Santa Cruz Mountains AVA

Santa Cruz Mountains AVA

Santa Cruz Mountains wines will take your next wine dinner up a notch.

In the wine world, bigger is not necessarily better. Quality is often found within the minute: small production, narrow focus, and attention to tiny details. 

This brings us to Santa Cruz Mountains, an AVA* in California, just south of Napa Valley.

Why You Should Drink SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS Wines

1. They are delicious.

Santa Cruz Mountains ("SCM") produces fresh, ripe, and mineral-driven wines that pair well with most foods. They are extraordinarily food-friendly and easy drinking, yet complex. This is in contrast to the stereotypical baked or buttery Californian wine, or the confusingly complex European wines.

The region's main grapes are chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon. While we all know these grapes,

where and how wine is made matters more than which grapes are used.

In the case of SCM, its mountainous terroir and dense fog allow fruit to remain fresh and ripe during its growing season. Additionally, sustainable practices preserve the grape characteristics so that we taste the natural flavors of the fruits.

2.They are reasonably priced.

If you want a great wine, spend around $25. 

If you want a really great wine, spend around $40 - $60.

Relative to the global market, where great wines start around $50, and really great wines start around $60+ retail, SCM offers excellent value for quality.

This is due to several factors, including lower demand as the region is truly a hidden gem and lower distribution costs.

SCM wines are a fabulous dinner party gift. You don't have to break the bank, but your taste will demonstrate a sophisticated level of wine knowledge.

3. They are sustainably-farmed.

Wine regions typically have a culture. Sustainability is part of the SCM culture.

Common practices include:

  • Dry-farming (relying only on the water that naturally enters the vineyard)
  • No pesticides/herbicides/fungicides/etc.
  • Maintaining the natural biodiversity of the land 
  • Hand harvesting - as opposed to using machines

4. They are palate-pleasers.

Santa Cruz Mountains AVA produces wine made from popular grapes (i.e. pinot noir, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon). 

Besides the popularity of their offerings, SCM winemaking produces fresh-tasting wines with strong acidity. Acidity is important because it helps with food pairing. 

The wines are also typically balanced between acidity, alcohol, sweetness, tannins, and body. Neither the alcohol nor tannings are excessively strong or bitter (specifically in the bottles I suggest below).

Finally, the wines have a more fruit-forward/slightly sweet finish, as most American wines do, yet they are made in a more French style. This leads to wines that present with citrus, vanilla, honey, and floral, as opposed butter.

5. They are well-respected in the wine community.

Students of wine know that wine quality is NOT directly related to price, cover art, or clout. 

This is a good thing for SCM, because most wines command accessible prices, have normal wine cover art, and rarely win popularity contests.

SCM stands out as a source for sustainable, small-batch, delicious, and value-driven American wines. Plus, they pair very well with food (again, thank the acid levels). 


After a bit of wine study, you come to look at these alternative factors when evaluating a quality wine. And SCM stands out among wine lovers for hitting the mark several times over.


    • Rhys Cellars - Alesia Chardonnay ($40 - $60)
      • DO NOT FEAR this California chardonnay. It is lovely on a hot summer day or paired with spicy Thai.
    • Monte Bello - Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($45 - $60)
      • Here is a robust Cali cab that maintains delicacy due to gentle handling of the grapes and precise aging techniques.
    • Mount Eden - Estate Pinot Noir ($50 - $100)
      • This pinot is somewhere between a Cali and Oregon pinot - with a French flair. It is an exceptional choice to pair with Thanksgiving dinner.

    *AVA: American Viticultural Area. A geographical space for wine-grape growing in the U.S.A. that is defined by the United States' Tax and Trade Bureau. The spaces are differentiated by geography. Ex: Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is the AVA within the Santa Cruz Mountains; Napa Valley AVA is the AVA within the valley of Napa County; Finger Lakes AVA is the AVA near the New York lakes that are shaped like fingers (check out Finger Lakes on the map and you will see).

    For more definitions, view the Wine Pocketbook.

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