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In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first Monte Bello vineyards were planted, and winery construction begun. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; some vines survived into the late 30s, but by the 1940s they were effectively abandoned. Eight acres of cabernet sauvignon were replanted in 1949. These were the source of the first Ridge Monte Bello (1962) and subsequent vintages until 1974 when younger blocks replanted in the 1960s were considered for inclusion. Since then, the historic vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.
The Monte Bello (originally Monte Bello Cabernet; until 1975, 100% cabernet) is the wine that introduced Ridge to the world, and the world to Ridge. Today it is a blend of bordeaux varietals in which cabernet sauvignon still predominates. Exhaustive tasting of test blends during assemblage determines how much — if any — merlot, petit verdot, or cabernet franc will be included in the finished wine. Almost every vintage (an unbroken chain from '62 on) has something substantive to recommend it. Each decade has its high points, but year after year Monte Bello proves to be a consistently outstanding wine. There's structure, there's complexity, there's balance. And it develops for a long, long time.
The vineyards are grown organically.
BLEND: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot 3% Cabernet Franc
VINTAGE 1997 REPORT: The 1997 vintage was among the most unusual of Ridge’s thirty-seven-year history with the Monte Bello Vineyard. From November through January, torrential storms brought rainfall equaling that of an entire, very wet, year. From February on, however, there was virtually no more rain. Temperatures turned mild, allowing flowering and fruit set to begin much earlier than usual. In turn, this gave us the largest crop—vine for vine—that our low-yield vineyards have ever produced. With major assistance from this clement spring weather, the vines were making up for the short crops of ’95 and ’96. Despite the early start, we were concerned that a crop of such size would not ripen fully in our cool region. So, as usual, we thinned rigorously. On the lower vineyards (1300′-1990′) we dropped fifteen percent of the merlot and ten percent of the cabernet; on the middle (2070′-2390′) and upper (2550′-2660′), all varieties were thinned by twenty percent, bringing total yields to two tons per acre. The entire growing season was a month earlier than usual; Monte Bello merlot was ripe by mid-September, and harvest complete by the first week of October.
172 tons from 83.5 acres. This most unusual year began with torrential winter rains, followed by a long, mild spring. Flowering was early; the amount of fruit formed was unusually large. We dropped nearly twenty percent of the crop, bringing yields down to two tons per acre— and assuring intensity. This was the earliest vintage since 1962. All thirty-three parcels were fermented separately, on their natural yeast; in a return to methods employed in the sixties and seventies, part of the malolactic took place in barrel. The wine was aged for eighteen months, almost entirely in new, air-dried american oak. Ripe and well-structured, this Monte Bello is among the finest of a great decade. It is approachable as a young wine, and will develop fully over the next fifteen years.
Each vineyard section was kept separate, and fermented on its own yeast and malolactic culture. The average size of a fermentation was equivalent to about four tons more typical of Burgundy than Bordeaux, where they tend to be much larger. Color was very deep, and flavors ripe; all thirty-three parcels were candidates for inclusion in the Monte Bello. As was Ridge practice in the sixties and seventies, a portion of the natural malolactics were carried out in barrel. The rest took place in small tanks held at 68°—more characteristic of the eighties and early nineties. Ninety percent of the wine was aged in new, air-dried american oak from eight different coopers, both french and american. The remaining ten percent aged in new french oak—from two different regions and two different french coopers. This experimentation with french oak has been part of Ridge winemaking since 1971. Each year, it has served to question, and to re-confirm, our commitment to airdried american oak. In the final selection, forty-five percent of the Monte Bello wines were held out of the assemblage; the finished wine therefore represents fifty-five percent of the vineyards’ total production. The abundant ’97 vintage is one of the ripest of the nineties. Color and fruit are rich and intense; tannins are firm, yet fully integrated. This full-bodied Monte Bello is clearly among the three or four finest of a great decade.