Bello last week. It has been a good ten years that we had been to this location, and it was an excellent experience. We love the ride from Highway 280 in Cupertino up Monte Bello Road. It is a three-mile ride to the Ridge mountaintop location. One would hardly guess in this high-tech region there would be a winery nestled high above the Silicon Valley.

The views are spectacular. On a clear day, views of San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Silicon Valley are breathtaking. Watch out for cyclists on the narrow, windy road to the top. Cyclists cherish the workout and, better yet, the exhilarating ride down the mountain.

We visited on a Friday. During the week Ridge Monte Bello requires reservations. On Saturday and Sunday, the winery is open to the public 11 am to 4 pm. During the week, appointments are daily at 11 am and 2 pm. The $35 per person fee includes a tasting of five wines and some small bites to accompany the wines. See visiting details.

Our host Allison Mayo greeted us with a glass of the Ridge Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is beautifully balanced with a touch of minerality. The Chardonnay is the only white wine made at Ridge Monte Bello. We then took a short vineyard walk. Most impressive and a “must see” on a visit are the Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in 1949. They are withered and aged but still produce grapes that are used in the Ridge wine. What a sight to see these vines at the very top of Monte Bello with the Silicon Valley below.

Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1949

Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1949

What a spectacular venue for a wine country picnic. Ridge has several picnic benches and is planning a new one that affords the views mentioned above. Pack your lunch, order your wine, and sit back and enjoy the experience. Picnic tables are on a first-come basis.

Now back to the cozy tasting room for visitors with an appointment. We sat comfortably while Allison poured us four red wines to savor.  Allison explained each Ridge wine in detail without being overbearing. Sometimes you get too much information or a hard sell on buying wines or joining the wine club. Allison’s presentation was just perfect. As for the wines, they are all fantastic. The last wine in the tasting was the Ridge flagship wine and the one entered in the Paris competition, the Monte Bello. We sampled the 2014, a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. At $200 a bottle, it is out of our league, but what a treat to have it as part of the tasting!

Ridge vineyards Monte Bello wine tasting

The five wines we tasted: Chardonnay, Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, and the Monte Bello

There is something special in the terroir at Monte Bello. The high altitude brings a huge difference in temperatures. Night time temps drop dramatically at this altitude. The soil is limestone, adding a touch of minerality to the wines. And, what can we say about Cabernet old vines and the intensity of flavors they produce!

Another reason to love Ridge is the philosophy of the winery. The original owners, four Stanford engineers, purchased the old property and released their first vintage in 1962. They basically wanted to grow the grapes with as little harm to the environment as possible. Today, that philosophy is carried on by the new owners, a Japanese pharmaceutical company. The vineyards are dry-farmed and the vines are organically certified. Most of the staff is full time and some even live on the property. Now, that’s loyalty to your employees.

Ridge vineyards Dry farmed and organic vineyards

Dry farmed and organic vineyards

Additional Ridge Vineyards information