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by Ken Zinns

Ken is a Bay Area architect with a passion for wine. After taking a few wine courses through UC Extension, he started becoming more "serious" about wine in the early '90s. Ken has been taking wine-tasting trips to the Central Coast since early '92, and has come to love the area - not only for the wines, which just get better year by year, but also for the people. Ken's interest in wine is more than passive, and he's been volunteering his help at several urban East Bay wineries since 2001 - and in fact was recently named assistant winemaker for both Eno Wines in Berkeley and Harrington Wine in San Francisco.

4th Annual PINOT PARADISE - March 30, 2008


Pinot Paradise - 2008
4th Annual "Grand Cruz" Tasting

Report on the 4th annual wine tasting presented by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, on Sunday, March 30th, 2008, at Villa Ragusa in Campbell, California. The event focuses on Pinot Noirs from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

The event included the Pathway to Pinot Paradise on Saturday, with library wine and barrel tastings at over 15 wineries, a Sunday morning Pinot clone seminar and tasting, and the Grand Cruz Tasting on Sunday afternoon. The notes below are from the Grand Cruz Tasting.

The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association helps to promote wineries and wines from the area. The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981, and includes parts of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties. Vineyard elevations in the AVA range from 400 feet to over 2,000 feet. Given the mountainous terrain, it's no surprise that most vineyards in the region are small, with a total planted area of less than 1,500 acres. And with their close proximity to forested land, wildfires are always a concern, and many growers are in a constant battle with the Glassy-winged Sparpshooter insect, which can spread Pierce's Disease to the vines. Yet the growing number of vineyards and wineries in the area who are willing to brave these difficulties is a testament to the promise of these mountain wines. Over 70 wineries, most of them quite small, are currently members of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.

Overall impressions:
This was an excellent opportunity to taste wines from many producers of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. 35 wineries poured at the Grand Cruz tasting. A few of the big guns among Pinot producers from the area were not represented (Rhys and Varner among them), but almost all the Santa Cruz Pinot producers of note were pouring at the event. A handful of barrel samples and library wines were poured in addition to current releases and previews of soon-to-be-released wines.

Some Favorites

Black Ridge 2006 Estate
Cinnabar 2007 Mt. Eden clone barrel sample
Mt. Eden 2005 Estate
McHenry 2005 Estate
Sonnet 2006 Muns Vineyard
Storr's 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains
Windy Oaks 2006 Estate Cuvée

Although this was the first Pinot Paradise tasting I attended, the word was that the overall attendance was up significantly from last year, and the venue was pretty well packed. Winery tables were generally crowded, but it never took too long to get a pour. We heard that wineries were limited to pouring two wines (although there were a handful of places pouring more), and this helped keep people moving along. A number of round tables filled much of the wide spaces between winery tables, making the whole space feel more crowded. In addition to the wineries, there were over a dozen tables at the event were serving a variety of great foods to accompany the wines – some of the best food I've had at a wine tasting event.

Once again teaming up with Al Osterheld for the tasting, we managed to visit 30 of the 35 participating wineries. A couple of the ones we missed ran out of wine before we got to them, and we just ran out of time to visit the few others. I found that the Pinots from this area live up to their reputation as being significantly more tannic than the typical California Pinot – something I've experienced in the past from SCM Pinots but really hit home tasting so many of them in one afternoon. And considering that nearly all the wines were light- to medium-bodied – none of the bigger style of California Pinots here – I felt that many of the wines displayed more new oak than I would have liked, sometimes masking delicate, attractive fruit. Overall, most of the wines we tasted were pleasant and well-made but ultimately we found few that were particularly remarkable, though there were certainly some notable standouts along the way.

Selected Tasting Notes

Ahlgren Vineyard
2004 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-light color, a bit fumey in the nose, but with a core of ripe cherry fruit framed by sweet smoky oak.
2007 Veranda Vineyard (barrel sample). Brighter fruit than the ’04 SCM bottling, with a more obvious oak component at this point, and a more tannic finish.

Alfaro Family Vineyards
2006 “A” Estate. Medium-light color, light-bodied, fairly simple black cherry and raspberry aromas and mild tannins.
2006 Deer Park Vineyard. More earthy than the “A”, with ripe darker berry fruit and bigger vanilla/oak  component, with a firmer tannic finish.
2006 Schultze Vineyard. More fruit-forward style, with black cherry and sweet oak dominating, a touch of spice, and a smoother finish.
2006 Estate. Cherry/raspberry and forest floor, earth, and spice, better-integrated oak and moderate tannins on the finish.

Beauregard Vineyards
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-dark ruby color, high-toned raspberry and wild berry aromas, balanced with overtones of herbs and toasty oak, and moderate tannins on the finish.

