Through the Grapevine

Did you know you that one of the original and by far one of the most beautiful wine regions is literally right in our back yard? When you think of “Wine Country,” don’t automatically head north: instead, head west. Just a short trip into the mountains that flank the western edge of Los Gatos will reward you with a plethora of choices that will surprise and delight you. From charming 19th century schoolhouses set amidst vines and rose gardens to Mediterranean mansions with views to eternity, you’ll find all this and everything in between, along with some of the best wines you’ve ever tasted.

Enjoy phenomenally smooth Cabernet Franc at Burrell School, saucy Sauvignon Blanc at MJA, amazingly potent and addictive Pinotage at Loma Prieta – the only winery in the region to both grow and produce multiple vineyard designates of this little-planted grape, which happens to be the signature wine of South Africa – and groove on the nearly endless selection of blends crafted by master blender, Katy Lovell of Poetic Cellars. A newcomer, Dancing Creek, near the Mystery Spot on Branciforte and just minutes from Poetic Cellars, offers a sweet creekside setting, along with wines with jazzy names like Samba and Mambo, which will have your tongue dancing with delight. A day spent exploring the Summit to Sea Wine Trail will leave you wondering why you didn’t get out and enjoy this wealth of savory scenery sooner.

Spring Passport Day in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sat., April 20
One of the best ways to dip your toe into the endless flow of Santa Cruz Mountains wines is to purchase a Passport for the four events held yearly throughout the region, offering visitors a chance to taste wines at many small producers that are open solely for this event.
This year’s annual Spring Passport, held Saturday, April 21, 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., has a green theme. Called “Down to Earth,” the event will focus on the distinctive terroir that makes each winegrowing region unique. In particular, the Santa Cruz Mountains region is known for its minerality-driven Pinots and Chardonnays, a quality that shows up as a rush of pure mountain stream across the palate, like fresh snowmelt from the Sierras. There’s a weight to these wines that comes not from the oak in which they are aged, but from the natural water in the soils. Vines, especially those established without constant irrigation, have deep roots, sometimes going down more than 40 feet. Vines grown in well-drained volcanic soils tend to produce fruit that is leaner and more focused in flavor and intensity, while vines in heavier, clay soils that retain water tend to produce fruit that is juicier and somewhat less intense. The only way to discover the difference imparted by this piece of dirt vs. that one, is to get down to earth and taste for yourself.
Go to www.scmwa.com to purchase tickets for Passport.

Big Basin Vineyards Spring Open House Celebration, April 20 & 21
Although Big Basin Vineyards, one of the most renowned Rhone producers in the Santa Cruz Mountains does not participate in Passport, it is open that weekend at the winery facility in Boulder Creek, in a splendid redwood forest-studded setting on the way to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Come taste why Antonio Galloni, formerly of Wine Advocate, along with many other critics, including Parker himself, have praised winemaker Bradley Brown’s brilliant efforts from his estate vineyards, including the famed Rattlesnake Rock Syrahs, as well those from other fine vineyards throughout the Central Coast. His Coastview Vineyard Pinots and Syrahs are things of finesse and beauty, and the Homestead and Grizzly blends are worth seeking out. Tickets to the Spring Celebration are available online at bigbasinvineyards.com, or from the tasting room in downtown Saratoga Village, open Thursday through Monday.

Silvertip Vineyards: Open for Passport Day on Zayante Road.
A newcomer to the region, Silvertip Vineyards, previously known as Nelson Family Vineyard, will be open for Passport day, April 20. The small 7-acre vineyard on Zayante Road produces about 750 cases of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. It has no tasting room, instead offering tastings outside the tiny winery, with ample picnic tables left over from the Christmas tree farm days. The name “Silvertip” comes from a type of Christmas tree the family farmed here for decades.

Philip Nelson and his father, Gerry, who began planting vineyards here in 1998, plan to pour current releases, along with library wines, and perhaps some barrel samples. The still developing 2012 Chardonnays are already extraordinary, and winemaker Paul Stroth is especially excited about the upcoming 2012 Pinot. The 2011 is already bottled—the result of a cooler vintage, Phil and Paul felt it had sufficient oak elevage after just 12 months. This beautifully set vineyard is a little gem you don’t want to miss. Make sure to include it in your list of wineries to explore for Passport. Silvertip is located about a mile down Zayante Road from the intersection of Summit Road. You’ll find it on your left. Look for the sign and the gate.

New Ownership for Byington
It appears that Byington Winery has a buyer, and will continue onward and upward, with the much-needed investment and attention it has sorely lacked over the past decade. More on this next issue.

Santana Row Offers Try & Buy Vintner’s Marketplace, Sunday, April 22
The new executive director of the SCMWA, Megan Metz, is already kicking things into high gear after just a few months on the job. She added a new Wine and Crab Week event in February, expanded Pinot Paradise from one day to three, including two winemaker dinners featuring such Pinot producers as Big Basin Vineyards, Burrell School, Dancing Creek and Silvertip, and now she’s collaborating with Santana Row to create a unique “pop up” event where consumers can taste wines from more than 20 Santa Cruz Mountains producers, and purchase wines on the spot to take home and enjoy.

The “Try It, Buy It Vintner’s Marketplace” at Santana Row, to be held on Sunday, April 21, 2013, is similar to a farmers market, and will create an environment where consumers can sip and buy wines from a selection of nearly two dozen legendary winemakers of the Santa Cruz Mountains. You’re sure to take away some impressive wines from little known gems that are not in distribution and are off the beaten path. Many are rarely open to the public, making this a unique opportunity to taste wines in one easy to access location.

The event will also provide an array of local Santana Row restaurants offering edible delights for purchase, along with live music to enjoy. The Advanced Try & Buy ticket package is $40 for two people, and includes two glasses and 20 tasting tickets. Additionally, tickets will be available for purchase at the event for $1 per tasting ticket. Each taste costs between 3 and 5 tickets, depending on the winery and the varietal. Wines poured at the tasting will be available for purchase at the Vintner’s Marketplace on Santana Row. Please make sure to visit the Vintner’s Marketplace area on the SCMWA website for a list of participating wineries, available wines and pricing.

Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” has called the Santa Cruz Mountains home for over 30 years. She treasures time spent with winemakers and winegrowers in their vineyards and cellars, drinking in their quirky, inspiring stories. She most enjoys writing about wine and food, and the magic created when a savvy chef creates the perfect pairing. Laura contributes to a variety of wine trade publications, including Wine & Travel, VINO, WineOh.Tv and Edible, as well as several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs occasionally, and irreverently, at myvinespace.com.
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