In the launch of Laurie Love on Wine, meet Lookout’s new wine correspondent, get an update on harvest and vineyard conditions, find upcoming Santa Cruz County wine events, check out her wine of the week and brush up with Wine 101.
Welcome to Laurie Love on Wine! I am a professional wine educator and writer based in Santa Cruz, where I have lived for 34 years. I am excited to be the wine correspondent for Lookout and look forward to sharing my wine passion, knowledge and experience with Lookout readers. I specialize in French wine and our local Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area (AVA). Our appellation grows and makes world-class wines and has been doing so for over 140 years. Yet many people aren’t aware of what our wine region has to offer. I hope to change that.
My background: I teach wine classes at the Cabrillo College Wine Program and for Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Global. I also teach private wine classes and lead private tastings. I am a member of the Cabrillo culinary arts advisory board. For the past several years, I have been the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA contributing writer for the Slow Wine Guide USA, featuring wineries that are sourcing from sustainable vineyards. In addition, I work locally in wine production with Bottle Jack Wines in Santa Cruz. I hold several professional wine certifications: WSET Level 3 with Distinction, French Wine Scholar with Highest Honors, Certified Specialist of Wine and sommelier, plus three Cabrillo College wine certificates. I am currently a candidate for the Bourgogne master-level certification through the Wine Scholar Guild. Aside from wine, I love to travel and spend time with my family. Follow me on my wine blog, Laurie Loves Wine, and on Instagram at @LaurieLoveOnWine. Stay in touch: Email me wine news, new wine releases and wine events at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvest update: In the vineyard
Harvest has begun … finally! It’s the most exciting time of the year for wineries. A few of them have started picking white grapes and grapes for sparkling wine; red grapes will come in later. The start of the 2023 harvest is two to three weeks behind “normal” harvest time. This is true for all winegrowing regions in California. Typically, wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains will pick starting in mid- to late August. As a comparison, last year wineries were done picking by Labor Day. However, a very wet, cool and long spring together with a cooler summer has delayed harvest this year. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: High-quality wine grapes come from a long and slow growing season. However, later harvest times pose risks: heat spikes, early rain, wildfires or other weather events that can occur in late summer/early fall. In our diverse region, where we have many different microclimates spread across three counties (Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo) with varying elevations and exposures, the harvest period can last several weeks, increasing the odds for poor weather effects.
Wine quality starts in the vineyard. So, in anticipation of this year’s harvest, I spoke with Prudy Foxx (of Foxx Viticulture), renowned local viticulture expert and vineyard consultant for many Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards. “Harvest is two weeks behind on the Saratoga side and three weeks behind on the coast side,” said Foxx. Each step of the growing season “has been consistently late. The flowering and set period this spring was late and drawn out, lasting about three weeks, which means different rates of ripening within each cluster.” Uneven ripening like this can lead to widely varied flavors in the wine (representing different levels of ripeness within the same cluster). To counter this, vineyard managers are doing more “green drop” this year (clipping the least mature clusters off the vine), which helps even out ripening. “Veraison [grapes changing color from green to red] is also significantly late,” Foxx said. “We are seeing some pinot noir still going through veraison. This means early to mid-October harvest dates for pinot noir vineyards that normally come in by the fall equinox.”
Foxx said harvest for grapes destined for sparkling wine began Sept. 12 in Corralitos. “The balance of acidity and flavor is the best I have tasted,” she said. “The consistent cool foggy mornings have slowed down the pace of maturity even more but the flavors we are getting are phenomenal. When this fruit gets fully ripe for still wine it will be worth the wait.”
This year so far, “the phenolics [chemical compounds that influence taste, color and texture] are already there and are really nice,” said Foxx. “The berries [grapes] are smaller, with more skin-to-pulp ratio, giving the potential for richer flavor and good tannins.” As far as quality, Foxx said she is optimistic: “I think it will be a smaller harvest, a richer harvest, and [the finished wines] will have some very complex, concentrated flavors, and possibly some good aging potential because the acids will stay up given the coolness of the weather.” Sounds like a good vintage!
In the coming weeks, we will continue our look at harvest, including from the winemakers’ perspective. Stay tuned.
Bargetto Winery turns 90
Bargetto Winery in Soquel is celebrating a major milestone this year. This is the winery’s 90th harvest! Bargetto is one of the oldest continuously operating wineries in the state and in the Santa Cruz region. “Bargetto Winery was established by my grandfather, Giovanni (Gianni) Bargetto and his brother [both from Piedmont, Italy] in the depth of the Depression, on Dec. 5, 1933, in a modest dirt-floor horse barn on the present-day property,” said John Bargetto, director of winemaking for Bargetto Winery. “Through hard work and belief that our region could produce world-class wine, our family has persevered.”
