By Jason Barlow
Photography: Arthur Walsh
is not hard to get lost in the mystic of the Santa Cruz
Mountains. Giant redwood trees from a different age
tower over the road, which is often two and sometimes
really only one lane. Combined with deep, thick pockets
of morning fog, the visibility is questionable at times.
There are moments during sunlight hours when the elements
of nature create eclipse-like sensations and you just
might find yourself questioning the time of day on your
watch. At moments such as these, it is hard to shake
the feeling of wandering into a new and distant land.
these instances, it is only fitting that getting a “Passport"
is a great way to explore the wineries of the Santa
Cruz Mountains. On the third Saturday of January, April,
July, and November, over fifty wineries open their doors
to anyone carrying a Santa Cruz Mountains' Passport,
which can be purchased by phone, online (http://www.scmwa.com/passport/wineries.htm),
or at many of the wineries themselves. Once acquired,
each person is entitled to one visit to every participating
winery, some of which are only open to the public on
these Passport days. In addition, the Passports do not
have an expiration date, allowing visitors to take their
time getting better acquainted with the fabulous mountain
Napa or Sonoma growers may receive more attention today,
that was not always the case. During the 19th century,
the Santa Cruz Mountain region was known as a world
leader in the quality of its fruit, earning the moniker
of the “golden chain". The appellation, which
gained recognition from the Federal Government in 1981,
runs the length of the Coastal Range from Mount Madonna
in the south up to Half Moon Bay in the north. It begins
at an 800 foot elevation on the warmer eastern side,
and at 400 feet on the western side, where cooling breezes
from the Pacific help keep temperatures nice and moderate.
The solids vary throughout the appellation ranging from
decomposed rock, clay, loam, and limestone, but the
general effect is a freshness and a mineral presence
to the wines. With this combination of geography and
climate, growers have had great success with Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay, often producing their wines from commonly
low-yielding vineyards on small plots of land. The result
is wines that are bright and bold in their flavors,
as well as their aromas. I had the privilege of visiting
a handful of these mountain wineries during January's
Passport Weekend, and I must say, the world I discovered
up in the mountains is unlike anything else I have come
across in my travels throughout the state.
is just a sampling of the friends we made and the wines
we sampled. Detailed wine reviews can be found at the
end of each winery description.
School Vineyard and Winery
on images for caption and to enlarge.
Ness & Marilyn Wyman
Burrell School Vineyards, they have managed to combine
rediscovering childhood with some noteworthy wines.
From the outside, the tasting-room looks like an old
school house, but do not worry, there arenít
any scary teachers inside, only fun. On Passport Saturday,
there is a western theme in full stride. The tasting-room
is bustling. Cowboy hats and bandanas are quite common.
Smiles are, too. There is no need for fancy attire or
conversations about acidity and brix. One need not be
an aficionado to feel at home here. The only real expectation
is to follow the mandate of the vineyard and promise
to sip the wine. Most of their fruit is estate grown,
and after harvest, winemaker David Moulton works his
magic, crushing the grapes in small lots and tailoring
barrel selection for each different varietal. The School
offers a wide variety of wines and a number of them
are quite good, so it is well worth it to listen to
their mandate and savor each glass.
School Vineyard Wine Reviews
short drive up the winding road, which ascends to the
very top of the mountain, is Loma Prieta Winery. From
the back patio, the view tretches out across the evergreen
treetops all the way out to Monterey Bay. Just the spectacle
of the soft afternoon sun glistening on the water is
worth the trip, but I would recommend trying the wine,
too. Pouring there is Jack Benesi, the vineyard's Operations
Manager. He has a great sense of humor, so laughing
and joking makes him equally as happy as discussing
the winery. Seek him out if the journey up the mountain
has your spirits dragging a bit, and if Jack's wit is
not quite enough, try their
2006 Pinot. It has everything necessary to take you
the rest of the way.
Prieta Winery - During Winter
Prieta Wine Reviews