May 30, 2024
Sue Crane chronicles iconic Cupertino winery’s founding.

In her account of the birth of Ridge Winery, Sue Crane recounts the madness of those early years, when she and her husband Hew, along with Fran and Dave Bennion and Blanche and Charlie Rosen, risked life, limb and poison oak to reclaim a scrappy vineyard remnant on Monte Bello Road in Cupertino and turn it into an iconic and well-known brand worldwide.

Crane wrote “Behind the Barrels: The Women of Ridge” with her good friend, Helen Park Bigelow. The book was self-published late last year.

Crane, the last remaining Ridge founder, says she has no interest in making money from the book, only in sharing her story of a remarkable group of friends and their lives together.

“That was my past and it is my heritage and story,” she says. “It was very important to write of my life and that time at the beginning of Silicon Valley.”

Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, Howard Zeidler and Dave Bennion were all working on a variety of projects at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park—including magnetic circuits, robotics and artificial intelligence—when they bought 80 acres in the hills above Cupertino for $600 per acre. Bennion, who came from Utah, was the only one with farming experience.

“Dave Bennion was the most important and knowledgeable person,” Crane says. “He had a good palate and farming background. As a Mormon, he had never had a drop of alcohol in his life. Neither had any of them. In fact, none of them had ever drank wine, and literally had zero interest in wine or winemaking.”

Crane, along with Fran Bennion and Blanche Rosen, acted as the social glue that brought all the families together in a venture that would ultimately change their lives and shape the trajectory of the American wine scene.

Crane spent the first three years of the Ridge adventure, which she voted wholeheartedly against, bearing and raising her three boys, all of whom worked at the vineyard as they grew. In fact, she was pregnant as her husband drove her up that steep mountain road the first time to see the property.

The book chronicles the journey of Ridge’s founding families as they braved the elements, removing acres of poison oak, attempting to muck out a pond, planting vines, picking grapes and restoring an old winery building. Early on, they got both friends and strangers to help them pick grapes during harvest. They started a wine club and held legendary parties, catered by Bennion and Crane out of their kitchens. One particular memorable moment was July 20, 1969, when Hew brought a black and white TV to the winery so they all could all watch, albeit with terrible reception, as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon.

“Behind the Barrels” also reveals how the Ridge name and logo came to be, how the label was designed and how Paul Draper came to be Ridge’s first hired winemaker, and gives an account of where some of the original vines were sourced. More than that, it holds a treasure trove of memories that Crane has chosen to share.

“Behind the Barrels: The Women of Ridge” is available at Ridge Winery tasting rooms in Cupertino and Healdsburg and at the gift shop at the Sequoias, the retirement community in Portola Valley where Crane and Bigelow reside. It may also be available at Sales of the book will benefit a scholarship fund for The Sequoias employees and an employee holiday gift fund.