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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: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
VINTAGE 2006 REPORT:
Rainfall: 42 inches (slightly above average)
Bloom: Early June
Weather: Moderate summer and fall, with some light rain toward the end of harvest.
Winter was wet and cold through April, but May’s warm weather let the vines set a full crop. Summer was unusually warm; picking began on September 18, ahead of schedule. Though a cool October slowed ripening, all parcels were harvested within five weeks, and natural yeasts started the primary within three days. Those first fermentations alerted us to how rapidly color and tannin were being extracted. We reduced pump-overs, and pressed at day ten. Uninoculated secondary began in tank; eighty percent of the thirty-six lots were racked to barrel for completion. Thirteen were selected for the first assemblage in late January. Four intense cabernet lots required egg-white fining to soften tannins. Additions of petit verdot and cabernet franc contributed depth. Balanced and elegant now, this exceptional vintage has the structure to carry it for twenty-five years or more. EB (3/08)
Harvest Dates: 18 September – 20 October
Grapes: Average Brix 25.3
Fermentation: Gentle destemming, no crushing. (In thirty-six separately-fermented lots, roughly half the berries remained unbroken.) Natural-yeast primary and secondary fermentations. Pressed at eight days on average.
Barrels: 97% new, air-dried american oak, 3% new french oak (for comparison).
Aging: Eighteen months in barrel
The Wine Advocate (May 2018): 94+ Points “As it approaches age twelve, the 2006 Monte Bello is still quite reserved on the nose and on the palate, unwinding in the glass with a bouquet of cassis, cherries, pencil lead, dark chocolate, cigar box and dried rose petal. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, layered and still firmly structured, carrying considerable extract and concluding with chalky grip. Rich, concentrated and powerful, the raw materials are very impressive but they’re still wrapped up in some formidable structure. Eric Baugher describes the 2006 Monte Bello as “a sleeper vintage: backward and tannic when it was young, and released in a challenging economy,” and that’s the case today. Like the 1995 vintage, I suspect this will be a Monte Bello that really hits its stride at age 20 rather than age ten, but patient consumers with time on their side should give it serious consideration.” – William Kelley
JebDunnuck.com (February 2019): (94 Points). “The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello comes from a warmer, generous year and is 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and the balance Cabernet Franc. It’s still youthfully colored and has classic Cabernet notes of crème de cassis, lead pencil, and vanilla oak. This medium to full-bodied effort is just now at the early stages of maturity and is silky, graceful, and elegant on the palate, with its still-present structure beautifully integrated into the wine. You can safely crack bottles any time over the coming two decades.” – Jeb Dunnuck
Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (November-December 2009): 93 Points “Deep, bright ruby. Spicy, high-pitched aromas of red- and blackcurrant, cherry, pipe tobacco, rose and smoky Indian spices. Firm, mineral-driven dark berry flavors are given a firm edge by bitter cherry skin and pit notes, with the tobacco note repeating. Supple tannins add structure and carry through the long, sweet, smoky finish. This is showing gentler tannins than I usually expect from a young Monte Bello and I’d bet on it being drinkable before the 2005 and 2004 versions. I also retasted the 2005 Monte Bello, which after a year in bottle is showing brighter red fruit and spicier mineral character than at this time last year, when I rated it 95 points. It’s still a baby. I underestimated this wine’s potential and would now rate it 95, with excellent cellaring potential. For the quality it is a steal as it can compare to any wine from the Napa Valley that sells for three or four times the money – or more!” -Josh Raynolds
Wine Advocate (Issue 187, 27 Feb 2010): 94+ Points “While it is eclipsed by the brilliance of the 2005, the 2006 Monte Bello (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc) is a very strong effort. Its dense purple color is followed by copious aromas of creme de cassis, licorice, spice box, and a touch of oak. Well-balanced, dense, pure, layered, and rich, its big, rich style is similar to the 2003. This cuvee should keep for 25-30 years in a cool cellar.
Ridge’s iconic Monte Bello Proprietary Red (no longer called Cabernet Sauvignon) is one of the candidates for the longest-lived Bordeaux blend made in California. Even vintages from the late sixties and early seventies are still vibrant wines. The winery owns just over 100 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and production varies enormously based on the mountain climate. With respect to this group of wines, the smallest yields were achieved in 2005, and the highest in 2007. The selection process here is relatively severe. For their Monte Bello, the flagship wine, 32% of the production was used in 2003, 38% in 2004, 49% in 2005, 39% in 2006, and 41% in 2007. These wines continue to be anomalies in the sense that the Cabernet Sauvignon component is aged in American oak, a somewhat contrarian procedure since most top producers long ago moved to French oak. The Santa Cruz Mountains cuvees, essentially a second wine culled out from Monte Bello, are also high quality efforts from Ridge. Each of the vintages I tasted reflects the vintage conditions in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Three 2008 barrel samples reveal a consistent, high quality style with slightly more elevated alcohol contents.” -Robert Parker
San Francisco Chronicle (28 February 2010) “Oak is more evident right now, offsetting sappy, meaty Cabernet fruit, with bright watermelon-skin highlights. But the tannins are plenty supple, and as the oak folds in it should gain that great Monte Bello seamlessness.” -Jon Bonne
Wine & Spirits (December 2009): 92 Points – Year’s Best Cabernets & Blends – “On the quiet side of intense, this vintage of Monte Bello is austere, delivering its fruit like a cool rain of berries. As a young cabernet, the flavors of black plum, dried currants and cranberries are held tight in the grip of oak. There’s also a floral scent of roses before the tannins shut it down. This should plump up with a few years in the cellar, building on its elegance to match roast leg of lamb.”