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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.

5th Annual PINOT PARADISE - March 29, 2009


Pinot Paradise - 2009
5th Annual "Grand Cruz" Tasting

Report on the 5th annual wine tasting presented by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, on Sunday, March 29th, 2009, 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 20 wineries, a Sunday morning seminar on Santa Cruz Mountains sub-regions, and a VIP Tasting highlighting sub-regional distinctions followed by the Grand Cruz Tasting on Sunday afternoon. The notes below are from the VIP Tasting and 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 handful of barrel samples were poured in addition to current releases and previews of soon-to-be-released wines.

One of the highlights of the day, and a new feature for this year’s event, was the VIP Tasting preceding the Grand Cruz Tasting. The VIP Tasting gave groups of tasters the opportunity to sample representative wines from six sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The sub-regions were identified late last year by a select panel of wine experts following a blind tasting of 55 Pinots from the area. The six sub-regions (listed from north to south) are: Skyline, Saratoga / Los Gatos, Summit Road, Santa Cruz Coastal Foothills, Corralitos / Pleasant Valley, and Ben Lomond Mountain. More detailed descriptions of the regions and the corresponding characteristics of their wines can be found on the website of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.


’07 Big Basin Alfaro Family Vineyard
‘05 McHenry Estate
‘05 Mount Eden Estate
’06 Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard Branciforte Creek Vineyard
’06 Sonnet Muns Vineyard
’07 Soquel Partners’ Reserve Saveria Vineyard
’06 Windy Oaks Limited Release “Wild Yeast”
Others of Note:

’06 Alfaro Lindsay Paige Vineyard
’07 Big Basin Branciforte Ridge Vineyard
’05 Burrell School Estate
’06 Clos La Chance Santa Cruz Mountains
’06 Heart O’ The Mountain Estate
‘06 Mount Eden Estate
’07 Pelican Ranch Deer Park Vineyard

In conjunction with the Association’s effort to showcase these distinctions, each winery table at the Grand Cruz Tasting had a different colored balloon to identify its sub-region. Nearly all the wineries made an effort to explain which sub-region the fruit for each of their wines came from as well.

My guess is that the attendance for the event might have been slightly down from last year, though it was still well-attended. Winery tables were not overly crowded, and there was never much of a wait to get a pour at any of the tables. I believe that like last year, wineries were limited to pouring two wines – although there were a handful of places pouring three – and this helped keep people moving along. We did find that a fair number of wineries poured some of the same wines that they poured at last year’s event. A number of round tables filled much of the wide spaces between winery tables, allowing for people to sit to take a break or enjoy the food. And the food from over a dozen purveyors at the event ranged from very good to stellar – 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 all 35 participating wineries. Unlike some California Pinots, all of these wines were very light to medium-light in color, with only a handful venturing into a medium ruby shade. And as I found last year, Santa Cruz Mountain Pinots have a well-deserved reputation for being tannic – a quality that will certainly be attractive to some consumers though not to all. A fascinating aspect of Pinots from this area is that many of them combine delicate, floral aromas with considerable weight on the palate and grippy tannins. Few are as lush and fruit-forward as Pinots from Russian River Valley or the Central Coast, for example – many of them are edgy and earthy with no shortage of acidity and often with a distinct minerality. Last year I felt that too many wines displayed too much new oak, overwhelming the delicate fruit many of these Pinots had to offer. Although still an issue with some wines we tasted this year, I found the oak treatment of more wines was in better balance with the concentration of fruit. Overall, there were many likable Pinot Noirs from this distinctive AVA, with some real standouts along the way.

Selected Tasting Notes

Ahlgren Vineyard
2007 Veranda Vineyard. Earthy strawberry and rhubarb aromas with some floral notes, more spice showing on the palate, smooth and pleasant finish.

Alfaro Family Vineyards
2007 “A” Estate. Shy black cherry and plum nose with earth and mushroom notes, moderate acidity and not too tannic. Good value wine.
2006 Lindsay Paige Vineyard. More floral than the “A” with raspberry and plum, herb and forest floor undertones, smooth mouthfeel with medium tannins and a long finish.

