The last time we visited my brother-in-law, we had to drive to get to the local wineries. Up into the hills, usually, on windy roads designed to get the casual tourist completely lost. And many of the Central Coast wineries weren’t open to the public, anyway. This has all changed with the advent of the Swift Street Courtyard complex, now home to at least six different wine tasting rooms and a brewery. Part of the same complex that houses Kelly’s French Bakery (and a number of other shops), this is a wildly accessible arrangement for a person wanting to taste as much Santa Cruz wine as possible. Which we did.
And thanks to everything being so close together, it can all be done on foot even in a pouring rain. Which it was.
Our first stop was Bonny Doon. Their new space is very spiffy, with a long curving bar and tables set into gigantic barrels, with melted wine bottles for lamps. They had two tasting flights on offer, a regular and a reserve, so we bought one each and figured we’d share. The woman pouring for us took it upon herself to switch around the order of the wines so our two flights would overlap in the most enjoyable manner. We ended up with an exciting spread of bottles in front of us.
There really wasn’t anything here we didn’t like. The stars were the Cigar Volante, always a winner no matter the vintage, the Syrah, the Nebbiolo, and – a surprise – the Pommeau, a mix of apple cider and apple brandy. Jon took a sip and said “I can do things with this.” Can’t wait until our bottle arrives!
After Bonny Doon we wandered several doors down to Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. After being heavily leaned on by their slender but highly energetic greeter dog, we tasted through some lovely Spanish varietals: Tempranillo, Durif, Graciano, etc. These are very rich but elegant wines, I liked them very much. We picked up a bottle of Durif, but would have loved to get more.
Beer sounded like a good change of pace after that, so we stopped by the taproom for Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery and got their sampler.
The beers here weren’t all to my taste, particularly the IPA, which surprised me. But their brown and amber ales were very good, and they make a very solid porter as well. We came back here the next day to kick off another round of tastings, and ordered lunch in from Kelly’s (the brewpub doesn’t have their own kitchen, but they feature Kelly’s full menu. It’s awesome).
Then we made a beeline for Sones Cellars. We’ve been drinking Sones wines for years, ever since their first release. We never have as much of it as we want, but I think we’ve managed to have at least one bottle of each vintage.
When we went in the winemakers were out, but there was a gentleman minding the store who was occupying himself working on a large colorful painting back in the barrel storage area. There was a dog keeping him company, as there should be in a winery, but it was a very mellow dog indeed.
Just as we were getting started, Lois Sones came in and took over our tasting. We began with a Sauvignon Blanc which was really delightful.
After that was a Zinfandel, followed by a Petite Sirah from the French Camp vineyard. This, as usual, was our absolute favorite – such a rich, smooth, comforting wine. The final taste was of one that they’re calling “Fashionably Late” Zinfandel, as the grapes were picked late and held on to their sweetness through the winemaking process. It’s not quite a table wine, not quite a dessert wine. It made us think longingly of gorgonzola cheesecake.
What was particularly swell was that, when we were trying to decide how much to buy, Lois offered to package up our purchases in a shipping box and bring it to the house a few days later so we could check it as baggage. We figured the Alaska Airlines luggage fee was still cheaper than shipping, so we went for it. Lois really went above and beyond the call of duty, getting the box to us early Sunday morning just before we left for the airport. That’s dedication.
Finally, we walked around the corner and checked out the brand new tasting room for MJA Vineyards, whose two labels are DaVine and Serene. The owner was there, and told us about his experiences growing coffee in Kona and wine in Napa. I believe they’re still growing grapes in Napa, but are adding a vineyard in the Santa Cruz area, particularly for Pinot. The wines were very nice, perhaps not as much to my taste as the other wineries we tried on this trip, but good. They had two Sauvignon Blancs done in different styles, and the New Zealand-style one was particularly crisp and delicious. We bought one of those, and look forward to the day when the freezing wind and hail stop and we can pull it out and drink it in the sun.