Santa Cruz Mountains

The Passport Experience

Passport Day.  I have been waiting for this for two years.  Every time I’ve tried to attend, something has stood in my way.  Funds.  Work….Work.  But behold!  Finally, I have Saturdays off!  So on November 16th, I trekked my way across the Santa Cruz Mountains in pursuit of excellent wines!

The nicest thing about the Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries Passport is that you don’t have to use it on Passport Day.  It is good for two years at any of the wineries included, any day that they are open.  Ah, but that is the tricky bit:  many are open only once a month, some only on Passport Day.  Thus, I tried to prioritize our Passport schedule based on winery availability, visiting those that are rarely open to the public on Passport Day and saving the others for a normal day.

We began our trek at Dancing Creek Winery, immediately breaking the “only visit wineries that are rarely open” rule.  But here’s why:  this location hosted two other, smaller wineries so that our first stop encompassed three whole wine tastings!  Don’t worry, we ate a large breakfast.

Stepping out of the car was like stepping into a fairy tale.  The sun shone brightly through the tress, alighting on scenic benches and patches of forest floor.  The trees rose majestically around us, evoking a sense of eternity in peace.

IMG_7539

IMG_7535

IMG_7537
IMG_7538

IMG_7542

It was the kind of place to make you forget about the wine all together and just enjoy the beautific surroundings.

Of course, we didn’t.  We were here for wine!  Narry a beautiful tree could deter our determination!

Let us just say that Dancing Creek Winery’s offerings did not match its surroundings though it did exceed its fellow winery, Villa Del Monte.  Both wineries produced earthy, bold reds that really just did nothing for me.  Granted, that is exactly the kind of wine in which I find the least pleasure.  There were a few exceptions:  Villa Del Monte’s Cabernet Sauvignon was surprisingly palatable for one who avoids the varietal, and Dancing Creek’s late harvest Zinfandel, Late for the Dance, turned out to be my only purchase for the day.  On the whole however, the wine was hardly noteworthy.  Which is really too bad considering its grounds.

IMG_7532

Dancing Creek’s Wines

But a third winery had set up on the grounds just as we were about to leave, and Clos Tita turned out to be one of the day’s gems.  A new winery, it was only serving three wines and wasn’t even in our passport book, but god was it worth the stop!  Each wine was highly flavorful and completely unique.  The Pinot Noir Cuvee was fruity but not sweet with perfectly balanced flavor.  Yet their Estate Pinot Noir was the real find:  one of the most interesting wines I have ever experienced.  “Pepper” is a word often used to describe bold reds, but it is usually not a literal description, more an indication of spice.  In this wine, you could actually taste pepper.  At the same time, they balanced it with an earthiness, creating perhaps the most unique wine I have ever tasted.

IMG_7545

Once we had finished marveling over Clos Tita, the time came to move on.  The owner of Dancing Creek suggested we head down the road to Bruzzone, and I am very glad we followed her advice because their Chardonnay was exquisite.   Though I prefer whites, I generally do not love Chardonnays.  As I have made my way across the Santa Cruz Mountains, it has become very clear to me that the varietal just isn’t my thing.  I don’t know what exactly Bruzzone does to their Chardonnay, but I really wish everyone else would follow their example.  Their 2010 Estate Chardonnay was so light it was almost carbonated, and while I could not taste the oak, the wine retained a depth of flavor that was just delightful.  Plus, they had food!  And by that time, we were starting to need it.

IMG_7549

IMG_7550

IMG_7551

By the time we got to Nicholson Vineyards, it was definitely time for lunch.  It may perhaps have been smarter to eat at the beginning  of our time there instead of the end, but my cohorts were determined to get in another tasting before breaking.  I did at least get to sample some of Nicholson’s yummy cheeses before we began.

