Grapelive Latest:  Santa Cruz Mountains Indian Summer

By Kerry Winslow

kwafv09.jpgA mid September afternoon and I head up to the Santa Cruz Mountains to see the Pinot Noir harvest and catch up on some new releases at Alfaro Family Vineyards, the weather is warm and perfect, with blue sky a welcome sight after some Monterey fog. Richard Alfaro is fine tuning his talents and getting the best out of his estate in this special region, showcasing their interesting and unique terroir. His wines show remarkable class, depth and balance with out doubt he is making some of the best wine for the money in the central coast. His Chardonnay from the Lindsay-Page estate vineyard has been rocking my world and grabbing gold medals for a few vintages, then there is his Pinot Noir, which is getting better and better as the vines gain age here, and the new release of the estate Pinot is stunning with intense color and richness, and Richard’s newest project to be released is the estate Syrah of which I can say enough good things about.

Richard also buys select grapes from some big name vineyards, including the Garys’ Vineyard down in the afv09.jpgSanta Lucia Highlands and will for the 2009 vintage feature it as a single vineyard bottling under his own Alfaro Family Vineyards label, and he also gets some fruit from the Lester Family Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains of which he has worked with for many vintages under the Martin Alfaro label and was known as the “Deerpark Vineyard”, for those that had this wine know it was a secret find, giving a wine of density and charm, and I’m happy Richard is continuing with it. While on this visit, I saw the 2009 vintage must, pre-fermentation, and I can tell you that both the Lester Vineyard and the Garys’ with be fantastic wines to look forward to, I can’t wait to see them develop. Alfaro showed me around the cool jacketed bins of juice soaking on the skins and ran lab tests on sugar and PH levels, all which was really enlightening even to this wine geek and I can attest to the numbers looking great for the 2009 vintage, with all of the Pinot lots on track, and Alfaro’s own fruit which only partial lots have been brought so far is very impressive, and I was jazzed to see the alcohol looks set to be about 14% and can report on near perfect balance coming from this ra09juice.jpgharvest.

If you get to Santa Cruz, head down to Corralitos and check Alfaro Family Vineyards out, not only will you see beautiful landscapes and vines, you’ll be treated to some of the most intriguing terroir wines from this up and coming region. This is a special place and the wines are great here, especially the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, though I’m fond of the Syrah too. The nice thing about Santa Cruz is that it is very relaxed and laid back; everyone is open and friendly, especially at Alfaro’s place. People can taste wine and take in the winery or vineyards, as well as having a great spot to enjoy a picnic or cheese and crackers. The setting is peaceful and warm with a down to earth character that is steeped in local tradition and humor, I highly recommend a visit and know you’ll be getting quality wine and a huge bang for the buck here.

On the other side of the region to the very north is one of the legends of California wines, Ridge Vineyards, and they are just releasing their fall releases, include their flagship wine and one of the first growths of California, the Monte Bello, which in my mind is the great red of California. This Bordeaux style blend is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with the other varietals playing lesser, but important roles in support, making a for a classic wine that does the state proud, as has done since Paul Draper first made it. Ridge also is letting out their Monte Bello Chardonnay, same 2006 vintage as the red, and the estate Cabernet blend too, from the original vineyards high above Cupertino and the South San Francisco bay.

mb06.gifThe 2006 Monte Bello red meritage is exotic and fruit forward, shockingly easy to enjoy and love now, which is surprising for a wine that in most vintages takes years to unfold. The is bold red fruits and savory licorice and plum layers and then the finish which is mouth coating and long that gives the true classic flavors that you’ll be more accustomed to with Cabernet fruit, mineral, tobacco and subtle oak notes. This was for sure the most round and lush young Monte Bello that I’ve tried to date, so I’d say mark this vintage for early drinking.

06ridgechard.gifThe 2006 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay is vast and a wonderful wine that has it all and then some, just like last year this wine maybe just be the best wine coming out of Ridge Vineyards, with deep full flavors and stunning complexity. The wine has unique character and is not a Napa or Burgundy clone, though it does have Grand Cru like elements and class. The nose has pretty white flowers, matchstick, apple pie and peach notes before a huge palate of pear, apple, yellow peach, banana and butter cream that unfolds in smooth layers, but has bright fresh acidity that just gives a hint of lemon. The Chard has mineral, spice and a golden hue that all wrap it up, letting you know that it is something truly special.

ridgescm06.gifThen last, but not least is the other estate red, the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate 2006 that is the baby Monte Bello, a wine that sells in the $40 region and delivers great value and full flavors that will knock some of the Napa Cabs down a few pegs! All in all Ridge Vineyards delivers true California wines that can rival any wines from any region, well they have done for 40 plus years now and don’t look like stopping anytime soon.

Again, Santa Cruz has blown my mind, just when I think they have done it all, they bring something new out of the area that makes me take even great notice. This is a region that doesn’t seem to get media glare, but makes some of the states best wines year after year. All of which makes me very happy as it is very close to home and the people deserve massive props, and the wine will amaze you. I’ve been singing the regions praises for that last three or four vintages and I think I will keep doing so until I lose my voice! This is a great region with magical terroirs that highlight its wonderful character and location. Bravo Santa Cruz, keep rocking my world!

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