California is known for wine, and without question, Napa & Sonoma are the king and queen (respectively). You won’t get much argument from me either, as this blog has clearly promoted. However, there are MANY other niche wine growing areas here that can offer some amazing wines – especially when they focus on the correct varietal for that growing region.
Napa is known for growing the kings of Cabernet. Sonoma has a some KILLER Pinot Noir – especially at the coast and the Russian River Valley AVAs. Paso Robles & San Luis Obispo specialize in Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, etc).
Lucky for me, I live at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and there are some fantastic wine growers here as well – especially since they normally don’t carry the markup that the same wine (of lesser quality) would cost from Napa. A few local favorites include:
- Ridge Vineyards: http://www.ridgewine.com
- Testarossa: http://www.testarossa.com
- Picchetti: http://www.picchetti.com
- Cinnabar: http://www.cinnabarwine.com
- Thomas Fogherty: http://fogartywinery.com
- Mount Eden: http://www.mounteden.com
- Kathryn Kennedy: http://www.kathrynkennedywinery.com
- David Bruce: http://www.davidbrucewinery.com
The micro-climates here in CA are tough to get used to – there can be 20+ degree swings only 30 minutes drive away – but it can also provide for some ideal growing areas if you know where to look. Recently, we took a ride down to “Sarah’s Vineyard” on the outskirts of Gilroy, at the foothills of Mount Madonna. The key here is that a mountain pass funnels cool ocean air down across the vineyard. The typical summer day has a foggy morning, a hot sunny day moderated by a strong ocean breeze, and brisk nighttime temperatures in the 50s. Grapevines love the strong sun and warmth of the day, giving them the energy to thrive; while the chilly nights preserve the subtle fruit flavors of the grapes.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, but when we pulled up, the quality of the operation was clear. I’ve come across one or two wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains (or other smaller AVAs) that were a little ‘interesting’ or ‘casual’. I’m being polite, but I’m thinking that you catch my drift.
This wasn’t the case at all here. From the property, the clear quality & management of the vineyards, the tasting room & staff, to ESPECIALLY the wines. They offered an interesting blend of popular grapes (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay) to some great Rhone blends and varietals.
I think that I tasted about 10 wines, and I LOVED 9 of them. Here’s a few highlights:
- ’09 Cote de Madrone Blanc – This was a luscious, sweet, and bright wine – full of pineapple and white peach flavors. The nose was wonderful, but I expected it to be overly sweet and cheap, but it ends wonderfully dry and structured. I LOVED this wine, and couldn’t get enough.
- ’09 Chardonnay – Big, bold, voluptuous. Not ‘movie theater’ buttery, but has a subtle buttery fruit. Almost has a baked apple pie flavor, with a white port aftertaste.
- ’09 Estate Pinot Noir – A big, viscous Pinot. Has a minty, lean red fruit quality, and you really taste the earth. It’s RELAXING to smell, if that makes sense. Dark. Intense. This Pinot is approachable, but still has class and style.
- ’07 Old Vine Carignane – GORGEOUS. Syrah-like with its bold fruit and complexity. Feels you are drinking a varietal that is “in between the lines” of your traditional Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot lineup. Not the usual, vanilla wine you get everywhere, but has the key elements you love.
- ’07 Charbono – I’ve seen this varietal only once before in CA. I liked it, but didn’t love it then. This time it was a very different. It is a very rarely grown varietal due to it’s thin skin which makes it inherent difficulty to grow well w/out rot or over-ripening. It’s SIMILAR to an old vine Zinfandel, but so much deeper in flavor profile. Perfect compliment to ribs or burgers, and I highly recommend trying it if you can.
- ’07 Besson Vineyard Syrah – This was a dark horse for me, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I love Syrah, and I am extremely finicky about it. I like Syrah’s with a lot of fruit, firm tannins, and a subtle peppery nose. Many times CA Syrahs will end up over-sugary, too tannicly harsh, or just all around skunky or flabby. This is a great example of all things going CORRECTLY, and resulting in a lush and beautiful Syrah that has a unique flavor and balance to it.