Tuesday, August 30, 2011

David Bruce Winery - A Quest for Pinot Noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains

I’ve been on a Pinot Noir kick all summer this year, and so I visited the Russian River, Santa Barbara County and even a local Livermore winery specializing in Pinot Noir. Continuing this venture I decided this past weekend to visit a couple wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountain wine country that also specialize in Pinots.


David Bruce Winery – Los Gatos



My first stop was at David Bruce winery, which is on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains and to get there you have to travel up a long narrow and very, very, very winding road. It would be a lot of fun driving up there if you’re on a motorcycle or driving a Porsche but if you are planning on renting a limousine to take you up there I’d say, “Forget about it!” There are also several turn-out spots that give you the opportunity to get a fantastic view of the forested valley below.


Without a doubt the most well known winery in this region for Pinot Noir is David Bruce Winery, and for good reason. David Bruce Winery has earned an international reputation over the past four decades for its dedication to producing some of the finest Pinot Noir in the world.


The winery was founded by David Bruce, a local dermatologist, in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains in the early 1960s. David discovered wine while a medical student and after completing his medical residency he purchased 40 acres of land above the fog-line in the Santa Cruz Mountains, then cleared the land himself and planted the vineyard by hand. During the first 25 years of the winery, David divided his time between maintaining a fulltime dermatology practice in Los Gatos and running the winery, until his retirement from his medical practice in 1985.

Today David Bruce’s wines are produced from the winery’s 25-acre mountain estate vineyard as well as from fruit sourced from more than 20 of the finest growers in Northern and Central California.



After a quick walk around the winery snapping shots with my camera I ventured into the tasting room with my Reidel Pinot Noir glass in hand. And it is a good thing too, for they DO NOT use Pinot Noir stemware!.

While many wineries that specialize in Pinot utilize the appropriate stemware (such as Talbot in Carmel Valley, Bouchaine in Los Carneros, La Rochelle in Livermore) many do not. So, if you are on the hunt for Pinots, bring your own stemware. You can buy a set of 4 Vivant series Reidel Pinot Noir glasses at Target for about $35.



The first wine pour I received was the 2008 Chardonnay (Monterey). The wine displays candy lemon drops, dried pineapple, candied ginger, apricots and a slight nuttiness. On the palate it has more citrus with a very heavy mouth feel, viscous but not cloy. This is a very complex wine of high quality, but not my preferred style. It sells for $28 a bottle.



The second wine was a Pinot Noir Rosé, the 2008 Saignée (Sonoma Coast). It was served a bit too cold and so the aromatics of the wine were somewhat muted. But even after warming it up a bit the nose was a bit too restrained. In agreement with the wine maker’s notes I did manage to pick up some slight strawberries, cranberries and a slight floral component on the nose as well as cherries and pink grapefruit on the palate. But over all the wine was too understated and rather disappointing. I had tasted a number of Pinot Noir Rosé along the Russian River that I found much more impressive for about the same price. The wine sells for $28 a bottle.

We then moved on to a line-up of Pinot Noirs, and I was NOT disappointed.



The first was the 2006 Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains). This wine is Corvette red, clear but not quite “see thru” when viewed from the side. This is a very light styled wine with a classic California profile of red cherries, root beer, spice, pepper with a really long finish. It sells for $30 a bottle.

The second was the 2007 Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley). This wine has  bigger and more earthy nose than the previous Pinot, very intense and concentrated fruit, floral and spice notes including fresh picked strawberries,  blackberries, vanilla, forest floor and black pepper. For an additional $10, I would definitely pay $40 a bottle for this one rather purchase the previous wine.

The third and most impressive wine was from the library, the 2002 Estate Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains). All I can say is – WOW! I think I swirled and sniffed my glass for at least 15 minutes before taking my first sip! On the nose I picked up cinnamon stick, sarsaparilla, big black cherries, and an overall impression that reminded me of a sweet spicy Christmas candle. I think I could use this wine for aroma therapy and enjoy it all day long just smelling it in the glass. This wine sells for $55 a bottle, but I was fortunately enough to be able to buy a case for ½ off!

My final wine was the 2002 Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains). This wine is very herbal and has hints of fresh leather and a slight “sweatiness” on the nose, followed by dark cherries, plums, black olives and pepper. On the palate I picked up intense and concentrated black fruits, anise and just a hint of eucalyptus. It’s an okay wine for $25 a bottle but there are probably many others on the market that are similar in the $15-$20 range. BUT, this wine was also ½ off by the case so if you liked it and took advantage of the sale you’d be getting your money’s worth.

If you are as much of a Pinot Noir fan as I am, then David Bruce Winery is a “must visit” in your wine country travels and adventures!

To visit or for more information:

David Bruce Winery
21438 Bear Creek Road
Los Gatos, CA 95033
Telephone: 408-354-4214 or 800-397-9972


Big Basin Vineyards – Saratoga


After visiting David Bruce I headed back north to the other side of the mountain and drove down to the town of Saratoga to visit the tasting room of Big Basin Vineyards. There is no winery or vineyards near by, just a small store-front with a tasting bar and a few tables with bar stools so you have to keep your eyes open as it is easy to drive right by it and find yourself driving up another long winding road to other nearby wineries such as Mountain Winery or Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.




Once you enter the tasting room you’ll notice some interesting art work on walls. Ask the server to borrow their 3-D glasses, it’s a trip!



Big Basin Vineyards specializes in Pinot Noir and Rhone varietals, particularly Syrah. They have two tasting flights but I was only interested in tasting their two Pinots and there one estate Syrah. So, the server, Tom Keenan, graciously allowed to break protocol and taste 3 wines from two different lists for $10.



Like David Bruce, this winery does NOT use Pinot Noir stemware in their tasting room so you’ll need to bring your own!

My first wine was the 2008 Alfaro Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine is a clear, bright ruby red wine and easily “see thru” when from the side. I picked up tangy cherries, cranberries, thyme, and a hint of cigar box on the nose with similar notes on the palate along with silky tannins and a lingering finish. This is a nice wine, but it didn’t “wow” me and seemed similar to David Bruce’s 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, which goes for $30 a bottle whereas this wine sells for $44 bottle.



My second wine was the 2008 Woodruff Family Vineyard Pinot Noir was definitely a step up. Similar in color and hue to the previous wine. As I continually swirled my Pinot glass I picked up raspberry, root beer, some spice and a hint of fresh picked roses. On the palate this wine has fine tannins and acidity that provides a really nice backbone and a good “grab” that would be a perfect marriage with lighter and heartier meats. This wine sells for $52 a bottle.



Switching glasses to the one offered by the tasting room, my third wine was the 2007 Rattlesnake Ranch Syrah. This wine has BIG black fruit, intense fresh blackberries, bacon fat, underlying floral notes and some subtle fresh cracked pepper. On the palate the nose is confirmed as the wine dominates the palate with a basket full of fresh blackberries and vanilla with some pepper on the return. A really nice wine, but a bit steep at $40 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Big Basin Vineyards
14598 Big Basin Way Ste B
Saratoga, CA 95070
Telephone: 408-5647346


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