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From the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association:
The Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation is nestled in one of the most unique natural environments in the world. Mountain terrain, marine influence, varied micro-climates, and distinctive soils combine to produce some of the finest conditions for winegrowing.
The Santa Cruz Mountains are called "America's Premier Mountain Appellation" because it was the first winegrowing region in the nation to be defined by a mountain range. The peak of Mount Madonna forms the southern boundary, and the sparkling waters of Half Moon Bay define the northern boundary. The minimum vineyard elevation is 400 feet on the ocean side and rises from 400 feet on the eastern San Francisco Bay side to 800 feet at the southeast boundary. Vineyards are planted as high as 3,200 feet. The appellation exceeds 400,000 acres although vineyard plantings are around 1,500 acres.
The Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards are among the precious few situated close to the cooling effects of the ocean and the San Francisco Bay. Many wineries boast breathtaking ocean views. The temperate climate typically encourages early bud break. During the growing season, the fog tends to roll in some sometime in the late afternoon with the sun burning it off the next morning. This allows the grapes to ripen in cooler temperatures. Harvest usually begins in mid-September with some vineyards harvesting as late as November. The longer growing season allows the grapes to mature slowly with intensely complex flavor.
Wine was first produced in this region in the mid 1800's. Even then, the grapes grown in this area commanded higher prices due to the superior quality. In a famous 1976 Paris tasting where California wines proved their worth against the French elite, two of the 11 wines chosen to represent California's best were from the Santa Cruz Mountains. In a retasting of the same wines 30 years later, the Santa Cruz Mountains took First Place, proving the ageability of these fine wines.
Now more than 70 wineries, most of them family-run, are flourishing here. The small size of their operations allows for more attention to detail and a hand-crafted quality that maximizes the potential of the wines. The Santa Cruz Mountains do not produce large quantities of wine. Rather it is the rich flavors that come from this distinct winegrowing region that makes the Santa Cruz Mountains unique.