Bargetto Winery
2006 Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains. Ripe black cherry fruit with some piney and mushroom components, good acidity with medium tannins, smooth finish.

Beauregard Vineyards
2006 Bald Mountain Vineyard. 100% new oak. Ripe red fruits and lots of sweet oak, big and mouthfilling but smooth on the palate, while firm tannins sneak in on the finish.
2006 Trout Gulch Vineyard. All Martini clone. Plum and spice on the nose, sweet vanilla/oak but not as prominent as the Bald Mountain, fairly tannic.

Big Basin Vineyards
2006 Branciforte Ridge Vineyard. Big black cherry, spice, and forest floor aromas, lively mouthfeel with moderate tannins.
2006 Alfaro Family Vineyard. More subdued cherry and darker berry fruit with more savory, spicy, and mineral character, very complex with great structure and balance.
Comments: This was Big Basin’s first appearance at this event, and it was an impressive debut.

Black Ridge Vineyards
2006 Estate. From 667, 777, 115, and Pommard clones. Ripe style with sweet cherry and oak aromas and a touch of spice, lush mouthfeel with mild acidity and tannins.
2007 Estate. Less ripe than the ’06 but more apparent oak notes, darker fruit character than the ’06, brighter acidity on the palate but still smooth and not very tannic.

Burrell School Vineyards & Winery
2005 Estate. From 115, 667, 777, and Pommard clones. Some initial funk blew off quickly, revealing earthy, plummy aromas, with complex spice and dried herb notes, lively acidity and medium tannins.
2006 Estate. Similar to the ’05 but with riper red fruits and more sweet vanilla/oak, bigger mouthfeel and a grippy finish.
Comments: No wine at this tasting transformed itself in the glass as dramatically as the ’05 Estate, going from odd and funky to very pretty in less than a minute.

Byington Winery & Vineyards
2006 Estate. A bit fumey, smoky black cherry on the nose, medium-bodied with some bitter notes in the tannins on the finish.

Cinnabar Vineyards & Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Ripe cherry with notes of spice, brown sugar, and earth, smooth on the palate with medium tannins.
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains. Brighter fruit than the ’06, black cherry and plum, better acidity in the mouth and a bit more tannic on the finish.
2007 Santa Lucia Highlands. Riper spicy cherry fruit with distinct SLH character, smooth mouthfeel and not tannic at all.
Comments: Cinnabar sneaked in the lone non-Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot of the day – but we won’t tell!

Clos LaChance Wines
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Ripe, sweet cherry and strawberry with floral and spice notes and overtones of vanilla/oak, lush on the palate with a long smooth finish.
2005 Biagini Vineyard. Seemed a bit reduced at first but opened up with some air. Earthy tart cherry and cranberry aromas with hints of smoke and spice, rich and mouthfilling, smooth finish.

Clos Tita
2005 Santa Cruz Mountain Cuvée. From 85% Branciforte Ridge Vineyard and 15% Estate fruit. Minerally sour cherry, plum, and earth with oaky overtones, medium-bodied with moderate tannins.
2005 Estate. Some initial reduction, subdued fruit and sweet oak aromas, slightly more tannic than the Cuvée.

Domenico Wines
2008 Santa Cruz Mountains (barrel sample). Bright raspberry and spice on the nose, not much complexity at this stage but smooth and pleasant.
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains (barrel sample). Oak is prevalent in the aromas, with red fruits and spice, richer mouthfeel and moderate tannins on the finish.
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. More sour cherry and earth notes, forest floor, sweet oak, and mild tannins.
Comments: Rather unique Pinots in that very small amounts of Barbera and Petit Verdot are blended in.

Hallcrest Vineyards
2005 Terre Serena Vineyard. Moderate tart cherry, cranberry and earth, medium-bodied with a fairly smooth finish.
2005 Vista Del Mare Vineyard. Stronger earth and pine needle character with more subdued fruit, lively acidity and mild tannins.