Black Ridge Vineyards
2006 Estate. From 667, 777, 115, and Pommard clones. Medium-dark color, bright ripe black cherry aromas, complex notes of earth and spice with subtle floral hints, very well-balanced with sweet oak playing a background role, silky mouthfeel and mild tannins on the long finish.
Comments: The winemaker is Bill Brosseau, who also is winemaker at Testarossa. Impressive showing for this relatively new winery, and the find of the day for me.

Burrell School Vineyards & Winery
2005 Veranda Vineyard. Medium color, earthy red fruit nose, but with a core of slightly tart cherry fruit and herbs framed by sweet smoky oak, smooth mouthfeel and finish.
2005 Estate Reserve, “Principal’s Choice”. Darker color, raspberry and plum aromas, but still with a distinct earthy character, a nice touch of spicy oak and medium tannins.

Byington Winery & Vineyards
2005 Estate. Medium color, subdued cherry nose with hints of earth and sweet oak, not showing much on this day.

Cinnabar Vineyards & Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. From 667, 777, 115, 37, and 23 clones. Medium color, ripe black cherry, smoke, and spice aromas, with sweet vanilla notes on the smooth finish.
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains, 37 (Mt. Eden) clone (barrel sample). This single-clone wine will be bottled separately. Concentrated red fruits and spice in the nose, bright acidity, some toasty oak, and showing more youthful tannins but not harsh.

Clos LaChance Wines
2005 Biagini Vineyard. Medium color, intense aromatics of cherry, cranberry, lots of spice, and an undercurrent of smoky oak, with rich mouthfeel and a long smooth finish.

Clos Tita
2005 Santa Cruz Mountain Cuvée. Dark color, darker fruits, earth, leather, strong woody oak component and slightly rough finish.
2005 Estate. Medium color, black cherry and plum aromas, sweeter oak and brighter acidity than the Cuvée bottling, moderate tannins.

Domenico Wines
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Subdued nose of earthy strawberry and cherry, sweet vanilla/oak, fairly simple with moderate tannins.
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains (barrel sample). Medium color, brighter aromatics of red fruit and a touch of earth, lighter-bodied than the '06 with nice acidity.

Hallcrest Vineyards
2004 Barrel Select. Medium color, earthy red fruits, touch of sweet oak, somewhat rough tannic finish.
2004 Vista Del Mare Vineyard. Medium-dark color, fairly intense black cherry and raspberry aromas, richer and with more sweet vanilla/oak than the Barrel Select, with smoother finish.

Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery
2006 Estate. Medium color, moderate raspberry aromas framed by sweet, smoky oak, though showing a slightly bitter finish.

Kings Mountain Winery
2003 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium color, quite earthy, leathery aromas with underlying red fruits.
1999 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-light color, spicy cherry nose with touches of leather and earth, smooth mouthfeel and moderate tannins with a pleasant finish.
Comments: Only a couple of wineries poured older vintages at the tasting, and this '99 was easily the best of them.

Loma Prieta Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-dark color, ripe cherry and raspberry with floral notes, undertones of sweet toasty oak, and moderate tannins on the lengthy finish.

McHenry Winery
2004 Estate. Both wines from Swan, 113, 115, and Pommard clones. Medium-light color, slightly high-toned nose of strawberry and cherry, a touch of spice, good acidity, and fairly mild tannins.
2005 Estate. Medium-light color, darker berry fruit with a nice earthy component and more spice than the '04. Very well balanced, with just a touch of sweet oak and medium tannins.
Comments: I'd heard about McHenry before, but this was the first time I'd tasted the wines and they were among the best of the day. A distinctive, elegant style, with a lighter touch on the oak than most.

Mount Eden Vineyards
2004 Estate. Medium-light ruby color, nice core of black cherry and earth, with a touch of spice, and moderately tannic finish.
2005 Estate. Similar to the '04, but with brighter fruit and a bigger spice component, as well as complex notes of flowers and pine needles. Quite a grippy finish and in need of bottle age, but very nice.
Comments: The '05 was one of the outstanding wines of the day, and both of these wines displayed beautiful balance. Both are from 10-15 year-old vines, mostly 37 clone – or as it is often known, the Mt. Eden clone.

Muccigrosso Vineyards
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium color, lots of sweet vanilla/oak on the nose, but more earthy red fruits come out on the palate, smooth mouthfeel and very mild tannins.
2004 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium ruby color, earth and pine needle scents along with the cherry/berry character, the sweet oak in better balance, and a mineral note on the finish.

