On top of the world (Santa Cruz & Montebello, California)

Santa Cruz is clearly a very laid back hippy town, so most of the tasting rooms don’t open until noon. This gave me the opportunity to catch up on a few things and have a late brunch at Saturn Cafe; banana and walnut pancakes with a cup of fruit, good coffee too. As I’ve been travelling up the coast I’ve been reading a signed copy of Rex Pickett’s sequel to “Sideways” that I picked up at Foxen Winery. I didn’t read the first book, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Rex Pickett isn’t exactly a great writer, and in spite of all the erudite phrases and multi-syllabic words that Miles utters, he can’t seem to maintain correct grammar or punctuation. It is nice to see what happens next in the story though.

Bonny Doon Tasting Room

Similar to other regions further down the coast, Santa Cruz also has tasting rooms located in town as well as at the wineries. Bonny Doon Vineyards is one of the former. A very ordinary-looking collection of warehouse buildings house a number of tasting rooms for wine and beer in downtown Santa Cruz. For their cellar door Bonny Doon has creatively used barrel staves to decorate and furnish the space, as they not only have tastings but a restaurant too. It’s a very funky set-up, and quite striking. Tasting through just a fraction of the many wines Randall Graham produces at Bonny Doon it is clear to see he is an innovator, an experimenter and somewhat a maverick. Unlike many of his contemporaries he is producing some exciting blended wines. In addition he is also producing wines from grapes that I’ve never seen outside of regions in Europe, and in most cases doing a very good job with them.  The other way he is innovating is by sourcing fruit from vineyards throughout California.

Bonny Doon Tasting Room

To begin with he has a sparkling moscato made from a more obscure moscato giallo grape, which is almost dry. Rather than blending as they do in the Rhone Valley, he produces a 100% grenache blanc, a grape that isn’t widely planted anywhere in Australia. Two interesting blends of Spanish and Portuguese varieties (albarino and loreiro) showed interesting texture and acid structure. Very interestingly he produces a blend of freisa, an obscure grape from Piedmont, and sangiovese. The flagship is definitely the Southern Rhone style blend named Le Cigare Volant, and the 2007 is an absolute cracker and a bargain at US$35. It isn’t one for ageing, as the 2002 I got to look at was starting to fall away.

A few of the funky labels that adorn Bonny Doon wines

Without a pre-arranged appointment I decided to head up to the Montebello vineyards of Ridge, where the original winery was established back in the ’60s. It’s a bit of a hike from Santa Cruz, particularly with all the traffic around, but my goodness it was worth it. The road up towards Montebello is quite steep and very windy, and I couldn’t believe there were actually people cycling up it! It’s 650m above sea level! The vista is exquisite as it looks down into the Silicon Valley, and you feel the difference in temperature.

The Ridge winery at Montebello

Poking my head in the door I explained that I had come all the way from Melbourne to see this vineyard, and outlined the nature of my trip. Zonny(?) was nice enough to show me a few of the Montebello wines, even though they were preparing for a wine club event that evening. The 2008 Chardonnay was exquisite, showing grace and harmonious fruit acid and oak integration. Ridge became famous back in the ’70s after their Bordeaux blend was included in the Paris Judgement (more on this next week). The 2008 of this wine is 72% cabernet sauvignon and 28% merlot, although they sometimes blend in petit verdot and cabernet franc. What a wine, so well-balanced and silky, yet powerful and lengthy.

Lofty heights looking down into the Silicon Valley

More traffic greeted me as I drove into San Francisco, but when you see that there are only a limited number of entrances onto the island it isn’t hard to understand. I spend the weekend here, before heading up into the Napa Valley.

Click here to see more photos from Santa Cruz and Montebello, California.

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