Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of this week’s Laurie Love on Wine column, covering wine news and events. Click here for Part 2, with Laurie’s Wine of the Week pick and her Wine 101 lesson.
Welcome to Laurie Love on Wine! I am Laurie Love, a professional wine writer and educator based in Santa Cruz. In this column, I share my wine passion, knowledge, and experience with Lookout readers. Follow me on my wine blog, Laurie Loves Wine, and on Instagram at LaurieLoveOnWine. I love email from readers! Stay in touch: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join me as we journey together through the wonderful world of wine.
Outstanding 2023 harvest almost a wrap
Epic. Best vintage in 50 years. Vintage of the century. These are just some of the superlatives used by winegrowers and winemakers alike to describe the 2023 vintage up and down the state of California, including here in Santa Cruz County. One of the latest and longest wine grape harvest seasons in Santa Cruz Mountains history is nearly in the books.
With harvest mostly behind them and fermentations nearly complete, local winemakers are assessing the quality from this vintage and so far, for the most part, they are thrilled with the results.
Here’s a sampling of what some of them have to say: “In spite of the record cool vintage and record late start, it’s shaping up to be a wonderful vintage,” said John Bargetto of Regan Vineyards Winery.
“We wrapped the best harvest we’ve ever seen at Birichino this past week,” said the team at Birichino.
“2023 has been an idyllic vintage,” said Austin Chin, assistant winemaker at Mount Eden Vineyards. Along with the longer hangtime allowing for a slow and steady ripening period, “Every fermentation has gone perfectly,” said Chin.
Jim Cargill, winemaker at House Family Vineyards and president of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, said, “Mother Nature is our business partner. Egos are checked at the door and the land abides.” In spite of all the variables, including “lots of early rain, a cool start, a mild summer, later ripening, everything came in beautifully. 2023 is one of the best vintages ever,” Cargill said.
Viticulturist Prudy Foxx agreed: “Quality is way up. We are seeing outstanding phenolics in every variety. This is one of the best vintages, with slow ripening and never any real extremes in weather, the grapes are just stunning.”
Fruit quality looks to be great this year, but yields are down from previous years, especially from vineyards at elevation. Jerold O’Brien, longtime owner and winegrower at Silver Mountain Vineyards, which sits at 2,100 feet, spoke about some of his vineyards having issues in the spring around the time of flowering and fruit set with a lot of shatter, when grape clusters fail to develop. This affects yield. “The total yield was down considerably,” said O’Brien. The only vineyard that we use that had a good yield this year was Tondré Grapefield down in Santa Lucia Highlands [Monterey County]. We had a long cool mild season, both the spring and summer with good hangtime and good flavors, but there just wasn’t that much fruit. Some fruit had trouble getting ripe.”
Nonetheless, winemakers up and down the region remain very upbeat about this vintage. “The 2023 vintage is one to watch,” said Robert Bergstrom of Sandar & Hem Wines.
An evening of Wine & Roses
My husband and I attended the 40th anniversary of one of South County’s beloved wine events: Wine & Roses. Held at the Crosetti Building at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville every year, this was an elegant affair featuring food, wine and beer tastings from South County purveyors and silent and live auctions, with all proceeds benefiting Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley. Lookout Santa Cruz was a media sponsor. According to its website, Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley operates seven programs that “foster a healthy and equitable community for all in the Pajaro Valley,” and this event is its major annual fundraiser.
Although it was my first time at this event, this wasn’t a first for Jerold O’Brien of Silver Mountain Vineyards. O’Brien has attended and poured his wine at this event every single year since it started. “As far as I know, I’m the only vendor that has attended and poured at Wine & Roses every year for 40 years,” said O’Brien. I asked him what draws him to this event every year.
“It started out as a partnership with the Santa Cruz Mountain winegrowers. And of course it is a fundraiser for health care services in the Pajaro Valley, a great cause that everybody supports. That’s why I got involved and why I appreciate it. Now that I’ve been doing it for so long, it is important to me to continue supporting it,” said O’Brien. Plus, he added, “I always look forward to the food they have there.”