IMG_7552

Nicholson Vineyards

I must say that after the 20+ wines we had had so far, my taste buds were beginning to complain about overuse, so I can’t say that I was able to fully experience any of the wines from this point on.  That said, most of Nicholson’s wines seemed to me to be pretty standard to the area with the exception of their Old Vine Zinfandel.  They must know they were on to something with this Zin because it is a limited release, and it was a strain not to buy a bottle for this fruity, flavorful wine.

IMG_7555

Instead, we brought our tastings to a picnic table and feasted on cheese, bread, fruit, and cookies in classic wine-tasting fashion.  Nicholson was not as idyllic as Dancing Creek, but surrounded by vines and trees with the sun basking on the walls, it was still a nice place for lunch and a much needed palate cleanser.

IMG_7553

Despite the rest, as we arrived at Martin Ranch, I was done.  I had exceeded my tasting capacity for the day, and I really didn’t want any more.  All my taste buds wanted was water.  This may, just possibly, have contributed to how much I did not care for the wines at Martin Ranch.  Though to be perfectly honest, I doubt I would have enjoyed them anyway.

IMG_7560

Apart from Having Unexciting Wine, Martin Ranch Was Crowded!

Most of the wines they were tasting were pretty standard reds, and by that time, I had had so many of them that all I wanted to taste were the whites.  The really frustrating thing was that Martin Ranch, unlike most Santa Cruz Mountain wineries, actually had whites.  A variety of them even!  But they wouldn’t let me taste them which made me like them even less.  I finally convinced one of the pourers to open a Sauvignon Blanc for me, and it was like a breath of fresh air.  It was light and crisp, a little grassy flavor, but certainly a relief after so many reds.

IMG_7559

The Grounds Were Spacious Though

IMG_7566

And Vast

As we walked away from Martin Ranch, there was still time to visit one more winery, and one of the ones I was most interested in was just around the corner.  But by this time, we were all pretty beat.  There was talk of quitting.  Dare we put our livers through any more trauma today?

Dare we did.  And it was so worth it.

Fernwood was not as flashy as most of the other wineries we visited.  There were no spacious picnic grounds, no vines climbing sun-drenched walls, no sunlight peaking through redwoods.  It was just a metal storeroom in the middle of nowhere.  We drove past it on our first try because it looked so little like a tasting room.

IMG_7567

Fernwood Cellars

But in my experience, the simplest of tasting rooms can bring forth the tastiest wines.  This was certainly the case for Fernwood.

Like I said, I like whites, and my favorite varietal is the Riesling.  Sweet yet light, it complements my taste buds more than any other wine.

Fernwood had more than just a Riesling, it had two!  A dry and a late harvest!  Generally, late harvest whites are a little too sweet for me, but this one was so smooth and sweet without overdoing it.  It was fabulous.  The reds were good too, particularly the Sidecut, a Syrah and Zinfandel blend with a smooth flavor and nicely balanced tannins.  My friend bought an entire case of it.

IMG_7569

IMG_7568

We were lucky we persevered and tried Fernwood because it was one of the best wineries of the day!  Proof that you shouldn’t judge a winery by its cover and a fantastic end to our tasting.

Because after that our bodies really were done for the day, we trekked back to Santa Cruz for some Thai food, some chocolate, and lots and lots of water.

I enjoyed the passport experience.  We got to try A LOT  of wine, but the wineries were spread out enough that no one experienced alcohol poisoning.  No one got drunk that day.  Our driver didn’t even need to take a break.  It worked out rather nicely.

It would be helpful if the region had a little more variety, but each winery had at least one wine that was in some way unique, and there were several places we hope to visit again.  In the meantime, I will look forward to using our passports at all of the wineries that are open everyday!

Advertisements
Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Time to Stomp on the Grapes

There is no time quite like fall at a winery.  The grapes are ripe and being harvested.  New wines are revealed.  All around you, the leaves are changing in a display worthy of a state with actual seasons.

Fall is a great time to settle down with a nice cup of red and start preparing for winter.  It is also a great time to check out winery events!

