Monday, September 19, 2011

Continuing the Quest for Pinot Noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains



The morning after my recent trip to Sarah’s Vineyard I was planning on going wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Unfortunately I woke up with a sore throat, stuffed up nose and all the typical symptoms of the flu or a bad cold which really bummed me out. While my nose and throat were fine in a couple days it took a couple weeks for my lungs to clear up. So, this past weekend I was really eager to get back out there and enjoy the remaining summer weather out in the wine country.

We’ve already got the really cool mornings and evenings with the warm afternoons of Autumn so harvest is no doubt about to begin (you can smell it in the air!) and soon all the vineyards will be buzzing with harvesters. I hoping over the next few weeks I can take some really nice shots of vineyards as they go through the fall color changes.

I’ve still got the Pinot Noir itch, so I decided to head back to the Santa Cruz Mountains to two more wineries, Regale Winery and Vineyards and Loma Prieta Winery, both of which specialize in this fantastic grape.

Regale Winery and Vineyards – Santa Cruz Mountains




My first stop for the day was at Regale Winery and Vineyards. I arrived early just before it opened so I could run around the place and take pictures before the crowds arrived. Although it is one of the newest wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains its stone construction, classical Tuscan design, and surrounding ten acres of spacious gardens, olive trees and vineyards makes it look and feels as if it has been here for generations. Inspired by Italian landscapes and Old-World villas, Regale Winery provides the experience of a European get-away just 30 minutes from downtown San Jose California and high above the Silicon Valley.



The name Regale means “to entertain lavishly with food and drink” and with its gorgeous picnic grounds and dining hall it certainly lives up to its name. While enjoying their wines you can tour their colorful and intimate gardens featuring beautiful fountains, a spiral herb garden, outdoor fireplaces, a bocce ball court, and a traditional wood-fired oven. Three varieties of olive trees line the property from which they hand-pick and press the olives to produce their Estate Olive Oil and from the balcony of the terrace you can get a bird’s eye of their vineyards below.




The winery’s founder and winemaker, Larry Schaadt, first started wine-making in 1990 with a small family winery in the Carmel Valley, then expanded his knowledge at U.C. Davis, as well as with extensive wine tasting all over California and Europe. From the wineries’ estate vineyards he produces Pinot Noir as well as from other fine grape growers from some of California’s finest winegrowing appellations. The winery also features Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay as well as limited-production Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Barbera.

Regale has to wine tasting flights, a table wine flight ($10) and a sparkling wine flight ($15). I chose the former.




My first wine was the 2008 Pinot Noir – Sonoma Coast. Slightly muted on the nose (it was early in the day so it may have needed more time to open up), I picked up a classic California Pinot profile of raspberries, dark cherries and dried cinnamon stick. On the palate the nose is confirmed along with a full mouth feel with firm but unobtrusive tannins. This wine sells for $39 a bottle.




My second wine was 2008 Pinot Noir, O’Neel Vineyard – Russian River. Unlike the previous wine, this one has an immediate impact on the nose with a full bouquet of rose pedals, red apple skins, cinnamon, cloves and a hint of cigar box. On the palate it has silky texture, that coats your mouth fresh dark cherries, bacon and just a hint of pepper. If I ahd to chose spending $39 for the previous wine or $48 for this one, I’d spend the extra $8 and buy the O’Neel Vineyard. In fact… I DID!



My next wine was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – Alexander Valley. The grapes come from a vineyard on Chalk Hill road in the heart of the Alexander Valley and the wine is barrel aged in 75% French Oak for 24 months – and it shows. On the nose I picked up cassis and black cherries, a hint of eucalyptus, blackberries, tobacco, and allspice followed by a pronounced oakiness. On the palate the nose is confirmed along with dark chocolate and soft tannins. It is a nice wine but not quite worth the $48 price tag.

The second big red of the day was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – Rutherford. This wine is radically different than the previous Cab with the very distinct character of “Rutherford dust.” The wine exudes black cherries, wild blackberries, black olives combined with an underlying whiff of smoky-vanilla oak. The flavors on the palate echo the nose; framed by medium acidity and supple tannins. Medium-full bodied in texture with a fine balance between the alcohol, fruit and tannin. This wine out classes the previous by far and the price tag does so as well at $60 a bottle.