Bargetto Winery has tasting rooms in two locations: The historic winery and tasting room in Soquel is open for tastings every day from noon to 5 p.m. The Monterey Cannery Row tasting room is open daily from noon to 6 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m to 6 p.m.) Bargetto Winery hosts live music events on its delightful creekside courtyard overlooking Soquel Creek every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. through Oct. 5. Check Bargetto’s website for more details and information.
Nebbiolo, in Santa Cruz?
Speaking of Bargetto … Regan Vineyards Winery, a spinoff of Bargetto Winery showcasing premium wines from its certified sustainable vineyard, just released a brand -new wine: 2021 Regan Vineyard “The Great Fog” nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is a grape originating in Piedmont, Italy, and means “fog” in Italian. It is notoriously challenging to grow, much like pinot noir. So this Regan wine is a rare bottling of the nebbiolo grape variety from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The only other Santa Cruz vineyard I know of that grows nebbiolo is Lago Lomita Vineyards in the Summit area.
Regan’s nebbiolo comes from a 1-acre vineyard situated at 600 feet, 7 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Corralitos area. In my work for the Slow Wine Guide, I tasted this nebbiolo and awarded it the Top Wine Prize for its excellent quality and varietal typicity. The wine has a delicate garnet color in the glass, belying its complex aromas and flavors (red plum, rose petal, mulberry, tobacco, black tea and compost). Nebbiolo is naturally high in tannin and acidity, making it an excellent accompaniment to grilled steak, gnocchi with mushroom cream sauce and strong Italian cheeses. The wine will age well for many years; to enjoy it now, I recommend decanting it for an hour or so.
Visit Regan Vineyards in Corralitos by reservation only. Tasting/tour is $25 per person under its gazebo with an ocean view, and includes appetizers. Open Sundays through early November. Reserve at Reganwinery.com.
Aptos Vineyard tasting room opens
Aptos Vineyard’s tasting room recently opened its doors at 105C Post Office Dr. in Aptos Village, in the former home of Armitage Wines’ tasting room. It’s a rare event when a new tasting room opens in our area. The Baker family is the current Aptos Vineyard owners, having purchased the label from retired judge John Marlo in 2018. They source from several local high-quality vineyards, and John Benedetti is their primary winemaker.
I recently attended the industry night opening and talked with owner Jim Baker, or as the rest of the family calls him, “Grandpa.” Jim is a retired Aptos elementary school principal and Watsonville teacher. Opening a tasting room in our current economic climate is challenging, given that direct-to-consumer sales and tasting room visits are down since before the pandemic. But Jim told me that they are optimistic, relying on the quality of their wine and community focus. “Our focus is on the local community. We source from vineyards here in the nearby hills,” said Jim, pointing out that they hired acclaimed local winemaker Benedetti to make the wines. “Each family member is an owner, and each of us donates a portion of our proceeds from wine sales to a local charity. It’s our way to give back to the community.”
Aptos Vineyard tasting room is open Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays 3-7 p.m., Saturdays 1-7 p.m., Sundays 1-6 p.m. For more info, check the website.
September is California Wine Month
So visit your favorite wineries and tasting rooms, purchase some wine, and show them some love this month.
UPCOMING WINE EVENTS
Gourmet Grazing on the Green, one of Santa Cruz County’s premier tasting events, returns to Aptos Village Park in Aptos on Saturday, Oct. 7. On the menu — beer, cider, wine and small bites from more than 40 local winemakers, brewers and chefs, plus live music. Grab your ticket early here — this event almost always sells out. Proceeds benefit Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group.
Another great annual benefit event is Taste of Soquel on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $30 adults/$10 kids and get you in for wine tasting, food, music, plus a “KidZone.” All proceeds benefit Second Harvest Food Bank.
Wanna learn how to pair wine and cheese like an expert? Cabrillo College Extension is offering a fun class: Wine and Cheese Pairing at Equinox Wine tasting room on the Westside on Tuesday, Sept. 26, from 4 to 6 p.m. Learn about how sparkling wine is made and how to pair local cheeses from Cheese Shop 831. For details and to sign up: Cabrillo College Extension.