If you have money to spare, and you are looking for a fall winery party, I would check out V. Sattui’s Crush Party.  Alas, I do not have money to spare, so I cannot go nor have I been in the past, but it looks like a lot of fun.  They take you through the wine production process with a good, old-fashioned grape crushing…with your bare feet.  There’s really nothing quite like people telling you it’s OK to squish a giant vat of grapes by stomping on them.

Watch and tell me this doesn’t look like a ton of fun:

Fall also means passport days are upon us!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is winery passport days, this is the time when you can try any winery you choose for a flat rate.  Wineries that generally do not do tastings are open and all sorts of special stuff can be found like barrel tastings and food pairings and vineyard tours and unique wines not generally available to the public.  Passports are split up by region, so take a look at where your favorite wineries are and mark your calendars!

Around these parts, we have…

Santa Clara Valley                        October 5 – 6                        $30
Santa Cruz Mountains                  November 16                        $45
Napa and Sonoma also have a continual passport deal.  For details, see sonomapassport.com and napavalleypassport.com.

Harvest Festivals abound this time of year as well in all parts of wine country.  The big wineries all have their own, but check out these to see a bunch of wineries at once:

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair encompasses three days worth of wine tastings from over 150 wineries, complete with food, demonstrations, seminars, and a FREE grape stomping competition.

If you’re looking for something a little more wine-centric, Reserve Sonoma Valley offers special peeks at wineries generally closed to the public along with food pairings and winery tours.

Of course, there are tons more harvest and fall events all across Northern California, so be sure to check with favorite vineyards for their festivals.  Which fall wine events are you favorites?

Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Napa, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storrs Winery: Pleasantly Surprising in Every Way

Whilst in Santa Cruz, the husband suggested we do some wine tasting.  You can perhaps imagine my reaction.  It was somewhere in the vicinity of “OK!”  And so I perused my Santa Cruz Mountains wine guide for a promising-looking tasting room and came upon Storrs.

Storrs is one of those rare local wineries whose products I have seen in abundance in local stores.  In fact, they have their own little section in the World Market next to my work.  Because I always enjoy knowing what I’m buying, I figured I’d give them a try.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Since they are in my local shop, I wasn’t expecting the highest quality, but we liked just about everything we tried.  The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and clear if a touch too grassy.  We both agreed that the Zinfandel was divine, and I liked the light yet flavorful Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir as well as the Grenache, notable because I’m usually not a Grenache fan.  However, the bottle we went home with was the Riesling which was light yet sweet with a hint of bubbles.  I cannot tell you how exciting it was to get to try a Riesling.  Riesling is probably my favorite varietal, but it just doesn’t grow very well around here, so very few wineries have one, and not only getting to try one but having it be good enough to buy made me almost giddy.

Perhaps the most pleasant part of our wine tasting experience was how reasonably priced the wines were.  Our Riesling was a mere $16, and most of the wines cost around $20 which is low for this region and quality. I would absolutely consider buying several of them at World Market, and with a sale, I could even afford it.

Our pourer was pretty cool too.  She was very nice, easy to chat with, let us try quite a few wines, and let us do both of our tastings free even though we only bought one bottle.  I would definitely go back.

IMG_7398

Categories: Northern California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sipping at Cinnabar

IMG_7356

For years I have driven by the Cinnabar tasting room and thought I really need to go try that place sometime.

Today I finally did, and as usual left wishing I had gone much earlier.

We began with a rosé.  Rosés and I are not great friends with a few notable exceptions.  This is one of those exceptions.  It was light and crisp but still subtly sweet, a very pleasant summer wine.

Then came the Chardonnay.  Though I am a staunch lover of whites (don’t judge), I do not generally care for Chardonnay either.  Ironically, it is practically the only white that I dislike yet often the only one to be found in this area as well as the only wine drunk by my mother.  Figures.  As I have begun to frequent higher priced wineries, I have found more and more Chardonnays that I do like or at least tolerate, but nearly all are unoaked.  As the pourer began to describe this French oaked buttery Chardonnay, I prepared myself to endure it and move on quickly, but as it touched my tongue, I gasped in surprise.  It was delicious!  Light, fresh, buttery but not oaky in the slightest.  It was very nearly my favorite wine of the day, and had it been half the price, I may well have bought it.

