Quick Take:

Ben Lomond resident Mark Bright is the beverage director and co-founder of Saison Hospitality Group and a respected sommelier. Now, he’s bringing his wine knowledge and passion to Scotts Valley with the opening of Saison Cellar & Wine Bar, which will focus on hand-selected wines from Europe, particularly Burgundy, France, as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Mark Bright has his hands full. And it’s not just the bottles of Burgundy he gleefully poured into fresh stemware at his new wine bar in Scotts Valley at a preview for Lookout last week.

On Friday, he will open the doors to Saison Cellar & Wine Bar, the first wine bar from Saison Hospitality Group, of which Bright is the co-founder and beverage director. The name comes from Saison, the ultra-luxe San Francisco restaurant he co-founded in 2009 that currently boasts two Michelin stars; he and his team are working on earning back a third star that was lost in 2019. The group includes San Francisco’s Angler, a seafood-focused restaurant, also with a Michelin star.

Second and third locations of Saison Cellar & Wine Bar are planned for San Francisco and Los Gatos sometime next year. It’s also harvest, and Bright, the owner and winemaker of Saison Winery, is sourcing grapes from throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains and down to Monterey for his small-production, vineyard-expressive wines.

To cap it off, one of Bright’s current side projects is working with famed Vietnamese chef Charles Phan to open a fourth location for Phan’s restaurant, The Slanted Door, in Burgundy, France, in November.

A selection of bottles available at Saison Cellar & Wine Bar in Scotts Valley.
A selection of bottles available at Saison Cellar & Wine Bar in Scotts Valley. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

But Bright’s busy schedule doesn’t mute his enthusiasm for his new wine bar in the Kings Valley Shopping Center. He practically bounces around new tasting room, explaining how he chose the glassware to showcase a complimentary pour of bubbles for guests when they enter the door or pointing out the carefully selected art and historic maps — he’s an avid collector — that decorate the walls. But his passion shines through the most when he talks about wine.

Bright became obsessed with wine when he was a teenager on a family trip to Burgundy, and became a sommelier at 21. Since then, he’s built an international empire with his knowledge and, more than 20 years on, his love and thirst for discovery don’t appear to have dimmed.

A Ben Lomond resident, he’s also a champion for the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region, which he considers to be one of the finest in the world. And he’s excited to open his first business in his community. “There’s two places I love. I have a place in Beaune [in Burgundy, France] and a place in Ben Lomond,” said Bright, “and those two places are where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”

He saw room in Scotts Valley for a high-end wine bar that would celebrate Santa Cruz Mountains wines and also allow him to share his love and extensive knowledge of wines from France and beyond. “There’s a lot of great places in Scotts Valley, but it’s missing something for the demographic here,” he said. He points out that the median income in Scotts Valley is higher per capita than Santa Cruz, partly because of its proximity to Silicon Valley.

Tony Pappa and Jane McElrone join Mark Bright
Tony Pappa (left) and Jane McElrone join Mark Bright (center) as manager and director of operations, respectively, at Saison Cellar and Wine Bar. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Plans to open a brick-and-mortar business that would complement the Saison Cellar retail and brokerage operation, which has thousands of clients but operates entirely online, were already in the works when, one day, Bright was grabbing a sandwich at Erik’s Deli and saw the space next door was empty.

Now, Scotts Valley will not only boast its first wine bar but also the most luxe one in Santa Cruz County, and not just because of the caliber of the wines. Bright promises the same high standards for service and customer experience that earned Saison the designation as one of the best restaurants in the world.

Saison Cellar & Wine Bar specializes in wines from France and the Santa Cruz Mountains, including Saison Winery and Bright’s Burgundy label, Maison de Partage, which he created in partnership with Maison Roche de Bellene winery in Beaune. Now in his 40s, Bright has had a lifelong obsession with wines from this heralded region in France and has hand-selected the list.

The quality of the wines available by the glass is impressive. The sparkling-wine list includes a Blanc de Blancs Brut from Ruinart, the oldest established Champagne house, and a grand cuvée from luxury Champagne brand Krug. There are selections from Burgundy and Bordeaux that will make an aficionado’s eyes pop, including magnum bottles of Beaujolais cru from Moulin-à-Vent, sometimes referred to as the “king of Beaujolais cru.” Saison Cellar is the only place in Santa Cruz County to taste Burgundy or Champagne wines of this caliber.

“I’m building an experience in this space to what I believe is the highest quality for the price point,” Bright said. What is also important to Bright is to build in flexibility to adjust to what is or isn’t resonating: “The first few months will be about feeling people out and seeing what they like, and essentially having a conversation with the entire community.”

Saison’s selections from its own winery include a riesling from the Wirz Vineyard and pinot noir from the Coastview Vineyard, both in the Gabilan Mountains. The Santa Cruz Mountains wines are a thoughtful representation of the region, with wines from newer labels like Madson Wines and Sandar & Hem Wines as well as established producers like Domaine Eden and Beauregard Vineyards. The Santa Cruz Mountains are known primarily for chardonnay and pinot noir, but Bright has gathered lesser-known varietals like sauvignon blanc, grenache rosé, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

inside Saison Cellar & Wine Bar in Scotts Valley
Inside Saison Cellar & Wine Bar in Scotts Valley. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

He’s conscious of the price point and eager to make sure any guest, regardless of their wine knowledge, will feel comfortable in the space. “I really want to bring the European experience to Scotts Valley because I live here and I’m part of the community,” said Bright. “I don’t want people to think, ‘Saison equals expensive. Why is he bringing this expensive stuff down here?’” There are more than 30 wines by the glass on the opening menu and most of them are $12. There are several for $10 and almost all of them are less than $20.

That being said, there is also a $125 glass of Krug, widely considered to be one of the finest Champagnes in the world, for those who want to splash out.

“The list is probably going to be 80% international wine, 15% Santa Cruz, but that’s because we have like 500 selections,” Bright said. “There’s going to be $5,000 bottles and there’s going to be $25 bottles.”

For those curious, there are only two Napa wines on the list, both by the bottle: 1980 and 1989 vintages of cabernet sauvignon from Freemark Abbey Winery, one of the oldest wineries in California.

Wine club members at Saison Cellar will have another opportunity to enjoy Bright’s selections and the ability to store their own wine on location. Adjacent to the handsome seating area filled with leather-bound couches and decorated with vintage maps is a door that leads to a secure room lined with wooden lockers. For $500 a month, members can securely keep their private wines in this temperature-controlled environment, and receive a selection of wines chosen every month by Bright.

inside Saison Cellar & Wine Bar in Scotts Valley
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Members are encouraged to come in any time and use the private room to enjoy their wines with their guests. The space is also open to local winemakers to showcase their wines.

Regardless of how guests choose to take advantage of the services at Saison Cellar, Bright guarantees the same high level of hospitality. “The difference between serving someone and giving someone an experience isn’t very far,” he said. “There’s only a handful of small things that you need to do to give someone a great experience. We tried to continue that with the service here.”

Saison Cellar & Wine Bar is located at 222 Mount Hermon Rd., Suite I, in Scotts Valley. Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Call 831-200-8312 or visit its website for more information.

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