Wine Country Itinerary: Santa Cruz Mountains

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By Courtney Cochran

Dubbed "the most underrated wine appellation in the world" by a certain influential wine publication, the immense Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is home to more than 50 wineries and just a stone's throw from the bustling communities of Silicon Valley.  In stark contrast to its busy neighboring hamlets, however, the region marches to its own distinctly mellow beat, and wineries are reached by winding backcountry roads lined with towering redwoods.  Read on for an itinerary embarking from Los Gatos, a postcard-perfect town at the base of the mountains' easterly slopes and just 20 minutes west of San Jose.
Stop 1 - Testarossa Vineyards
Situated just a short drive uphill from downtown Los Gatos, Testarossa Vineyards is an award-winning producer of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah housed in an historic winery established in 1888. Besides its plum location just outside of town, Testarossa boasts manicured grounds, sweeping views of Silicon Valley below and a dramatic cave-like tasting room housed in the old stone winery facility.

Take your time in the tasting room - don't miss the fascinating old photographs from the winery's early days - then head out to the spot's picnic tables for an alfresco lunch. You can pick up provisions from the winery's well-stocked deli case, or bring your own pre-packed lunch. Note: dining options are practically non-existent in most parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, so lunching early at Testarossa ensures you'll get a bite in before heading uphill.
Tasting Room: 300-A College Ave., Los Gatos, CA 95030; Open daily 11am-5pm
Tasting Fee: $10; fee waived with purchase

Stop 2 - David Bruce
From Testarossa, take Highway 17 eastward to the Bear Creek Road exit. After five winding miles you'll arrive at David Bruce Winery, the namesake property of one of the region's great Pinot Noir pioneers. Tasting is complimentary at the mountaintop facility and includes sips of four wines, which rotate on a monthly basis. The Petite Syrah - when poured - is a sleeper hit.
Tasting Room: 21439 Bear Creek Rd., Los Gatos, CA 95033; Open weekdays 12pm-5pm, Weekends 11am-5pm
Tasting Fee: Complimentary

Stop 3 - Byington Vineyard & Winery
Just a stone's throw further up Bear Creek Road you'll find picturesque Byington Vineyard & Winery, a family-owned operation that seems tailor made for hospitality. Besides a wide assortment of wines to sample in the tasting room, Byington offers visitors free use of its Bocce Ball Court (game on!) as well as picnic tables, umbrellas, and both gas and charcoal BBQs, though grillers will need to bring their own grill tools and grub. Lingering is encouraged.
Tasting Room: 21850 Bear Creek Rd., Los Gatos, CA 95033, Open daily 11am - 5m
Tasting Fee: Complimentary

Stop 4 - Burrell School Vineyards & Winery
From Byington, take Bear Creek Road to Summit Road and in less than 20 minutes you'll arrive at Burrell School, one of Santa Cruz's most colorful wineries. Housed in an old mountaintop schoolhouse, Burrell School makes good on its scholarly tradition by way of the instruction, "I promise to sip my wine," which is scrawled on a chalkboard outside its tasting room. In that spirit, sip award-winning Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir inside the tasting room or head out back to the verandah, where you can taste while taking in jaw-dropping views of the winery's estate vineyards and the canyons and ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains beyond. At sunset, there's no better place to be.
Tasting Room: 24060 Summit Rd., Los Gatos, CA 95033; Open daily 11am - 6pm
Tasting Fee: $5

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