Unlike many Californian AVAs, Santa Cruz Mountains’ area under vine - a tiny fraction of the appellation’s total size - is not dominated by one particular grape variety, rather it is planted to around one quarter each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with the final quarter comprising of other ubiquitous Californian grapes such as Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.
The appellation’s unique terroir, brought about by a combination of the area’s tectonic history, the wide range in elevation and aspect and the climatic influences of the Pacific Ocean, make for distinctive, flavoursome grapes and highly acclaimed wines suitable for laying down in the cellar. Some vineyards here occupy sites high above the fog line at altitudes of up to one-thousand metres above sea level, and the significant diurnal temperature variation synonymous with this height is perfect for slow ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir. Conversely, Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been found to thrive in some of the lower lying inland sites that are more sheltered from the coastal breeze.
Viticulture has a long history in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the industry here has largely ridden the same waves of success and disappointment as the wider state. Rapid initial growth in the late 1800s was subsequently halted by prohibition, and following its repeal in the 1930s, winemaking was mostly forgotten about until its renaissance a half century ago (following the success of Californian wines in the Judgement of Paris).