Santa Cruz

16 Sep

Santa Cruz is a diverse area spread over varying terroirs, with lots of narrow winding roads. Be prepared if you plan to visit wineries at the different ends of the region. Our first day involved that kind of driving out to wineries and the second day walking around the town (city?) of Santa Cruz, where Boony Doon and many small boutique wineries have tasting rooms. The area is best known for Pinot Noir and Petit Syrah (believe it or not), but there’s lots of diversity as well. The Santa Cruz appellation is not as well known as several other areas of CA (e.g. Napa, Sonoma, Paso, Santa Barbara), but has two world class wineries whose wines have faired well in competitions with French wines.

 

Testarossa Winery was our first stop, in Los Gatos. The tasting room is in stone cellars of an historic Novitiate winery, and is almost as dark as a cave. The winemaker is the son of the owners of the Inn at the Pinnacles, where we stayed the last time we visited the area. They make about 15,000 cases, selling it all locally; a business plan that seems to work well for smallish wineries. In this case, all the wines are sold at retail prices, rather than having wholesale prices for distribution. The wines were nice, but not heavenly, and are overpriced in our opinion…but it’s working for them.

Deveilishly Good?

 

Fleming Jenkins was next…as in Peggy Fleming the gold metal ice skater and her dermatologist husband. She was the most elegant skater we’ve seen so far…before the need for quads to do well. The wines are very nice, but the winery is closing later this year. He wants to retire, and has made arrangements for most of the vineyards/grapes.

 

The David Bruce visit was one of the more interesting on this trip….long winding roads to the winery. As we reached the door of the tasting room a sign said closed, even though the hours listed said it should be open. As we were walking away, moaning about all the driving we’d done to get there, the door opened…”Hey guys, would you like to taste some wines?”. Upon entering, we met another couple who’d had the same experience a few minutes before us. Luckily, the winemaker had seen the couple and went to get Matt to open the room. The other couple turned out to be from the Boston area (Westborough). We got to know them (wine experiences can be a great bond) and hope to see them at Pairings. A few minutes later two guys showed up and we all had a nice tasting together. Lori and I had visited David Bruce several years ago and liked them…I’m happy to report that they’re even better than I remembered.

As we were trying the fifth wine, a Sangiovese, the door opened and David Bruce himself appeared. We had an extended discussion of wine and what he’s done over the years. He was a doctor, but got interested in wine, which is a “powerful magnet”. He invented a machine based on the scientific understanding of wine he gained over the years.  He said that people who see the machine describe it as “impossible”. Based on his answers to our questions, the winemaking seems to be some combination of using whole berries for carbonic maceration, followed by complete maceration, etc…much more involved than that of course. Whatever it is, it works. He had Matt opened one of their “crown jewels”, an estate Pinot Noir from 2003, which has a restrained lusciousness (if that makes sense). David point out that one can get six packs of different “jewels,” that provide a vertical tasting…we will look for these to bring into the store.  He “broke my rule” and had a second taste for himself, so we all did as well. This was a lot of fun, very convivial and enlightening. David is quite a character and has lots of stories for just about everything, as Matt said, and we learned first-hand.

 

Byington Vineyard is nearby, and we remembered liking it, and still do. The two guys we met at David Bruce showed up, and we had more fun tasting and kidding around. These wines are very nice, at a lower price point than David Bruce. However, for some reason they’ve lost their distribution and aren’t making wine this year…selling off the juice/grapes. Ashley was a fun host. We are curious and will try to find out what’s going on with them.

 

On to the West Cliff Inn in Santa Cruz, a member of the Four Sisters Inns…we’ve stayed at others (e.g. Napa) and they’re elegant and nice without being expensive and the breakfasts are always wonderful – this time, mushroom quiche with zucchini, fresh fruit, fluffy pancakes, ambrosia, raisin cake, and more on this visit. We highly recommend these inns if you travel to California.

 

Dinner at Soif (means “thirsty” in French) was a hoot! It’s a wine bar and restaurant, with a very eclectic wine list…we were happy to have non-California wines, as many restaurants we’ve visited on this trip had almost solely California wines. Our server had recently moved to Santa Cruz from NYC, where he’d worked in several well-known restaurants. He was an actor as well “which is useful as a server” and, which he said, “means being a served in NYC”. It was tapas night, and we combined them with items from the regular menu. Each item has a recommended wine, which we went with in each case. Examples include Curried chickpea mushroom and goat cheese strudel with Vinoterra Kisi (an orange wine from Georgia (Russia)) and Sea Bass with fried artichoke risotto and cherry tomato vinaigrette with Tami Grillo….we recommend Soif and would go back. The potato gnocchi with summer squash, spinach, early girl tomato sauce & parmesan melted in our mouths, and the tomato sauce was light and fresh tasting.  The beet goat cheese tapas was artistically arranged with a round layer of red beet, local goat cheese, then yellow beet, one for each of us on the plate. Lori was happy to have churros for dessert as she had been wanting, but resisting, donuts the whole trip (we saw lots of donut shops along the way)…and they paired well with an Oloroso sherry.  A mile or so walk back to the Inn helped us to burn off a few calories but perhaps not quite enough – c’est la vie!

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