Pinot in Paradise - Discover why Santa Cruz is the cradle of Pinot Noir.

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Pinot Noir got its start in America a little over 100 years ago in a rather surprising spot: Santa Cruz. Brought over by Paul Masson, a French immigrant (yes, that Paul Masson, of jug wine fame), the first cuttings were reportedly from the Burgundian vineyards of Louis Latour.

Now known as the "Cradle of Pinot Noir", this mountainous region is producing elegant Burgundian-style Pinots with intense fruit and complexity. Gaining the respect of increasing numbers of Pinot drinkers, the Santa Cruz appellation--which spans a wide swath from Half Moon Bay to Watsonville--has firmly established itself as a hotspot for this notoriously fickle grape by winning award after award for its steadfastly individual wines.
So, what makes Pinot work here? Steep mountainsides, a rocky terrain and the influence of sun and sea make for an ideal incubator. Not too hot or too cool, the rugged hillsides produce small yields of concentrated fruit with a good balance of earth, minerals, spice and acidity. Characteristics of Santa Cruz Pinots include raspberry, violets, strawberry and dark cherry.

Many of the best Pinot producers are small, folksy operations run by individuals or families deep in the mountains. You won't find elaborate tasting rooms (for the most part) or even much signage to guide you on your way. The best way to taste is to make appointments well in advance, or participate in regional Passport Weekends when many of the wineries open to the public.

Here are a few notable Pinot Producers you may want to check out:

Alfaro

Two labels, Martin Alfaro and Alfaro Family Vineyards, are produced by this impressive Santa Cruz winery. Founded in 1998 by Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro, Alfaro Family Vineyards is dedicated to the production of Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their 30 acres of hillside vineyards are located less than 4 miles from the cooling influence of the Monterey Bay, making for lush, intensely flavored wines. 2004 Alfaro Family Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2004 Lindsay Paige Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, 2005 Rose of Pinot Noir, 2003 Gary's Vineyard Pinot Noir. 496 Hames Rd., Corralitos, 831.728.5172.

Beauregard

After four generations of growing grapes, the Beauregard family is now the largest fruit source for the Santa Cruz Mountain wine region. According to the winemaker, "Beauregard wines are estate-grown by the Beauregard Family in the Santa Cruz Mountains and hand-crafted in small batches by the same hands that plant and tend the vines. This is wine made, literally, from the ground up-- with an unprecedented level of attention paid to the entire process." The tasting room is located on the Santa Cruz Wharf, and has spectacular views of the Bay. 04 Trout Gulch Pinot Noir. Beauregard Vineyards, 107 Beach St., Santa Cruz, 831.425.7777.

Burrell School

Burrell School's origins date back to 1854 when Lyman J. Burrell settled the rough wilderness now home to this historic winery, located in a former schoolhouse. Carrying on the 130-year old tradition at the School, David and Anne Moulton began development of the Estate vineyard in 1973. Pinot Noir was added to the lineup in 2002. Nearby Monterey Bay brings warm days and cool nights, resulting in a unique microclimate, perfect for long, slow ripening of cool climate grapes. 2002 Pinot Noir Reserve.. 24060 Summit Road, Santa Cruz, 408.353.6290

Muccigrosso

Muccigrosso Vineyards is a family-run endeavor committed to producing small quantities of hand made fine wines designed to "satisfy everybody". Since the early 80's when the family first planted vines on their Santa Cruz Mountain property, they've studied the winemaking process from vine to glass, using as little intervention possible. A tiny operation, their wines sell out fast, and are gaining a solid cult following. Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir, 21450 Bear Creek Road, Los Gatos.

Thomas Fogarty

Owned by a famous cardiovascular surgeon, the Fogarty Winery has a broad selection of wines, though the Santa Cruz Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are most often recognized. Twenty five acres of Burgundian-style varietals are planted on the 325 acre estate. The mountain top setting has sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay Area. 2003Rapley Trail Pinot Noir, 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, 2002 Rapley Trail Pinot Noir, 2002 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.Open 19501 Skyline Blvd., Woodside, 650.851.6777.

Mount Eden Vineyards

Though there is no tasting room, and visitors are welcomed by appointment only, it's worth noting the historical significance of this winery. Purchased in the mid-1900's by Paul Masson winemaker Martin Ray, these vineyards were among the first in the US to bottle wines as distinct varietals, like Pinot Noir. Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir. Call for information: 408.867.4329.

Windy Oaks

Judy and Jim Schultze are the sole proprietors of Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards and Winery, combining the best of Burgundian tradition with recent advances in winemaking knowledge. Their sole focus is the two great varietals from Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, grown in estate vineyards. Windy Oaks Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir. 550 Hazel Dell Rd, Corralitos, 831.786.WINE

Other Pinot Noir Producers in the Region:

Ahlgren Vineyard, Bargetto Winery, Byington Winery, Cinnabar Vineyards and Winery, Clos la Chance Wines, Clos Tita, Domenico Winery, Generosa, Hallcrest Vineyards, Heart O' Mountain, Loma Prieta Winery, McHenry Vineyard, Mount Eden Vineyards, Pelican Ranch Winery, Pichetti Winery, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Silver Mountain Vineyards, Sonnet Wine Cellars, Soquel Vineyards, Storrs Winery, Testarossa Vineyards, Trout Gulch Vineyards, Woodside Vineyards


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