Nicholson Vineyards
2005 Estate. Ripe black cherry and a touch of earth with overtones of sweet caramel-vanilla oak, moderate tannins.
2006 Estate. Ripe berry along with a somewhat volatile, fumey character on the nose, similar sweet caramel-vanilla notes as the '05.
Comments: Both wines had a slightly odd character that I attributed to the cooperage. Ian Brand, formerly assistant winemaker at Big Basin Vineyards, recently joined Nicholson as its winemaker, so hopefully this will be a sign of better things to come.

Pelican Ranch Winery
2006 Deer Park Vineyard. Medium-dark color, raspberry and darker fruits with touch of forest floor, fairly full-bodied with medium tannins.
2005 Green Valley Road Vineyard. Medium color, high-toned cherry aromas, slightly hot and rather tannic finish.

Pleasant Valley Vineyards
2005 Dylan David Estate Reserve. From 113, 114, and 115 clones. Medium color, bright cherry aromas with sweet vanilla/oak overtones, hints of earth/leather and menthol, smooth mouthfeel with a moderately tannic finish.
2006 Dylan David Estate Reserve (barrel sample). Sweet oak is more to the front here, with cherry and spice notes in the background.

Roudon-Smith Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium ruby color, sweet vanilla/oak and almost candied black cherry fruit, smooth finish, pleasant but rather sweet and simple.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard
2004 Bailey's Branciforte Ridge Vineyard. Medium-dark color, raspberry, plum, and smoky oak aromas, a touch of spice, though with a somewhat bitter and tannic finish.
2003 Vine Hill Reserve. Medium-dark color, seems a little reduced, smoky raspberry and mushroom/earth aromas, nice mouthfeel, moderate tannins.
Comments: The '03 Vine Hill Reserve includes the winery's last fruit sourced from their old Estate vineyard.

Silver Mountain Vineyards
2004 Miller Hill Vineyard. Medium-dark color, darker berry fruit with a strong earthy/mushroomy component, touch of spice, nicely-balance with fairly mild tannins.
2005 Muns Vineyard. Medium color, raspberry and woody oak aromas, touch of spice, tannic finish.

Sonnet Wine Cellars
2006 Muns Vineyard. Medium color, ripe black cherry and plum, touches of spice and pine needles, well-balanced vanilla/oak component, silky mouthfeel and mild tannins.
2006 Muns Vineyard (clonal samples). Separate clonal bottlings done for the morning seminar, of the four components of the '06 Muns Vineyard bottling. The 115 showed bright bing cherry fruit with nice acidity, the 667 displayed darker fruit and more spice, the 114 was big with a firm tannic structure, and the 777 had a riper black cherry/berry character.
Comments: Several wineries were pouring Pinots from Muns Vineyard, located at about 2,600-foot elevation on Loma Prieta. I preferred the Sonnet bottling out of these, and it was one of the day's standouts.

Soquel Vineyards
2005 Partners' Reserve, Muns Vineyard. Medium color, bright aromas of black cherry and darker berry, sweet vanilla/oak, touch of spice, moderate tannins.

Storrs Winery
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium color, raspberry and darker fruits with earthy undertones, good acidity, a touch of smoky oak, everything well-balanced, with a long smooth finish, very nice.
Comments: A surprisingly good showing from a winery not usually noted for its Pinots.

Testarossa Vineyards
2005 Schultze Family Vineyard. Medium-dark color, nose of ripe red fruits, a touch of earth and a generous helping of sweet vanilla/oak, with a smooth finish.

Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium color, bright red fruit aromas, touch of spice, juicy acidity, smooth finish.
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains. Ripe black cherry, more spice and sweet vanilla/oak components, touch of earth, and a bit more body than the '06, moderate tannins.
Comments: These wines included 25-30% whole cluster fruit, but you'd scarcely know it, so seamlessly does that whole cluster character integrate into the overall package of the wines – very skillfully done.

Trout Gulch Vineyards
2006 “La Source”. Medium-light color, red fruits, some spicy character, light touch of sweet oak.
2001 Santa Cruz Mountains. Volatile/fumey, woody, some cherry fruit in background.

Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery
2006 "Diane's Block". From 115 and 667 clones. Very light color, a fruit-forward style featuring ripe cherry fruit and floral notes, along with an abundance of sweet vanilla/oak and a smooth finish.
2006 Estate Cuvée. From 115, Wadenswil (2A), Pommard 5, 667, and 777 clones. Very light color, cherry and cranberry with a touch of earthy character, and brighter acidity than the Diane's Block. In comparison with that wine, the vanilla/oak element is still prominent but better-integrated.
Comments: The most light-colored Pinots of the day, but certainly not light-flavored, with loads of sweet fruit, oak, and spice defining the winery's style.



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