Astonishingly, given the hardships of viticulture in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this appellation hosts some of North America’s elite wineries. Rugged mountains, thin soils, high land prices and Pierce’s disease (not to mention, earthquakes!) are among the challenges which grape growers face. Yet more than fifty wineries operate here, producing wines that include well-regarded Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The appellation is large, crossing the borders of three counties (Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo). However, with less than 1500 acres under vine, the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA is small compared to similarly recognized appellations. Microclimates are particularly important here, as the climate can change substantially depending on which side of the range and at what elevation vineyards lay. The coolest climates are at the lower elevations on the Pacific side. In this environment, vineyards which can be as low as 800 feet (most are closer to 2,000 feet) are greatly affected by ocean winds and fog, making varietal selection critical. Low-lying inland vineyards are generally the warmest in the appellation, but still benefit from the moderating effects of San Francisco Bay.
In the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia vineyards are small and few, yet the establishment of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands could bring much more.
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is the Regional Correspondent for Santa Cruz Mountains.