Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hiking the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Trails

The first wine region I came to know and love was only footsteps from my homes in Los Gatos and later Los Altos. I’ve explored most of it on bicycle, tracking 50 to 90 miles rides along its slopes and craggy mountain escarpments. The defined boundaries for the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA begin at the crest of Mt. Madonna in the south to the sparkling waters of Half Moon Bay in the north. Within that area are over 70 wineries and 200 small vineyards.

The varied and enriched soil types and the coastal influence of the Pacific Ocean to the west and San Francisco Bay to the east have created five different subregions. These are varied enough that defined Pinot Noir wines from each subregion bear a unique signature or terroir as the French would have it. I know this from sampling the many excellent wines at a variety of wineries. I’ll discuss a few of these in this and subsequent articles.

Santa Cruz Pinots are among the best in California, but as mentioned above each subregion places its own stamp on the color and flavor of the wines. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also wonderful here, but my focus on this article is Pinot Noir.

Muns Vineyard: Touching the Sky
The highest vineyard in these mountains is Muns Vineyard at 2600 feet. From this vineyard, Muns makes their own Pinot Noir and Syrah as well as providing grapes to Sonnet Winecellars, Soquel Vineyards, Silver Mountain and Savannah-Channel. Tony Craig, the winemaker at the latter also crafts Muns’ wines at the Silver Mountain facility.

I and a friend, Jack Faraone, were there to view the vineyards at this unique location and sample some of the wines with Mary Lindsay, part owner and well-regarded publicist for the Santa Cruz appellation. Through the low-flung clouds we could see Monterrey Bay in the distance, a view unobstructed by trees or other mountaintops. The vines hugged the slopes, meandering up hill and down dale in a graceful dance of vines, and trellis-held canes.

We set up behind the main house and Mary brought out a 2007 Muns Vineyard Pinot Noir and three glasses, which she preceded to generously fill. Now this is my idea of a wine tasting! We indulged in amiable company and a relaxing afternoon enjoying a wonderful Pinot. I soon discovered why other leading Santa Cruz wineries were buying their fruit.

The distinctive cherry notes are wrapped around plum with spices and subtle vanilla from the Hungarian oak. The mouthfeel was sensuous and silky and the finish long and lingering. If I could only have one winery’s Pinot, this would be my choice.

Then we were treated to the 2008 Muns Vineyard Syrah. I decided then and there I had to have Jack join me in any Santa Cruz wine tasting. Mary also provided me with a seminal work she is doing on the Santa Cruz Mountain subregions.

Even though the winds still chilled, the warmth of those wines stayed with me on the long drive down the mountain. Just a word of warning; these Pinots are done in modest lots of around 160 cases except the 2006, so don’t wait too long to purchase, you’ll be missing something very special. Salud!

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