From there my friendly pourer jumped off the tasting list to the Mercury Rising, a blend which is apparently one of their most popular wines.  I cannot say I was overly impressed.  For a blend, the mix of flavors was interesting with each presenting itself in turn, but on the whole it was a bit too scattered for my taste.

We moved on to the Petit Verdot which was actually kind of amazing.  “Bold flavor” does not begin to describe the first sip of this wine; it hits you like a rogue tree branch when you had barely realized you were standing under a tree.  It’s good though, and despite its strength, it’s light on tannins which is always a plus in my book.

In contrast was the Malbec which had more tannins but a smooth, even flavor.  Also one of their most popular wines, I much preferred it to the Mercury Rising.

My pourer was kind enough to give me a little something extra (always chat up your pourers, you won’t regret it) with the Incantation Blanc.  Also a blend, this one was my winner of the day.  Smooth, light, and sweet, this lovely little summer wine has a slight orange tang to it and would be a lovely wine to sip on a patio while listening to music.

Overall, a tasty way to spend an afternoon.  I’ll be back for their weekend wine bar evenings, complete with live music.

Categories: Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Savannah-Chanelle Winery Has It All

Getting to Savannah-Chanelle Winery is its own adventure.  Coasting through redwoods and mountains, it is easy to overlook the small, windy off-shoot of a road that leads to this delicious hideaway.  But keep a weather eye out because the necessary tree-dodging and down-shifting are well worth the reward.

IMG_7084

Once you turn onto the hidden pathway to Savannah-Chanelle, you may well think you are on your way to a private estate instead of a winery.  Driving up the hill, winding around trees, and praying that you don’t meet another car may cause a little apprehension, but all of that disappears when you break into the sun.

IMG_7081

IMG_7083 IMG_7082

On a lonely hilltop sits the old, white mansion where Savannah-Chanelle’s winemakers once looked out upon their fields.  Surrounded by vines and tree-covered hilltops, this house with its beautiful fountains and manicured lawns looks like a dream.  Well worthy of any wedding, it creates an unparalleled picnicking experience.

But the real gem of the winery is of course the tasting room.  The old, dark wood of this barn sets up a high expectation, one that will absolutely be met.

IMG_7076

Generally, I am not a big fan of red wine.  I like sweet, I like light, and I hate tannins.  You would think a winery that almost exclusively serves red wines would turn me away unhappy.

On the contrary.  Savannah-Chanelle was the winery that convinced me that red wines can be delicious.  All of their wines are low in tannins, high in alcohol content, and exhibit robust, expressive flavors bound to impress.

They specialize in Pinots that will satisfy any palate, from light yet complex flavors all the way to the big, bold flavors red wine connoisseurs love.  But Savannah-Chanelle offers more fabulous wines than just Pinot Noirs.  Their Cabernet Franc has amazingly complex flavors, combining the subtlety of their tamer wines with a bold taste that leaves you wondering how the winemakers could ever create so sophisticated and exciting a drink.  The winery also boasts several Syrahs with varying degrees of “bam” flavor sure to appeal to those who want an extra kick.  But being a dessert fan, my personal favorite will always be their Port.  Made from Syrah grapes, this Port is smooth and velvety while still boasting that extra kick that makes it the best Port I have ever had.

IMG_7078

A discussion of Savannah-Chanelle would not be complete without a standing ovation for its staff.  Kind, lively, and chock full of interesting facts about the wine, vineyard, and pretty much any other topic, their chief pourer, Mike, makes the tasting experience even more special.

Savannah-Chanelle is a fabulous place to eat, drink, and just sit back, relax, and observe the beauty around you.  It is in my opinion the best winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not least because only those in the know seem to make their way there.  I expect that will not be the case for long.

Categories: Bay Area, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.