Heart O’ The Mountain
2006 Estate. Ripe cherry and sweet oak aromas with touches of dried herbs, some clove/spice notes on the palate, and a long, clean finish.
Comments: Very nice job on the second release for this winery.

Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery
2007 Estate. Black cherry and plum, oak, and earth, medium-bodied with moderate tannins.

Kings Mountain Winery
2005 Estate. Aged 18 months in 100% new oak. Tart cherry fruit with leathery and pencil-lead notes and undertones of mushroom and forest floor, firm tannins on the finish.

Loma Prieta Winery
2006 Saveria Vineyard. Shy aromatics of herbal cherry and strawberry fruit with sweet oak taking the lead on the palate, very grippy tannins.
2007 Saveria Vineyard. More fruit-forward with riper and more aromatic cherry and plum character with some black pepper, medium-bodied in the mouth but fairly tannic finish.

McHenry Winery
2005 Estate. Mostly from own-rooted, dry-farmed Swan clone vines, with a little 115 as well. Earthy raspberry, mushroom, spice, and hints of rose petal, smooth mouthfeel and mild tannins, long finish.
2006 Estate. Brighter black cherry fruit, with forest floor and leather notes and a touch of sweet oak. A bit bigger on the palate than the ’05, with a moderately tannic finish.
Comments: The ’05 Estate was one of last year’s standouts and it was again at this event.

Mount Eden Vineyards
2006 Estate. Red fruits with pine needle, earth, and spice, plus a savory note that became more noticeable in the mouth. Medium-bodied with great acidity, not too tannic.
2005 Estate. A bit riper and sweeter black cherry, along with similar earth and spice notes as the ’06, a stronger savory component, and distinct mineral character. Bright acidity, a hint of smoky oak, and firmer tannins on the finish.
Comments: We were told that there were 60 barrels of the Estate Pinot made in ’06 but only 6 barrels made in ’05. Clones include Mt Eden (of course!), Calera, Swan, Martini, 115, 667, 777, and 828. Both wines have great balance and structure and should age very well.

Muccigrosso Vineyards
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Subdued cherry and cranberry, earth, oak, and herbal notes, medium-bodied with grippy tannins.
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains. More fruit-forward and aromatic than the ’06, with riper red fruits and forest floor, oak, and black pepper components, and firm tannins on the finish.

Nicholson Vineyards
2007 Estate. Bright cherry and sweet, smoky oak on the nose, with a touch of earth, moderately tannic.
2007 Estate Reserve (barrel sample). Darker berry fruit and cloves, with a bigger oak component that tends to dominate, medium tannins.

Pelican Ranch Winery
2006 Remde Vineyard. Oak is foremost in the aromas, along with red fruits and spice, medium-bodied.
2007 Deer Park Vineyard. Sweeter strawberry/rhubarb fruit and better-integrated oak, plus a mineral note, better acidity and structure than the ’06 Remde, along with youthful tannins on the finish.

Pleasant Valley Vineyards
2006 Dylan David Estate Reserve. Somewhat fumey high-toned sour cherry fruit, along with a touch of spice with strong oak overtones, not too tannic.
2007 Dylan David Estate Reserve. Sweeter raspberry aromas along with a big spicy oak component and more lush mouthfeel, more firmly tannic on the finish.

Roudon-Smith Winery
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains. Aromatic ripe raspberry and plum, spice, and mineral notes, with vanilla/oak overtones, lively mouthfeel, fairly mild tannins.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard
2006 Branciforte Creek Vineyard. All Pommard 4 clone. Complex nose of black cherry, plum, earth, with a strong spice overtones, a touch of sweet oak, great balance and structure with bright acidity and a long, moderately tannic finish.
2005 Bailey's Branciforte Ridge Vineyard. From 115 and 667 clones. More fruit-forward, with slightly sour cherry and hints of earth and spice. Bigger on the palate than the Branciforte Creek, with slightly bitter tannins on the finish.
Comments: These two wines provided good demonstrations of clonal differences, and I preferred the spicier character and better structure of the Pommard clone in the Branciforte Creek.

