Winemaker Barry Jackson of Equinox Wine with his methode traditionelle sparkling wine.
Winemaker Barry Jackson of Equinox Wine with his methode traditionelle sparkling wine.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
City Life

Keeping It Local: Get your loved ones toasting with Santa Cruz’s quaffable best

Lookout’s “ Keeping It Local” gift guide continues with Lily Belli’s list of drinkables from spirits, wine and beer to coffee. Lily and Wallace Baine will be taking turns this week on various guides, from art to food to clothing, so stay tuned!

The pandemic has given the holiday season new meaning for many of us. Many of us weren’t able to enjoy time with our much-missed loved ones last year, and now feel so fortunate to be able to gather again. Nothing can replace being near to those dear to us around the holidays, and few things signify the joys of togetherness like the sound of glasses clinking.

This year, bring something truly special to your holiday gatherings. Santa Cruz County is home to many exceptional beverage artisans, from craft distillers and winemakers to brewers and coffee roasters. Here are a few holiday gift ideas for the drinking crowd, whether their beverage of choice is coffee or booze. Cheers to you and your health, and have a happy holiday.

Winter gin from Venus Spirits

Westside craft distillery Venus Spirits regularly releases seasonal flavors of its award-winning gins, but most of the limited stock goes to dedicated club members. This year, it is releasing a small amount of a barrel-aged winter gin to the public.

Owner and distiller Sean Venus explains that this gin is brewed with spruce, juniper, peppercorns, lemon and grapefruit, and spent more than a year aging in brand new American oak barrels.

The result is an amber-colored spirit with whiskey-like complexity and sweetness, with the bright, pungent flavors of gin. It’s a delicious and unique craft liquor that can be enjoyed on its own or in a cocktail.

Just two barrels of this limited release were made. It will be available Dec. 11 in the Venus tasting room and online. 45% ABV; $36 per bottle at 200 High Rd., Santa Cruz, and venusspirits.com.

Venus Winter Gin (center).
(Via Jacob Boynton)

2019 Blanc de Noir from Equinox Winery

There’s sparkling wine, and then there’s champagne. At Equinox Winery in Santa Cruz, Barry Jackson has been making the latter using the traditional champagne method for more than 30 years. This time-consuming and difficult winemaking process is completely different from other types of sparkling winemaking, and it’s rarely practiced by other wineries.

In fact, Jackson has been making methode traditionelle sparkling wines, as they’re known outside of Champagne, France, for winemakers throughout California for decades.

Jackson releases a limited amount of his own sparkling wine through his Santa Cruz tasting room. The most recent release, the 2019 Blanc de Noir, is exceptional. Made with Corralitos-grown pinot noir, it rested for 30 months on its lees and was finished ultra brut. Within the bright, tight mousse is a core of tart cherry and ripe strawberry, with a hint of grapefruit zest on a completely dry finish. $55 per bottle at 427 C Swift St., Santa Cruz, and equinoxwine.com.

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2016 Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir from Rhys Vineyards

According to Dede Eckhardt, the retail manager at Soif Wine Bar, there are few wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area that rival Rhys Vineyards 2016 Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir. She explains that the Horseshoe Vineyard is one of the more unique sites in the area and produces outstanding grapes.

Located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, along Skyline Ridge between 1,360 and 1,610 feet, this pinot noir grows in rocky soil made of sedimentary shale and limestone on a sunny, southwest-facing slope. The vineyard’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean means it also receives plenty of cool coastal fog.

Famed wine writer John Gilman described this wine as “absolutely stellar” in 2018. It’s ready to drink now, but could cellar for another 30 years. “It’s an exceptional wine for the true wine geek,” says Eckhardt. $138 per bottle at Soif.

For those who would like to experience the expert winemaking of Rhys at a lower price point, Eckhardt also recommends its 2017 Alesia Chardonnay, which is a blend from several vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. $36 per bottle at 105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz.

Barrel-aged beers from Discretion Brewing

Discretion Brewing is offering several excellent barrel-aged beers for the beer lover in your life. The beautifully labeled bottles make excellent gifts, and both are also available to taste on draft at the brewery.

Three Fawns is a Belgian-style tripel aged in American oak barrels, with marshmallow and black pepper on the nose that melts into an almost candylike center. The finish is clean and dry, with a pleasant, honey-scented finish. At 9.5% ABV, it’s sure to keep your loved one warm on cold winter nights.

Ganders Red is Discretion’s version of a Flanders red, a Belgian sour red ale. It’s fruity and with a tart cherry character reminiscent of red wine, with a pleasant sourness on the front of the palette and warm oak notes in the finish. Both $15 for 500 milliliters at 2703 41st Ave., Soquel, and discretionbrewing.com.

Beer advent calendar from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

Now this is a gift that gives all month long. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing has released festive 24-packs of its organic ales as advent calendars to enjoy in the days leading up to Christmas. Open the tab on the top of the case during each of the corresponding days, and the lucky drinker will find one of SCMB’s organic ales inside to enjoy.

The case includes all of its flagship beers, as well as several beloved seasonals such as Baby Giraffes Juicy IPA, and new, never-before-released cans of Speck Delightfully Dryhopped Pale Ale. $130 at 402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz, and scmbrew.com.

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Vintage port three-pack from Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard is one of the only wineries in California that makes a true “port” wine — perhaps the only winery, according to winemaker Jeff Emery. His port is made not only out of the true grape varieties used in Portugal, tinta roriz and touriga nacional, but also fortified with an alambic brandy made from the same grapes from the same vineyard.

The result is a single-vineyard port-style dessert wine. Emery asserts that other wineries might call their dessert wines “ports,” but they are simply adding brandy to their overripe, raisiny grapes. His version is made with ripe but not overripe grapes that retain more of the fresh, bright fruit character.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s 2015 vintage Rabelo is a blend of two grape varietals, tinta roriz and touriga nacional. The varieties are kept separate for the entire six-year barrel-aging process. This year, Emery decided to bottle a limited amount of the two varieties separately, and is offering the three wines as a special gift pack, so you can taste the components as well as the finished blend.

The individual bottles are available only in the three-pack, and fewer than 10 cases of each were bottled. $110 at 334 A Ingalls St., Santa Cruz, and at santacruzmountainvineyard.com.

Three-month coffee gift subscription from Cat & Cloud Coffee

Craft coffee darlings Cat & Cloud Coffee have earned legions of fans since owners Chris Baca, Jared Truby and Charles Jack opened their first cafe on Portola Avenue five years ago. Now you can share their popular locally roasted coffees with the coffee lover in your life.

Purchase a three-month coffee subscription and your loved one will receive a fresh 10-ounce bag of Cat & Cloud’s favorite single-origin coffee straight to their door every two or four weeks as whole beans or ground for drip, French press or espresso coffee makers. $87 for biweekly deliveries, $43.50 for monthly deliveries. Available at catandcloud.com.