By Jason Barlow
Photography: Arthur Walsh
grape of all grapes wants to become wine."
That is how Jeffrey Patterson, the winemaker at Mount
Eden Vineyards, opened up his talk at the Santa Cruz
Mountains annual Pinot Paradise. Over the years, he
has come to live by the adage, allowing nature to take
its course in his winemaking practices. Throughout the
appellation the temperature, the rainfall, and the terroir
are all so favorable to Pinot Noir there is no need
to make any major alterations. Thus, Jeffery remarks,
mostly as a joke, that he simply hopes and prays that
the wine turns out well. Judging by the quality of his
2006 Estate Pinot, his prayers have been answered.
tableful of Pinot Noirs to taste and judge.
Godinez, the winemaker at Vine Hill, crafts a very good
Pinot Noir too, but, unlike Jeffery, he is not one for
simply hoping. During his time as a winemaker, he has
gathered annual data on Ph, Brix, temperature, and a
number of other variables that all play into how the
Pinot Noir turns out. His endeavor relied heavily on
modern science. Of course, in nonscientific terms, it
told him that the Santa Cruz Mountains were a "sweet
spot," providing a superb balance of variables
for the fruit.
sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains
are all part of the "sweet spot,"
but each area's terroir results in its own particular
accent on the Pinots. In fact, moving throughout appellation,
it is possible to taste the changing conditions as different
expressions in the Pinots.
Doherty & John Schumacher
of Hallcrest Vineyards
north end of the appellation the Skyline region
provides dramatic temperature variations, with an almost
daily evening fog during the summer months that brings
chilly coastal air to cool off the fruit from the afternoon
heat. Pinots from this region are noted for their exceptional
acidity and brightness.
south sits the Saratoga region. Here
temperatures are generally moderate, with low daytime
highs and few heat spikes. Thus, growing days are long
and even with sun exposure primarily from the east or
south, which promotes unhurried, measured ripening.
This area's Pinot Noirs are noted for their dense berry
flavors and earthy components.
of Domenico Winery
to the east lies the appellation's only sub-region,
Ben Lomond Mountain. Vineyards are
planted at 1300-1800 foot elevations and consist mainly
of sand and sandy loam. Fog is a daily occurrence in
the mornings all summer long, and average annual rainfall
is over 30 inches. The Pinots produced here are marked
by complex flavor and a powerful mineral energy.
journey to the northeast is the Summit Road
region. The region's highest Pinot vineyards
are found here at up to a 2600 foot elevation. At such
a height, these vineyards receive sun throughout the
day. Canopy management practices to shade and protect
the fruit in the sunshine are an integral part of growing
in the vicinity. The Pinots fashioned here can be bold
but balanced, with excellent tannin structures for aging.
Alfaro Family Vineyards
below the Summit region sits the Coastal
Foothills. Growing season temperatures here range from
a daily high of 80 degrees to a low of 55 degrees. The
top soils are well-drained and range from one inch to
three feet of sand, sandy loam, loam, and clay loam
on top of weathered or lithic bedrock. From this area,
the Pinot Noirs are generally fruit forward, with solid
tannins, balanced acidity, and fresh minerality.
southeast of the foothills is the Corralitos
region. These vineyards are typically at lower
elevations of only about 400 to 800 feet along the coast.
Dramatic temperature shifts are common during the growing
season, resulting in slow ripening to produce intense,
concentrated, complex, and nuanced flavors.
Grand Tasting Room.
variation in terroir and growing conditions in the Santa
Cruz Mountains makes for a great deal more diversity
than many other wine producing appellations. It is great
for wine lovers because of the rich variety one can
experience without venturing very far. Marking the differences
in the wine as you make your way through the mountains
can be a lot of fun, and if you ever want to relive
the experience of wandering among the different sub-regions,
it as simple as opening a few bottles of first-rate