Thirsty Thursdays: Twice a month, Staff of Life Natural Food Market, at 1266 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz, hosts a free wine tasting and wine specials from 5 to 7 p.m. The next one is Thursday, Oct. 5, featuring wines from around the world from Quintessential Wines’ portfolio.
This Thursday is the Wine30 Sip & Stroll at Sevy’s Bar + Kitchen, Seacliff Inn in Aptos. Every third Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., taste wine from a featured winery on the event lawn. This month features Sarah’s Vineyard. Tickets are $10.
And finally, on Saturday, Sept. 30, from noon to 5 p.m., Bottle Jack Winery (La Madrona Drive location) is celebrating its new club releases, including an alluring newly released fiano-viognier white wine blend, with live music by Joe Leonard and Renata Bratt Duo and fresh oysters by Parker Presents. Reservations required at Bottle Jack Winery, 1066 La Madrona Dr., Santa Cruz. For more information, check the website.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Each column, I will write about a particular wine that I’m enjoying now. For this one, the Wine of the Week is …
2020 Storrs Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir, 14.2% alcohol by volume, $25
Right now, with our warm weather, I’m loving rosé. And this wine is so fresh, vibrant and refreshing, it’s the perfect late-summer sipper. This rosé was made in the direct-press method (like a white wine) where the fruit is pressed off the skins before fermentation. Storrs Winery has an excellent reputation for fine wine, especially for its chardonnay. So the winemakers know a thing or two about how to make this style of wine. In 2020, with the CZU fires wreaking havoc across our region, many winemakers opted to make rosé instead of red wine with pinot noir. Adverse smoke effects on grapes show up in the skins, so by pressing the fruit off the skins, this minimizes the possibility of the dreaded smoke taint. Regardless of the reason, this is a very well-made dry rosé (not sweet), light salmon in color with bright notes of strawberry, cherry, watermelon and a touch of cinnamon on the nose and palate. It reminds me of a wonderful rosé that I had on my recent trip to France: Domaine du Gros Noré rosé, made from organic vineyards surrounding the hamlet of La Cadière-d’Azur in the Bandol appellation. It’s sunshine in a glass!
Purchase the 2020 Storrs Rosé of Pinot Noir directly from the winery at its tasting room or from its website, or find it at local wine shops and at Shopper’s Corner in Santa Cruz.
Who doesn’t love a wine class? In each column, I’ll give a mini-lesson on wine. Whether you’re new to wine or a seasoned expert, I hope to offer you something new to learn in the wide and wild world of wine. Email me at email@example.com to let me know what you’re interested in learning about.
Did you know that Santa Cruz has an official wine appellation? In the United States, wine appellations are called American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, and are defined by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area was founded in 1981 and spans three counties: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo, stretching from Woodside in the north to Corralitos in the south. It was the first AVA in the U.S. to be defined by elevation requirements and mountain topography. On the western side of our mountainous AVA, the minimum elevation is 400 feet with more coastal influence. On the eastern side, the minimum elevation requirement is 800 feet with warmer temperatures in the growing season. Our main grape varietals here are chardonnay and pinot noir, both of which thrive in our cool coastal climate, as well as cabernet sauvignon and other varietals that do well in our warmer microclimates.
These elevations follow the mountain topography and fog line. The proximity to Monterey Bay helps moderate the temperatures in vineyard areas so they don’t get too hot in the growing season and protects against frost.
Some of the highest elevations for any vineyards in the state are found in the Santa Cruz Mountains: Muns Vineyard at 2,600 feet is the highest elevation of any vineyard for pinot noir, and Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello estate is the highest elevation of any vineyard for cabernet sauvignon at 2,700 feet. These higher vineyards can be much cooler and more windy, but they also get more sunlight, being closer to the sun.
Our Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is a large region, encompassing 480,000 acres total, but only about 1,500 acres are planted to vines. The rugged terrain means a lack of arable land in the mountains.
But that hasn’t deterred the hardy souls who grow and make wine here. The Santa Cruz Mountains have a rich heritage of wine grape-growing that goes back to the 1800s when Paul Masson and Charles Lefranc planted the first vineyards here with cuttings from Burgundy, France. Back in that early period, many of the vineyards were planted in sections of land where ancient redwoods grew and were previously cleared by the lumber industry. The region also has been a pioneer for sustainable and organic winegrowing going back to the 1970s. We grow some of the best pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in the state here. As a community, we can be proud of the excellent quality of wine and rich wine heritage found here in our own backyards.
For more information on our AVA and more than 70 wineries that operate here, check out winesofthesantacruzmountains.com.
Until next time … cheers!
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