Sarah’s Vineyard
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains. A blend from four vineyards, floral plum and raspberry aromas with earth/mushroom notes, big and mouthfilling texture with a smooth finish.
2007 Estate. Darker fruit character with a more noticeable oak component, more lush mouthfeel and firmer tannins.
2008 Santa Cruz Mountains (barrel sample). Bright tart berry fruit, along with forest floor and sweet oak, still a little disjointed at this stage.

Silver Mountain Vineyards
2005 Miller Hill Vineyard. Nose of slightly high-toned plum, raspberry, and mushrooms, with undertones of pine needles and herbs, fairly big mouthfeel with grippy tannins.
2006 Muns Vineyard. More subdued earthy red fruits with some oak and spice notes, less tannic than the Miller Hill.

Sonnet Wine Cellars
2006 Muns Vineyard. Tart cherry and spice, with hints of rose petals and earth. Silky texture, lively acidity, and nice balance, with tannins that sneak in on the long finish.
2007 Muns Vineyard (barrel sample). More subdued earthy red fruits, full-bodied on the palate, tight and firmly tannic.
Comments: We had tasted separate clonal barrel samples of the ’06 Muns last year and the final blend as bottled turned out to be one of the top wines this year.

Soquel Vineyards
2007 Partners' Reserve, Saveria Vineyard. Stong aromas of rose petals, ripe black cherry, and spice, medium-bodied with bright acidity and long smooth finish.
Comments: Probably the most beautifully aromatic wine tasted at the event, this was among the most pleasant and ready-to-drink Pinots of the day.

Storrs Winery and Vineyards
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains. Cherry, rhubarb, and spice aromas, a savory note, and a touch of vanilla/oak, nice acidity with moderate tannins.
2006 Wildcat Ridge Vineyard. Darker berry and plum fruit, with a more noticeable oak element, more structured than the SCM blend.

Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains. 40% of the fruit for this blend came from Estate fruit. Raspberry and earth on the nose, spice and oak, medium-bodied with a some tannic bite on the finish.
2007 Windy Hill Vineyard. Black cherry, spice, and a bigger oak component, richer mouthfeel and more grippy tannins than the SCM blend.

Trout Gulch Vineyards
2007 “La Source”. Ripe red fruit and sweet oak aromas, with some earthy and savory undertones, smooth on the palate with a moderately tannic finish.

Vine Hill Winery
2006 Cumbre of Vine Hill, Hicks Family Vineyard. Aged for 16 months in 50% new oak. Subtle plum, black cherry, and earth, medium-bodied with mild tannins.
2006 Cumbre of Vine Hill, Rafaelli Vineyard. Riper, sweeter fruit, a strong clove/spice component and more background forest floor notes, with an overlay of sweet vanilla/oak and firm tannins.

Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery
2006 "Diane's Block". Some floral notes along with bright, ripe strawberry and cherry on the nose. A considerable vanilla/oak component amplifies the sweetness of the fruit, while lively acidity and mild tannins lead to a pleasant and lingering finish.
2006 Limited Release “Wild Yeast”. Darker fruit aromas mingle with mushroom, earth, and spice, and the oak seems better balanced than in the “Diane’s.” Very good structure and mouthfeel with a long smooth finish.
Comments: As was the case last year, Windy Oaks probably had the lightest-colored Pinots at the tasting. Their two wines were very different from one another – although the sweet fruit of the “Diane’s Block” is certainly attractive, I preferred the complexity of the “Wild Yeast” bottling.

Woodside Vineyards
2005 Estate. From 113, 115, 667, 777, and Pommard clones. Sour cherry, earth, and leather on the nose, fairly rich mouthfeel, and a moderately tannic finish.
2006 Estate. Brighter and more focused black cherry fruit, some well-integrated oak, with better structure than the ’05 and a bit more tannic grip.




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