His Silver Mountain wines (especially the 2014 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 Alloy) were among some of the best of the evening.
As we mingled with the crowd, which included local politicians, business professionals and dignitaries from the medical community, I tasted some very memorable wines. Integrity Wines’ 2021 Monterey County Albariño was both fruity and refreshing, showing tropical and stone fruit notes and good acidity. I also liked its 2021 Basor Terrace Vineyard Rosé — crisp, dry, watermelon, cherry, white peach — made with fruit sourced from my friend John Basor’s family-run vineyard in Watsonville.
A couple of fine chardonnays were Aptos Vineyard 2020 De Novo Chardonnay and Storrs Winery 2021 Chase Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. Neither of these was overly oaked, just nicely balanced and refreshing, pairing well with the clam chowder from High End Comida.
Sones Cellars’ aromatic white blend, 2022 Canción del Mar, also features pinot gris and viognier from Basor’s vineyard plus chenin blanc and a fun varietal called torrontès (well-known in Argentina). A highly aromatic white full of ripe peach, apple, pear, Meyer lemon, and honey notes, it paired nicely with the acid and spicy notes in Miches and Ceviches’ fresh ceviche.
Nicholson Vineyards 2021 Amador County Zinfandel (sourced from the historic Crain Sleeper Ranch vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley) hit the mark for a big, bold red, as did the Sones Cellars 2019 Karma Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel. For lovers of even bolder reds, Storrs Winery 2019 Santa Cruz Mountains Petite Sirah was rich and satisfying with Corralitos Market’s sausage bites.
Uncork Corralitos event grosses over $30K
The Rotary Club of Freedom just announced that its recent Uncork Corralitos event, held at Alladin Nursery and El Vaquero Winery, grossed $38,306 this year. That’s a record amount raised at this event. Of that amount, nearly $28,000 will be donated to two non-profit organizations: Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County and El Pájaro Community Development Corporation’s Kitchen Incubator. Congratulations! Kudos to these organizations and to all attendees who supported this sold-out event. Check out my recap here. Mark your calendars for next year’s Uncork Corralitos on Oct. 19, 2024.
UPCOMING WINE EVENTS
Each column I highlight some of the wine events happening around our region. If you are a winery or organization that has an upcoming wine event, email me with the details at email@example.com.
As the holidays approach, we are shifting away from harvest festivals and setting our sights on holiday-themed wine events for the next couple months.
Get in the mood for Thanksgiving this Friday, Nov. 17, 5 to 8 p.m. at Bottle Jack Winery’s Westside tasting room in Santa Cruz (328D Ingalls St.), featuring three new Thanksgiving-ready wines paired with tasty small bites. Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, anyone? Reservations are $30 ($10 for wine club members). Grab your spot here.
Roberts Ranch Vineyards (875 Roberts Rd. in Ben Lomond) is hosting its Holiday Workshop: Woodland Chandeliers, Wreath, and Wine event on Saturday, Nov. 25, from 1 to 4 p.m., after postponing the gathering from Nov. 18 due to forecast inclement weather. You can craft an outdoor holiday decoration using vine cuttings while sipping on wine and enjoying generous charcuterie boards. Tickets are $80. Check its website for more upcoming events.
The Corralitos Women’s Club (35 Browns Valley Rd.) holds its Holiday Wine Tasting on Saturday, Nov. 25, from 2 to 5 p.m. Enjoy wine and appetizers while you shop for handcrafted gifts at its holiday boutique. Tickets are $45.
Coming up on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. is the Aptos Wine Wander in Aptos Village. Enjoy tasting wines from more than 15 participating wineries as you take care of some holiday shopping at this year’s makers market and surrounding local businesses. Tickets are $45 in advance, $50 day-of, but don’t wait as this event always sells out.
Tune in Friday for my Wine of the Week, Wine Q&A, and a festive Wine 101 on Thanksgiving wine pairings.
Until next time … cheers!
FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect a change of date for the Roberts Ranch Vineyards holiday workshop.
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