THE Santa Cruz Mountains is one of California’s oldest winemaking regions, and it is making some of the country’s most exciting wines—if you know where to find them.
The mountain climate, broadly influenced by the Pacific Ocean on the western slope and the Santa Clara Valley to the east, produces a multitude of styles and flavors given the geological and topographical diversity of the sprawling appellation. It is a region that invites exploration and discovery right in Silicon Valley’s backyard.
Jim Foley opened Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar in Los Gatos with partners Joe McCarthy, Joey McCarthy and Ryan Bandera to showcase the region’s wines—”locals for locals,” he calls it. Almost 80 percent of the store’s wine comes from the Santa Cruz Mountains region.
“The fact that there is so much good wine in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation made it an easy decision for us,” Foley says.
“We want to keep people in on the history of what’s going on; we want these winemakers to come in and sit down with people who are practically their neighbors and tell them their story,” he adds.
And they have stories to tell, not only about the winemaker’s innovation, the region’s history, experimentation and high-quality results but also about their personal commitment to winemaking. The winemakers bring the labels to life.
“The Santa Cruz Mountains appellation is the premier American mountain appellation,” explains Steve Principe, owner of Vino Cruz, a wine shop in Santa Cruz that only carries local wines. “It was the first wine-growing region to be defined by a mountain range. Some say if there weren’t prohibition it’d be the premier area over Napa or Sonoma.”
Though typically overshadowed by higher-profile Napa and Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains wines reward those willing to veer away from the ordinary. “These wineries are really kind of hard to get to; they’re off the beaten path,” says Debra Szecsei, co-owner of Vino Locale, a wine shop in Palo Alto that also specializes in Santa Cruz Mountains wines.
Many aren’t open to the public. While Passport Weekend gives wine lovers special access to these wineries for one weekend, locally minded wine shops and restaurants bring wines typically tucked away in the steep mountainsides right to your neighborhood with their extensive and evolving wine lists.
“It just feels like the Santa Cruz wines—there’s always a heartfelt story about them,” says Szecsei. “The people do it for the passion and the love of winemaking, not necessarily for the money. And that’s part of what makes it really special.”
Held the third Saturday in January, April, July and November, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association’s Passport Day opens the doors to the depth and breadth of Santa Cruz Mountains wines. Some of these wineries are not normally open to the public and others will pour special wines or barrel samples just for the event.
At each winery you visit, a page of your “passport” will be stamped. During Passport Day there are discounts at participating restaurants, some of which offer discounted menus and waived corkage fees for Santa Cruz Mountains wines. Passports do not expire until each winery has been visited once. Prizes are offered for completing your passport, but with more than 70 wineries it’s not advisable to try and hit them all in one day.
When: Jan. 21, 11am-5pm.
More information: www.scmwa.com