Touring the beautiful and mysterious Santa Cruz Mountains is too often an overlooked pleasure and after a wonderful spring Sunday in the green hills I am again a true believer! Without a doubt this is a rugged and raw wine region that offers scenic vistas and remote vineyard sites across a great area from Watsonville in the Southern most part to Woodside in the furthest Northern reach. Starting the lazy drive at Fins Coffee House on Ocean Street, downtown Santa Cruz we twisted and turned our way up Highway 9, seeing wildflowers and ranches all the way to the remote estate vineyard of David Bruce Winery, before going up Skyline and Highway 35 and on to Thomas Fogarty Winery. The views are amazing and there plenty of great areas to stop and take it all in, plus tons of great hiking trails to explore or to picnic on. The is also Castle Rock, a place for serious rock and boulder climbing. The distractions are many and varied in this most natured of wine county settings, with a more earthy and laid-back feel than Napa or Sonoma even. So expect glamor up here or lots of creature comforts, but be prepared to be awed by the shear beauty of the place, especially on a day like we had, where you could see forever and was without any sort of crowds. One thing to know going in, there are lots of cycles up here, both with either foot and horse power, so keep your attention dialed to the task at hand, trust me. It was a real Santa Cruz event, from driving a bio-diesel VW, dodging flying mud crusted Subarus driven by bearded smiling locals at lethal speeds, to watching turtles sun themselves in a pond, it was relaxing and a refreshing day, well except for all the driving on twisty roads. The first stop was David Bruce Winery on Bear Creek Road, a beautiful location with wisteria extra fragrant waiting at the tasting room, this was a nice way to cut the coffee buzz and really start the day afresh! David Bruce is one of the pioneers of Pinot Noir in California, only following a few notables like Chalone, Martin Ray, Joseph Swan, Walter Schug (while at Joseph Phelps) and Hanzell in this pursuit. He firmly believed in this wonderful grape and made his name on it and still makes a very good one indeed. We were well treated and serve at this out of way local and enjoyed their 2004 David Bruce Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains made from local vineyards, it showed an earthy richness and soft almost silky fruit profile very much in classic Pinot style. I will also mention their 2002 David Bruce Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, because it was full and chocolate like with an inky dark color that made us smile, so there you go. Both the those reds were very nice and well made, the same was not true of their 2003 David Bruce Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains, this wine was not drinkable and I have to be honest here, it was terrible with a dead sherry like tone that told you right away this wine was well on its way to vinegar. It is funny, because I do remember a time long ago when the Wine Spectator pulled not punches regarding a vintage of David Bruce Chardonnay calling it something close to cow dung! In fact a co-worker at the wine merchant where we worked just had to try it after that, and even if that didn’t seem nice or fair after trying it ourselves, I was reminded of that here. So we bought a Pinot and a Petite and forgave them their pouring of the Chard and we went on with our day unharmed and happy. After some hair raising goat tracks and some avoiding vintage Triumph motorcycles, cruised along Skyline, then up Highway 35 to Thomas Fogarty Winery. Even before setting foot on the property, you can feel it is going to be a well worth stopping kind of place, it is a stunning and breathtaking location for a winery and tasting room with panoramic hilltop views of the whole Peninsula and sloping vineyards. With lots of wild and native gardens to enjoy as well as Mortimer the winery cat, even they didn’t make good stuff I would still come here, but luck was with us and the wines were all lovely. Doctor Fogarty is highly regarded in the medical community for his skill and his inventive mind, having invented many specialized surgical tools and the Fogarty catheter, as well as teaching at the famed Stanford Medical School. The family has a love for car racing, in fact I had met his sons during their racing careers and Jon still races today, while his older brother Thomas teaches race driving. That was when I first tried their family’s wine during the late 90’s, though that was in a past life. Nowadays there are lots of choices from this winery, like: A wonderful Chardonnay, a lush Pinot Noir, a chocolate and stylish Meritage, a couple of nice Cal-Itals from the Sierra Foothills, a Sparkler, a Napa Cabernet, a Port, a white Pinot Noir, a super Merlot based red, and best of all, a dry and perfumed Gewurztraminer, yes I said Gewurztraminer! On this day it was perfect and we took one, along with the Pinot Noir. I must say the 2005 Thomas Fogarty Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains may have been the best wine though, and I did a have a couple of maybe I should turn around and go back moments! Alas I didn’t, though I’ll go back to watch turtles, hang with Mortimer and get a few bottles of that Chardonnay. Then it was off to explore some more back roads and torture my friends tires on the fun winding paths that were more suited to pack mules than her Passat, what a day. Oh, and before I fade out, see below for another stunning wine from this fast becoming my favorite region.
For more info on Santa Cruz Mountains Wineries and Tasting Rooms Please visit the Santa Cruz Mountains Wines Website.
2006 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Wild Yeast”, Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains (Est. $55.00)
Kudos to Jim and Judy Schultze, they have again proved that their vineyard produces wonderful fruit and they let the terroir sing its lungs out in making their lovely wines. Small lots of Pinot are allowed to go through natural fermentation aided only by native yeasts, and this shows in the difference between this wine and the others in their impressive line. There is more to this wine and it seems a little deeper and more layered, also there is certain sexier and prettier nature here. That said I love all their wines, even if I might prefer this one. There is plenty of zesty raspberry, cherry and fresh plum fruits that go on and on. The depth is impressive now, but should develop nicely for a couple of years. Its sublime balance shades the sweet fruit and firm textures and the touches of spice, earth and minerals all fold together smoothly. Enjoy now, though I will put one away for a couple of years. 93-94 Points, grapelive