Santa Cruz Mountains
Notes from our trip to California in 2013
We were in San Jose and decided to spend Saturday morning tasting on the Santa Cruz mountains overlooking Silicon Valley. What we found was that each owner was as remarkable as the reputation of the Valley itself.
Winery Visit Notes
J Lohr Vineyards1000 Lenzen Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126 www.jlohr.com
With their first pioneering vineyards planted in 1972, J. Lohr remains a family business and is one of the few estate-focused (that is, growing most of their own wines) wineries of its size with more than 900 acres. It is operated with the loving care of a boutique winery and follows sustainable practices. They have two wine centers, one in San Jose and another in Paso Robles. They are one of the few to offer free wine tastings. We tasted their range of half bottles. J Lohr follows the admirable practice of charging half of the full bottle price for their half bottles.
2012 Riverstone Chardonnay from Arroyo Seco 13.9% abv; typical lemony flavours with noticeable but not over the top oak and a good clean finnish. $7 per half bottle.
2011 Los Osos Merlot from Paso Robles 13.5% abv; bright red, typical merlot flavours with soft tannins. Like the reasonable alcohol level. $7.50 per half bottle.
2010 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon based blend from Paso Robles 13.7% abv; a great mouth filling cab with soft tannins. Like the reasonable alcohol level. $8.50 per half bottle.
2010 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles 14.56% abv; a big step up in quality form the Seven Oaks. This is made from hand-picked bunches with oak fermentation and aging before being bottles unfiltered. $17.50 per half bottle.
We bought the Hilltop Cabernet (despite it being marginally over our alcohol level cut-off point) as we had enjoyed a bottle of the Seven Oaks with dinner previously.
Ridge Vineyards17100 Monte Bello Road, Cupertino, CA 95014 www.ridgewine.com
Ridge Vineyards cellar door
Ridge Vineyards rattlesnake warning
There is a very enjoyable film called Bottle Shock that is about a wine tasting that became known as the Judgment of Paris. In 1976, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman running a wine shop and wine school in Paris, organized a tasting of six top California cabernets and chardonnays to celebrate the American Bicentennial. He added four Bordeaux wines and four white Burgundies to act as markers against which to evaluate the Californians. The judges were among the best tasters in France, and, to everyone's surprise, chose a California wine over the French for both the red and white flights. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971 came fifth in this tasting, but in the re-enactment in 2006, this 35 year old wine was judged the top wine. Ridge call their approach to making wine pre-industrial; it is along organic wines and minimises the use of SO2. Where else would there be a sign warning visitors about the rattle snakes? Ridge’s wines are not cheap as most of them are single vineyard wines. We decided to taste the flight of Estate single vineyard wines including a Monte Bello - $10 for the tasting plus $20 to taste the Monte Bello.
We started with the 2011 Jimsomare Chardonnay ($32); lightly oaked, spicy flavours with a hint of lemon.
The 2011 Geyserville Zinfandel based blend ($38 or $21 for a half bottle) is unusual in that it is a field blend, a practice not found much outside Alsace – see here for an explanation. This was light, soft and reminiscent of red cherries; quite different from the heavy Zinfandels found in most places.
2010 Merlot ($45); full, round, luscious with soft tannins.
2010 Cabernet based blend ($45 or $25 for a half bottle) 13% abv. Described as a baby Monte Bello; full of red fruits and good tannins.
2007 Monte Bello Cabernet based blend ($160or $82 for a half bottle) 13% abv; rich, full mouth feel – really good.
They also produce a Zinfandel blend, Lytton Springs for $21 per half bottle. We did not taste this.
We bought the Cab and the Monte Bello.
Thomas Fogarty19501 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, CA 94062 www.fogartywinery.com
Dr Thomas Fogarty is a prolific inventor having invested the balloon embolectomy catheter; he has acquired over 63 patents.
Seems strange that a medical doctor would make such alcoholic wine. When questioned, the person behind the tasting counter said that Americans love fruit bombs with high alcohol; they made their wines for this market. Luckily for us they were in the minority of the places we tasted this time. Having said that they produce three wines in half bottles so can’t be all bad.
We started with the 2010 Santa Cruz Pinot Noir ($30 or $16 per half bottle) 14.2% abv; light red colour but full of dark fruits and quite tannic. Certainly not like Burgundy, not sure if it was even like a Californian Pinot.
The 2007 Santa Cruz Merlot ($34 or $18 per half bottle) 14.3% abv; full of plum fruits was more typical as was the 2009 Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon ($32 or $18 per half bottle) 14.6% abv; full of fruits.
We bought the Cab despite our misgivings about the alcohol content because it seemed like a good example of an over-the-top Californian Cab.
Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards22645 Garrod Rd, Saratoga, CA 95070 www.cgv.com
Cooper-Garrod’s approach is based on the Principles of Sustainable Winegrowing published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Their wines come from their 120 acres of vines that since 2012 have been certified organic.
Their tasting list included a 2011 Viognier ($27) 15% abv and a 2010 Chardonnay ($27) abv 14.5%. We did not think that either were typical of the varietal and were overly alcoholic. Strangely all their reds were below 14% - more to our taste. We tasted the 2009 Cabernet Franc ($28) and the 2009 Syrah ($27). Both of these paled by comparison to their Cab Franc / Syrah blend ($39) called Test Pilot, F7U. All the blends are named after planes that George Cooper flew as a test pilot. We bought the Test Pilot.