Just south of San Francisco and west of San Jose lies the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, home to known spots like Ridge, Kathryn Kennedy, Bonny Doon and David Bruce, plus a number of small boutique wineries. The unique mountain soils and proximity to both the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean combine to create a superb microclimate for both Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir grapes.
Earlier today, I visited three different wineries that make a visit to the Santa Cruz Mountains worthwhile:
Cinnabar Vineyards & Winery
While the name might bring to mind the infamous cinnamon buns of Cinnabon found in airports, Cinnabar is actually a derivitive of the metal Mercury which during the fourteenth century was believed to transform ordinary metals into gold and silver. The name seems fitting as Cinnabar turns out wines worthy of gold and silver medals.
2005 Mercury Rising Blanc, North Coast—blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier. Notes of orange peel, citrus fruits with a hint of grass, medium/full bodied.
2006 Marsanne, Paso Robles—very head aromas of honey and almond, touch of orange blossom, smooth, creamy palate, medium/full bodied. Only 50 cases produced.
2005 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains—aromas of baked apple and toasted vanilla, buttery mouthfeel with slight mineral notes, hint of lemon citrus zing on the finish, medium bodied.
2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains—notes of sweet cranberry, cherry and cola followed by vanilla spice and toasted oak, silky and elegant, medium bodied.
2005 Merlot, Paso Robles—smoky plum and black currant notes, hint of cocoa and tobacco, smooth and rich texture, medium/full bodied.
2005 Mercury Rising Red, Central Coast—blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot. Notes of blueberry and black currant with an undertone of cocoa and black coffee. Smooth and rich, medium/full bodied.
2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains—made in an icewine style with aromas of apricot, mango and banana, rich and viscous mouthfeel, orange blossoms on the finish, medium/full bodied.
Cinnabar's tasting room is located in the quaint village of Saratoga, a stone's throw off Route 17.
14612 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070
David Bruce Winery
Situated above the fog line at roughly 2,000 feet above sea level lies the David Bruce Winery. Known for producing internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir, David Bruce also dabbles with Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Grapes are sourced from both the 25-acre mountain estate vineyards and from over 20 of the best growers in Northern and Central California.
2006 Pinot Noir Saignée, Sonoma Coast—a beautiful rosé with ripe strawberry and raspberry aromas, melon and apricot notes with a whiff of spice, refreshing finish.
2005 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast—bursting with cherry and cranberry aromas followed by black cherry and cinnamon spice, silky tannins, long finish, medium bodied.
2002 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley—enticing aromas of black cherry, rose petal and clove spice followed by notes of cinnamon and leather, smooth and silky tannins, medium bodied.
2004 Sangiovese, Paso Robles—ripe cherry and floral aromas followed by cranberry and spice, supple tannins, lingering finish, medium bodied.
2005 Petite Sirah, Central Coast—big and juicy with ripe plum and blueberry aromas plus cassis and clove notes, dense and fleshy texture, firm tannins, full bodied.
David Bruce Winery is located off Route 17 near Los Gatos off Bear Creek Road. The journey up the mountain is a bit precarious, so proceed with caution and make sure to SPIT, not SWALLOW when tasting.
21439 Bear Creek Road
Los Gatos, CA 95033
Byington Vineyard & Winery
Just down from David Bruce lies the Byington Estate with breathtaking views and an impressive portfolio of small production wines.
2006 Liage, Central Coast—blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier with grassy and floral aromas followed by luscious honeysuckle and citrus fruit flavors, lingering citrus fruit finish, medium bodied.
2005 Chardonnay, Redwood Hill Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains—baked apple and pear notes followed by pineapple and lemon citrus, hint of toasted oak, creamy mouthfeel, medium bodied.
2004 Pinot Noir, Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain—heady floral/violet aromas followed by wet leaves and cherries, touch of spice, soft tannins, medium bodied. Only 170 cases produced.
2005 Pinot Noir, Byington Estate Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains—a real show-stopper with Burgundian aromas of wet leaves, mushrooms plus a floral component, red cherry fruit and a touch of spice, soft tannins, medium bodied. Only 347 cases produced.
2004 Alliage, Paso Robles—blend of Cab Sauv and Merlot with plum and cassis notes, slight hint of pencil shavings, smooth and silky, firm tannins, medium bodied.
2004 Merlot, Messina Vineyard, Paso Robles—jammy plum aromas followed by hints of cocoa and tobacco, fleshy and complex, velvety tannins, full bodied.
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains—cassis and black pepper aromas followed by sweet plum and toasted oak, rich and velvety, firm tannins, full bodied.
1993 Cabernet Sauvignon, Smith-Reichel Vineyard, Alexander Valley—a very special library release that blew my socks off—intense notes of leather and tobacco followed by violets, dried cranberries and cassis, smooth and silky, soft tannins, medium bodied.
Byington Vineyard & Winery is located off Route 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Again, remember to SPIT or have a designated driver.
21850 Bear Creek Road
Los Gatos, CA 95033