July 19th, 2013
Picchetti Winery – production ? cases
Savannah Chanelle – production 8,000 cases
Thomas Fogarty Winery – 15,000 cases
Friday, July 19th….the weather was absolutely stunning…low 80s not too muggy (of course it’s rarely muggy in California) and we’re out wine tasting. Can it get any better than that? We decided to taste locally today and wanted to spend a little time with a few of the wineries in Northeastern Santa Cruz Mountains. They can easily be reached in less than half an hour from the heart of Silicon Valley or San Francisco. The vast majority of wineries are located on the western side of the ridge where cooler climates create wines of different character. The eastern side however has the oldest wineries in the region and the wines have a different character.
Picchetti Winery was founded in the 1890s, making it one of the oldest wineries in California. A little thing called prohibition caused a few problems as you can imagine, but Picchetti is back with a vengeance and seems intent on having enough fun each week to make up for the time it lost until the temperance movement was finally bludgeoned into submission. It hosts numerous events for wine club members including the infamous toga party, inspired we’re told, by the famous scene from the movie, Animal House. Picchetti is brimming with history which was imparted by our guide Smiler Pantling (yep…that’s really his name), a jovial Brit who works at a winery but claims his favorite wine is actually beer. I guess you can take the boy off the island but you can’t take the island out of the boy. We’ve tasted at Picchetti several times before, but this latest stop showed real progress in their wines. Previous versions tended to be dominated by a single flavor but the more recent offerings showed subtlety and had layers of flavors. The whites generally were pleasant, light versions of each Varietal but both Karen and I liked the reds the best. Their Zinfandel was a good example of what we think Zin should be. Big, spicy but with no hint of raisin or jam flavors, which too often are the prevalent taste in 21st century Zins. This one had overtones of tobacco and leather. The Petite Sirah was, big…I mean really big…so big you may need a knife and fork to serve it but even with all that body, the balance was still there. Our favorite however was the Bellicitti Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Great balance, hints of pepper and sufficient but no overpowering tannins. If you can only have one Picchetti wine, this is the one to try. Bring a picnic if you come because the grounds are beautiful and the site is on a preserve with several hiking trails leaving directly from the grounds. No dogs are allowed on the preserve grounds however so leave Fido at home. Also, check out the damage in the corner of the tasting room from the 1906 earthquake.
Savannah Chanelle is located on Highway 9, outside the city of Saratoga and occupies the property once known as Congress Springs Winery. The winery is named after the owner’s two daughters “Savannah” and “Chanelle” (yeah, I know…not really very hard to figure out their names once you know the story). The tasting room has a great ambience, being located on one of the older buildings on the property. Winemaker, Tony Craig was kind enough to act as our host and provided insights as to why many of the wines were made. The first, a Chardonnay was one of the newer California styles, forgoing malolactic fermentation that gives Chardonnay that characteristic softness and roundness (also it’s blandness and buttery feel if you ask many wine enthusiasts). However, this one is kept on the yeast sediment (known as “lees”) for quite some time, which contributes a depth of flavor that purely filtered, stainless steel versions don’t match. This one was light and nicely balanced and perfect for enjoying by itself or with a light meal. Savannah Chanelle makes several Pinot Noirs and Craig allows the fruit to speak rather than inflicting his ideas on the fruit. The 2009 Central Coast is a great value but doesn’t have the subtlety of the Russian River one which was our favorite. The 08 Syrah was also good. If you like lighter, well balanced wines, this is a place worth a trip. If you are looking for big. bold, new world style wines, this might not be your place. We enjoyed them thoroughly.
Off to Skyline Road, and a slightly longer trip to Thomas Fogarty Winery in the hills above Woodside. Usually we try and group Wineries that are closer together but in this case, there really aren’t many other Wineries close to Fogarty. It’s a beautiful drive so other than the occasional glance from, Karen, who I was apparently making car sick, the drive was great. I wish we were in our convertible S2000 instead of the Fusion Hybrid but when you are traveling to a number of Wineries, economics dictate driving the boring (I mean practical car). Have I ever mentioned I hate economics? Regarding Fogarty, let’s clear up a commonly held misconception. Thomas Fogarty is not owned by the Tom Fogarty, the rhythm guitarist and brother of John Fogarty of Credence Clearwater Revival fame. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard this one. It’s is actually owned by Dr. Thomas Fogarty who owns some 60+ medical patents, one of which is the balloon catheter (or something like that, which is now the standard method for treating clogged arteries). If you are in the know about medical terms, it’s called the embolectomy catheter. If you’re not…well, I guess it’s still called an embolectomy catheter but it just means a lot less to you of course. My knowledge of medicine is limited to “if it hurts, have a couple glasses of wine. If it still hurts, have another”. Needless to say, I don’t’ actually practice medicine. Also, my apologies to the winery as well. I had the impression, they had become bigger than they were and had gone to the bulk before quality route. While they are one of the biggest Wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the quality of the wines or the friendliness of the staff. Both are outstanding. Many of their employees have been there for 10 years or more and are extremely knowledgeable about the entire operation. Our guide was Anne, the Marketing Director, who knows the place inside and out and took us on a great tour. Every deck, room or vineyard has a story and Anne knew them all. Our favorite was the origin of the name, Albutom Vineyards. Apparently when it was planted, owner Tom Fogarty had finagled a number of friends and neighbors into coming to help. Tom however was nowhere to be seen. Someone coined the term Albutom because everyone but Tom showed up and the name stuck. Fogarty specializes in Burgundian Varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Some of the Pinot vineyards are approaching 40 years old making them some of the oldest in the state. We don’t have enough time to talk about everything we enjoyed because we could be here for another couple of pages and frankly, this blog is pretty long already. Suffice it to say, the Chards and Pinots were generally very well made but the big surprise was a Gewürztraminer that was light, crisp and not overly sweet and a Nebbiolo that I would have loved to set down for 10 years and go back and revisit at some point. For those of you who are fans of Organic practices, they are taking steps in a few of the vineyards so keep an eye for them in the future. If you are looking for a great setting to have a wedding or corporate event, they have several different venues, many of which boast views from San Francisco to the South Bay.
We had also planned on stopping at Cooper Garrod on the way up but we could not connect with them so we’ll add them in at a later date. Thanks for checking in with us on this latest tour.
The Eastern slope of the Santa Cruz mountains runs from just south of San Francisco to the norther section of Monterey Bay. This particular tip was centered on the Norther region adjacent to San Jose and the peninsula. This side is easily reachable from anywhere in the Bay Area within about 30 minutes.
1) To view more information for the Wineries of Santa Cruz Mountains (the local regional association), click here and type “Santa Cruz” in the “quick search” field to see their listing on Winery-Sage.com.
2) To find more Wineries in Santa Cruz or Santa Clara Counties, both of which have portions of the Santa Cruz Mountains, click here and enter “Santa Cruz” or “Santa Clara” in the “quick search” field for Winery-Sage.com’s Winery database.
3) More information can be found for each Varietal that we’ve listed by clicking on the link that we’ve created the first time the Varietal is listed in each post.
Karen – Ken
Check out their tastes and bios here
We’ve also started a new section which is a photo gallery of other pictures that we took on our trip. While often interesting, they just don’t tell the story of tasting at the winery as well as those that we insert into the blogs. Neither Karen or I are professional photographers but occasionally, we stumble upon a good shot. As they say, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in a while.
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