Date: October 20th, 2012 (Updated December 18th)
Karen – Ken
Check out their tastes and bios here.
Loma Prieta (Bonus winery. It’s not technically on the wine trail but is quite close)
Regale Winery and Vineyards
Villa Del Monte Winery (Visited December 18th) – Production – 1,000 cases.
View more detailed information on the Summit Wineries at their listing on the Winery Sage website.
Located in the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, the Summit Wine trail follows Summit Road (no big surprise there) and runs along a ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains. All the wineries are within about a 5 mile drive of each other. From the town of Los Gatos on the western edge of the Santa Clara Valley, you can reach the first winery in about 20 minutes assuming there is no traffic going over the hill to the Santa Cruz beaches.
If there is a more beautiful place on earth to grow wine grapes, I don’t know where it is. Santa Cruz Wineries have sweeping vistas of the mountains, the ocean or both. The fog off of the Pacific can create stunning contrasts green forests and gray mists. That same mist is responsible for some of the most complex wines produced in the US. Sunset Magazine called it the home of the best wines in the world – a lofty claim.
The Summit Wineries elevation ranges from roughly 1,300 ft to over 2,000 ft but most of them are located on the flatter, less windy side of Summit Road so unless a visitor gets car sick easily all but Silver Mountain Winery are well within reach. The Summit Store is also a convenient stop, located right in the middle of the Wineries. Sandwiches, deli salads, and other miscellaneous artisan goods can be purchased and taken to any of the wineries for a picnic.
While we were there, both Burrell School and Silver Mountain were in mid crush/fermentation so the Wineries were strong with the smell of fermenting grapes (and lively with the ever-present fruit flies that live for the crush).
Our first stop was Burrell School Winery, located on the grounds of a one-room schoolhouse dating back over 100 years. Other than an Estate Chardonnay, and a one-off Viognier, they specialize in reds. The views of the vineyards rolling off the hill and the lower forest clad mountains below are stunning. The flagship wines are likely the Estate Cabernet Franc and Estate Pinot Noir. The deck has a number of picnic tables for those who want to graze on food, drink some spectacular wines, and enjoy a view found almost no where else. Our favorites were the three reserve wines, Pinot Noir (called PTA), Merlot (Magna Cum Lauda) and Syrah (Salutatorian). Each of the wines carries a scholastic themed name. Note that these wines are on their higher end list so require an additional $5 to taste but it is well worth it.
Regale Winery, right next to Burrell School is a stunning facility that seems to cater to larger events – weddings, parties etc. While we found all of the wines well made, none stood out from the crowd. If you’re looking for a Santa Cruz Mountain Winery to hold an event, you should seriously consider Regale.
Silver Mountain Winery is located at the top of one of the hills and is one of the highest Wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We were greeted, if somewhat sleepily by Spencer, the Winemaker’s dog. Spencer is one of the few who has a wine named after him making him the envy of other wine dogs the world over. Silver Mountain is also one of the few Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries that is Organic. The Winery is only open on Saturdays but also has a tasting room located in Santa Cruz and is part of the Surf City Vintners Wine trail. Like Burrell School, the views are breathtaking and wines are wonderful. Like a number of Wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Mountain produces more Burgundian style of wines than others. Karen preferred the Miller Hill Pinot Noir while I like the Muns Vineyard. They also make a Bordeaux style blend call Alloy, which was excellent.
Next stop, MJA Vineyards, a relatively new Winery that is currently bringing in wines from its Napa Vineyards. While missing the normal feel of a working winery, at least we didn’t have to cover our glasses because of fruit flies (not that we mind the extra protein – we just don’t like to share). Our first taste was a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and it wasn’t bad. That’s about as strong an endorsement you’ll get from either Karen or me. We just don’t like them. If you want to know more, click here and it will save me the trouble of retyping the whole Sav Blanc rant. Now…where was I? Oh yes, it really wasn’t bad. It had a balance I rarely find in Sauvignon Blancs. The reds were nice, and typical of Napa but I’m more interested in following them to see how their first Santa Cruz reds turn out.
We added Loma Prieta Winery to our trip (yes, as in the Loma Prieta Earthquake that struck the Bay Area in 1989 ) which is not technically part of the wine trail but is located several miles up the hill from MJA (seriously “up the hill”). If you’ve never driven in the mountains, this is not the road to cut your teeth on. Thankfully I grew up in the mountains so no issues with the road other than the occasional glare from Karen who clearly thought I was driving too fast. You’d think after already visiting four Wineries (never mind having driven with me for 20 years) it wouldn’t have been a problem. Apparently I was mistaken. That happens a lot. Once we arrived, the views were spectacular. It is located 2,200 feet above sea level and on a clear day, you can see the rolling ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains as they approach the sea as well as at least 40 miles of coast line from Pacific Grove most of the way to Santa Cruz. Today there was a low mist on the ocean, lending an ethereal stillness to the view. There are ample picnic tables and a Bocci Ball court, all with a view that seems to go on forever. We started with a 2010 Viognier that was light and not overly perfumed. It would have been a nice summer wine. Loma Prieta is the only Santa Cruz Winery that we know that produces a Pinotage, which they were tasting as well. We’ve tasted this one before and although we enjoyed it, we found the 2010 vintage a little fruitier than past versions.
All in all, we called this one a very successful trip. Even though we have visited all of these wineries before, we had never followed the Summit Wine Trail so it was a new experience. We suggest that you pack a lunch, possibly a coat (you are in the mountains after all, very close to the cold Pacific Ocean) and make a day out of it. You won’t be disappointed.
Updated – December 18th, 2012
It’s nice when we get a chance to go back and see a winery that we missed from a Wine Trail. In this case, Villa del Monte was closed when we visited the Summit Wineries but after we posted the blog, they were kind enough to call us and let us know when they would be open.
First off, finding it can be an issue because they are not allowed to put out any signs due to some agreements with the neighbors. If you’re coming from Highway 17, head south on Summit road for just over a mile and look for the “green mailbox” on the right hand side of the road. When I say green, I mean really green. The only way this green was created involved something highly radioactive. If you see a mailbox that requires sunglasses just to glance at it, you’ve found the place. Head down the hill and go until you reach the end of the road and you are there. If you park above the winery, make sure you bring hiking boots, ropes, grappling hooks and any other mountaineering equipment you favor because it’s a short, steep walk. Seriously, for the ladies (and I suppose any guys who may be into that sort of thing), as long as you don’t wear those seriously high heals that add 6 inches to your height you’ll be fine. It’s steep but very manageable. There are also a couple of parking spaces on the lower level by the wine tasting area where there is no need to navigate the hill. The experience of tasting well made wines in the middle of the woods makes this well worth the trip. Now – enough about the venue -we were here for the wine and Villa Del Monte’s doesn’t disappoint. They make a number of different types but seem to have a soft spot for the classic Burgundian wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but talking to the winemakers, they consider their flagship wine to be the Carneros Merlot. It was quite good (Karen’s 2nd favorite and my 3rd) but we both like the 2010 Regan Pinot best. It was not overly heavy which is how we prefer our Pinots. If we want heavy, we’ll drink something else. The Chardonnay was actually my 2nd favorite and Karen’s 3rd (unusual for me because I almost always favor well made reds). The Pinots are also priced less than $30, which is a really good value for the quality.
If you are coming, call a day or two ahead to be sure they will be open.