Highlights of Santa Cruz's Wine Country

Staff Writer
Tips for a day trip to one of California’s top wine regions

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Here in Silicon Valley, just at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, a recognized American viticultural area that has produced California wines fine enough to be noted in the 1976 Judgment of Paris.

There’s no better way to spend a summer Saturday than cruising from winery to winery tasting great wines. What if you could also do so in the picturesque mountains adjacent to Google, Apple, and Facebook? Here in Silicon Valley, just at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, a recognized American viticultural area that has produced California wines fine enough to be noted in the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Since this AVA is a short drive from Bottlenotes’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., Bottlenotes interns recently set off for a day of tasting in this appellation.

The three wineries visited were CinnabarThomas Fogarty, and the region’s most iconic, Ridge Vineyards.

We started out at the Mudd Tasting Room in downtown Saratoga, outpost of the Cinnabar Winery. Founded by Stanford Researcher Tom Mudd in 1981, Cinnabar started as a 1-acre mountain vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga. From the winery’s initial success onward, Cinnabar has continued to grow. Today the winery specializes in merlot, cabernet, and chardonnay, but produces a wide range of varietals. Be sure to try Cinnabar’s 2011 rosé — a fresh, charming wine with bright orange and peach aromas and a delicious strawberry-rhubarb flavor.

Next, we headed up the mountain to the Thomas Fogarty Winery, known for its California chardonnay and pinot noir.

Founded in 1978 by Dr. Thomas Fogarty, a prominent Stanford doctor and inventor, the winery boasts the largest production in Santa Cruz. Although the main property is situated 2,000 feet above sea level on Skyline Ridge, the winery harvests grapes from properties all over the Santa Cruz appellation. We loved garnet-red 2008 Estate Pinot Noir from their Windy Hill Vineyard that features floral notes over a base of juicy red cherry and blackberry.

After enjoying our picnic lunch at Fogarty, we continued our trek still higher on the mountain range to Ridge, which owns a vast collection of vineyards throughout the AVA, as well as in Sonoma. At 2,600 feet, what is now known as the "upper vineyard," was first planted in 1885 and produced its first vintage in 1892. Except for Prohibition (when production ceased), the land has been used for grape growing since the 1940s. It was then that a group of Stanford researchers bought the land below the original property and began producing an estate cabernet.

Ridge Vineyards is notable for their "hands-off" growing methods that include minimal irrigation and trellising, the use of cover crops, and integrated pest management. The winery also divides the estate and its vineyards into more than 60 unique plots based on individual microclimates. This allows growers to harvest each plot when the grapes are at optimal flavor development. Indeed, Ridge’s 1971 Monte Bello cabernet took first place in the historic 2006 re-enactment of the Judgment of Paris, winning by a whopping 18 points.

Don’t miss the 2007 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon or the 2010 Geyserville Zinfandel. The latter features fig and baked peach aromas with juicy blueberry flavors that burst on the palate.

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