December 1st, 2012
Karen – Ken
Check out their tastes and Bios here
Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards and Winery – Production: 2,500 cases
Alfaro Family Vineyards – Production: 8,000 cases
Nicholson Vineyards – Was not able to visit due to some localized flooding on the estate
Pleasant Valley – Was not able to visit due to some localized flooding on the estate
Poetic Cellars – Not a Corralitos Winery but due to reasons explained below, we tacked on a visit to them.
View more information for Corralitos Wine Trail Wineries on their Association listing on the Winery-Sage.com main web site.
Corralitos is located in Southern Santa Cruz about 5 miles east of Highway 1. The closest major city is Watsonville. Windy Oaks Winery, the farthest east, is roughly 6 miles from the other three. The wineries are located within about 8 miles of each other.
Live and learn – that’s the lesson from this trip. Before heading out to wine taste in the rain, call first to make sure there aren’t any issues. It was raining at home, but not too heavily. Apparently the Corralitos wineries, about an hour south of us, were experiencing a much heavier deluge. We learned at our first stop, Windy Oaks Estates, that both Nicholson and Pleasant Valley were closed because of rain and mud problems where they usually taste.
If you are looking for a Santa Cruz Pinot Noir nirvana, Windy Oaks Estates could be your place. Aside from one Chardonnay, all they currently make is Pinot. We tried four of them and we liked them all but our favorite was the 2009, whole cluster fermented Estate version. Whole cluster fermentation is pretty unusual these days and this was a good one. Whole cluster fermentation refers to the practice of keeping the entire grape bunch together rather than de-stemming and crushing the fruit. It usually results in more tannins but can also make the wine taste grassy or vegetative if the clusters aren’t sufficiently ripe. Karen and I both tend to like lighter, well-balanced Pinots but the cooler weather made this slightly heavier version a welcome offering.
With two of the four Corralitos wineries closed, our only other stop on the Corralitos Wine Trail was Alfaro Family Vineyards, about 15 minutes west of Windy Oaks Estate. We were greeted by a beautiful view as you round the corner and head to the parking lot. The Alfaro family founded the Alfaro Bakery, a well-known artisan bakery in Santa Cruz. After selling it, they moved on to wine.
Alfaro offers a variety of wines but clearly has a soft spot for the Burgundian Varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Generally, their wines are reasonably priced but every year, they produce several even less expensive Varietals marked with an “A.” It seems like Pinot Noirs are getting so expensive, you have to take a 2nd mortgage out on your house just to afford them so finding a well made one for $18 was a treat.
Although it was a little more fruit forward than we usually prefer, it was still quite good, and at that price it’s a great value. Of the other Pinots, we liked the 2010 Alfaro Family Vineyard Estate the best. The other “premium” wines were also generally good. The 2011 Gimelli Vineyards Sangiovese was very good (it was also a favorite of most of the crew at Karen’s family Christmas). We also enjoyed the 2009 Billy K Estate Merlot.
So we are now on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains with several hours left to kill before heading home and we can’t taste at the other two wineries. Quickly referencing Winery-Sage.com’s extensive listing of Wine Trails and Associations (shameless plug intended), we found the Summit to Sea Wine Trail. A quick look at its page and we realized we have tasted at most of the wineries on the trail as part of the Summit Wineries Trail. Why not head back over the hill and try the other two Wineries and we can complete a write up for that one instead? First stop, Dancing Creek Winery….or so we thought. Their website says they are open Saturdays but that assumes that you can find the place. Our Nav system proudly placed us in the middle of nowhere on Branciforte Drive. My Android phone, complete with Google Maps, tried to move us about 200 yards up the road to a brand new “nowhere.” Of course phone reception was sketchy at best so calling to admit defeat and ask for directions wasn’t an option either. The only driveway in sight was a bridge across a creek with several very prevalent “No Trespassing” signs. Not wishing to become unwilling participants in “Deliverance, the Sequel ” we called off the search and headed for Poetic Cellars, which thankfully was easier to find.
Winemaker Katy Lovell’s specialty is Rhone style wines, many of which come from her property in Livermore. The tasting room is in a corner of the barrel room so the smell of fermentation and the ever-present gathering of fruit flies make for a great wine tasting experience. I know big fancy tasting rooms are the “classy” way to go but I’ll take tasting in the Barrel room any day. The Mirage Rose, a Syrah/Mourvedre blend, is quite interesting in that it’s a heavier bodied Rose than we often see. It had good dryness and acidity. Karen’s favorite was the 2006 Stanza Vineyard Syrah, which was slightly lighter than the typical California Syrah. I liked the 2007 Petite Sirah.
In retrospect, this trip was “interesting” if not quite as productive as we would like – 109 miles to visit just three wineries, all in heavy rain. Wine tasting is rarely a chore, but sometimes the distance traveled is just too long to make it worthwhile. What started out as an eagerly anticipated trip, was quite disappointing because we didn’t take the time to insure that some unusual conditions hadn’t caused some unforeseen problems. While the wines were good, the winery staff very friendly and helpful, it was a long way to go for such a short experience. The one saving grace is that a fellow taster at Alfaro Family suggested a blog topic regarding old vine wines which we published in mid January.
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