Sun shining, waves crashing, and strolling the boardwalk are all things synonymous with Santa Cruz. But there is much more to this wine country than meets the eye. Santa Cruz is a place where the ocean meets the mountains, where The Summit to Sea Wine Trail begins and ends, and where tourists can spend one day surfing in the cool Pacific, then head to extraordinary wineries the next. It is a place where you can have your cake and eat it too, or should we say, “Have your wine, and drink it too.”
The Santa Cruz Mountain appellation, as it is known, has a varied landscape and climate with a mix of mountainous terrain, varied micro-climates and soils, and many vineyards that sit at both high and low elevations. The appellation is quite large and covers a vast 400,000 acres with 1,500 acres planted under vine. A cooler climate region, the grapes ripen by the early morning sun that lasts until mid-afternoon until the fog rolls in. This cooler climate creates a longer growing season which enables the grapes to mature slowly, building intense, complex flavors. Currently more than 70 wineries reside in the appellation, some quite large at 10,000 plus cases, while other are happy churning out 1,000 cases or less.
Santa Cruz, like some appellations, has had some difficulty identifying which varietal grows best because there are so many promising ones. However, a little marketing around one varietal never hurts because this region is kicking some major you-know-what in the Pinot Noir world. Recently, the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation held its 8th annual Pinot Paradise in the quaint, bustling, historic downtown of Los Gatos. 38 wineries and 10 eateries showed off Santa Cruz Pinot Noirs and the food intended to pair with it. Missing this year were the fantastic balloon bouquets, but never mind because the Pinot Noirs this year were better than the last and no longer were the balloons the highlight of this event. To taste these Pinot Noirs, the best way is to get a taste of your favorite wine and head to the tables from the local restaurants serving food samples and see what goes best with each. Below are some of the stand-out Pinot Noirs that we found and the food that we thought went best with each.
2010 Bargetto Winery Reserve, Regan Vineyards, Pinot Noir
Earthy with a lovely cherry fruit on the palate, balanced and complex with a long finish
Food and Wine Pairing: Duck Confit Spring rolls from California Café. Each spring roll was stuffed with fresh kale, Swiss Chard, and dried cherries. The dried cherries complemented the Bargetto. The Kale gave it good texture in the bite and complemented the complexity of the wine without stealing the show.
2009 Big Basin Vineyards, Woodruff Vineyard, Pinot Noir
Ample Mushroom, minerality, and well balanced with enough fruit to keep it a definite new world wine
Food and Wine Pairing: Jambon Persillé from the Cabrillo College Culinary Arts. Always nice to see students give it a try, this Burgundian specialty paired well with this earthy wine. Diced ham mixed with parsley and shallots formed into a paté- like log was sliced on top of a mini baguette with a spicy French Cornichons on top. Minus the pickle, this was a hit.
2009 Mount Eden Vineyards, Domaine Eden, Pinot Noir
Savory notes of dill, herbs, and a nice peppery finish
Food and Wine Pairing: Maple Leaf Duck Confit by Paradise Beach Grille. Served atop a mini Polenta cake with a dash of light grain mustard and balsamic Pinot Noir syrup, this dish took a back seat to the Mount Eden (which it should). The texture of the polenta complemented the round mouth feel of this wine.
2007 The Mountain Winery Estate, Reserve
Nice bright red fruit, soft, well-balanced, and complex
Food and Wine Pairing: Toasted crostini and goat cheese by the Stonehouse Bar and Grill. Lime zest, brightly colored cherry infused onions with Pinot Noir reduction complemented the big fruit flavor in this wine and brought out the subtle spiciness in the wine’s finish.
2007 Storrs Winery, Wildcat Ridge, Pinot Noir
Big, sweet vanillas, herbal , with a hint of tart fruit
Food and Wine Pairing: Glazed Brioches by the students of The Art Institute of California. The green papaya and carrot slaw and mango and orange spread where mild in flavor, but still required a big wine like Storrs to pair with these hearty sandwiches.
2009 Domenico Winery, Pinot Noir
Peppery, ripe strawberries, interesting and vibrant
Food and Wine Pairing: Duck confit and St. Andre cheese tostaditos from Cin Cin. Using fig vincotto vinaigrette, cabbage slaw, and Pinot Noir jelly, the combination of flavors in both the food and wine seemed to work together flawlessly. Bravo!