Thursday, May 21, 2009

Santa Cruz Mountain Ramblings

I seldom fail to call on the Santa Cruz Mountain wineries when I visit the area. This is the first wine region I explored in depth when I lived in its foothills. Many wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains offer discounts on their wines, but Byington was the first one that called it a stimulus package. Byington Winery rests on the ocean-facing side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by vines on steeply sloped hills. Their quality wines are well priced and they are known for their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. And the stimulus involves the Cabs, two of which are deeply discounted on the website. I think this is the right stimulus – lower costs on excellent wines.

The East Side of the Santa Cruz Mountains

On this trip I planned to visit two wineries, Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards and Byington, on opposite sides of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The wineries are off roads I’ve bicycled numerous times when I lived around here, so the drive called up memories of other times, happily-spent. Savannah-Chanelle produces a number of wines, but their Pinot and Syrah wines are among my favorites. The 2006 Monterey County Syrah has the same appeal as the 2004s I'm enjoying in my cellar now. The 06 has balance, good fruit and spice and black pepper. Looks like I may be adding a case of this one, too.

Many Santa Cruz Pinots are influenced by the elevations, dramatic slopes of the hills and valleys, the maritime breezes, and the summer fog that forms when warm valley air hits cool ocean winds. Earthy and concentrated fruit are hallmarks of many Santa Cruz Pinots. This is also one of the oldest wine-producing regions in California, and it is rich in wine lore. The majority of Savannah-Chanelle Pinots are from vineyards on the Sonoma coast and Russian River area, which is a key region for great wines, but I still love the Estate Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountians Pinot Noir best. The estate Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc vines produce some of the best wines from these grapes in California as well.

Coastal Views of Monterey

The views from Byington winery are long, descending to Monterey Bay in the distance. Byington has been a destination for me for many years, and this time they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. I’m looking at a bottle of the 2004 Cerro Prieto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that arrived over the weekend. This is a potent Paso Robles Cab, with lots of blackberry and plum. Somehow they managed to crank 16% alcohol into this powerhouse without upsetting the balance. The tannins insure a good shelf life for this wine (4 to 9 years), but I don’t think my case will last that long.

On the website they are also discounting the 2004 Smith-Reichel Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. This one clocks in at 15%, crafted to be age-worthy (6 to 10 years), and with a depth of fruit Alexander Valley is famous for. Since the normal price of both these cabs makes them a best buy, the sale prices should be darn near irresistible. Well, I certainly didn’t resist. Salud!

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