Go: Ridge Vineyards
A world-class winery sits atop Santa Clara Valley and many people have no idea it's here. I recently hosted a dear friend for dinner who has lived in this area forever, spent years working for Sunset (the 120-year old West Coast lifestyle magazine), and knows all about the strong reputation of Ridge wine, yet she had no idea that Ridge Vineyard's home is right here in Cupertino.
Even if you've never heard of Ridge, you might recognize this Cinderella story:
In 1976, a blind tasting was organized in Paris to compare French and California wines. California Cabernet Sauvignon was pitted against French Bordeaux. The French (and the world) were shocked when Stag's Leap came in 1st, Ridge's "Monte Bello" came in 5th, and 4 other California wines made the top 10. The French proclaimed, "Sacré bleu! But, our wines will age better." So, the blind tasting was re-enacted in 2006 with the same vintages. The result? Monte Bello took first.
To get to Ridge, one must carefully wind their way up Montebello Road to 2,300 feet above sea level. My mother grew up on a small street at the base of Montebello Road; she now lives in Boston and came to visit a few weeks ago. I saw a Simply SV article in the making. Not only is she a hometown girl, but she was Miss Teen Cupertino in 1968 and went on that year to win Miss Teen Pacific Coast. Fifty years ago, she was the town beauty queen. I called Ridge and shared the idea of bringing my mom to visit. They loved it and invited us to participate in an Estate Tasting.
We gathered in the Old Winery barn used as their tasting room and were poured Chardonnay. Then we set out on a walking tour of the property with a guide who told the history, starting in 1885. Finally, we were seated at a long table with a small plate of hors d'oeuvres and were poured 4 tastings of reds, including the grande dame herself, Monte Bello. Our particular Estate Tasting had an extra special element: a surprise visit from the legendary Paul Draper, chief winemaker since 1969.
On the weekends, you can visit the tasting room without an appointment—it's open from 11 am - 4 pm. Sometimes it's closed for special events (such as this weekend), so check beforehand. Weekday visits are by reservation only. The particular tasting I did with the tour and sit-down table experience requires a reservation.
Ridge is a really big deal. Unassumingly perched above the Silicon Valley commotion, it played a leading role in California wine earning the respect of the world. Take some time this year to visit the property and learn all about the rich history of this vineyard; it will help you fall more in love with the fact that you live here and don't need to go to Napa to experience winemaking at its best.
WHILE THERE, PICNIC! On the way there, we stopped at Coach House Wine & Spirits at the intersection of De Anza Blvd. and Prospect Rd. to grab a picnic lunch. It's been around since 1968 and has an in-house deli that's a favorite of local high school students. We were really pleased with our sandwiches. You can call in your order for faster service. They have a frequent shopper card: buy 10 sandwiches, get 1 free. They also have a great selection of wine and liquor.