My final wine of the day was not on the menu, the 2007 Barbara – El Dorado. The Barbera is a medium bodied wine with fragrances of raspberries, dark red cherries, white chocolate, sweet pipe tobacco, a hint of spice with herbs, vanilla bean and anise. On the palate this wine is very soft with a mélange of strawberry and plum jam with a hint white pepper on the finish. This wine sells for $39 a bottle.

This winery offers a great little get-away from the busyness of the Bay Area and alternative to the often crowded Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

But, here is my one major complaint – they also have a 2008 Estate Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards. This wine is only available for purchase for wine club members and yet they would not offer me a taste of the wine. Why would I want to join the club, if I can’t taste the wine? And the fact that I brought my own Reidel Pinot Noir glass into the winery (they do not use them) should have sent a clear signal to the staff, “This dude is SERIOUS about his Pinot!” Who better to offer a sample and encourage to join the wine club? Yet, the wine club was not even mentioned as the servers focused on cleaning their stemware rather than focusing on the potential sale to a customer.




For more information or to visit:

Regale Winery and Vineyards
24040 Summit Road
Los Gatos, CA 95033
Phone: 408-353-2500


Loma Prieta Winery - Santa Cruz Mountains


My next and final stop for the day was a long ways down the road and probably around another 1,000 feet up in elevation. Located at about 2,300 feet above sea level in these mountains, Loma Prieta Winery offers spectacular views of Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay to the west and Mount Loma Prieta to the east. From their balcony and comfortable outdoor seating area you can enjoy the view as you taste their handcrafted small lot, barrel aged wines.




Loma Prieta Winery produces Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, both from our estate vineyards, and from selective vineyard sources in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They also source Viognier and extremely rare and limited Pinotage from the Central Valley.




The property was purchased Paul Kemp in the 1970’s, a personal injury lawyer by trade, whose personal interest in wine led him to become a grape grower and winemaker. The 3-acre vineyard, planted in 2003 and is maintained with the assistance of area viticulturist, Prudy Foxx, is laid out in front of his home. The vineyard has 2,800 vines, 2,100 of which are Dijon clones of Pinot Noir from which he produces 500 cases of his Estate Pinot Noir.




Paul began producing his own wine in 2003 with purchased grapes which he made with a consulting winemaker in his garage. Subsequently two of the wines were awarded gold medals: the 2003 Loma Prieta Cabernet Sauvignon and his 2004 Loma Prieta Pinot Noir both won a gold medal at the 2006 San Francisco Bay Wine Competition.




My first wine was the 2009 Chardonnay. Aged for 8 months in 100% French Radoux oak barrels, this is a bigger, richer and more full-bodied style of wine. Golden yellow in the glass on the nose I picked up golden apples, dried peaches, caramel and honey suckle. On the palate this viscous wine has a full rich and creamy mouth feel with a lingering tropical fruit and butterscotch finish and just a hint of hazelnut on the return. This is not my style of Chard, but for $25 it holds it own.




My second wine was the 2009 Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noir. If I was blind tasting this wine, I would have guessed that it came from Oregon. On the nose this wine is very earthy, smoky and had a hint of rubber tire to it. As I continued to swirl the wine in my Pinot glass (my own, not theirs as they do not provide them) these characteristics dissipated a bit and then the fruit began to come through. I then picked up baked strawberry pie, boysenberries and forest floor. A really nice wine that breaks out of the typical California profile. Unfortunately it sells for F-I-F-T-Y D-O-L-L-A-R-S!

The third pour was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. A dark heavy duty wine with everything black – black cherries, blackberries, black currant followed by eucalyptus, herbs and violets. Soft and supple tannins give this full bodied wine a smooth ride over the palate as you look around for a steak to eat with it. A really nice wine but again F-I-F-T-Y D-O-L-L-A-R-S! A bit steep in this economy.

The fourth wine was the 2007 Merlot. An intense and concentrated wine with a mouth full of cherries, followed by anise and a hint of pepper. A nice wine, but does it merit the $35 price tag?

The final wine was the most… how should I say it… interesting in the line-up, the 2008 Pinotage. The grape, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, is most well known in South Africa and true to its reputation this wine is an awkward raccoon! I first check it out in the winery’s glass and then poured it into my Pinot Noir glass where it was well suited. After swirling it and whiffing it over and over I tasted it but (as expected) it just seemed too brash and disjointed. This wine exudes dusty blackberries, currant paste, dried figs, Italian herbs and spices wrapped up in a blanket of black licorice. The acidity seems a bit sharp and the tannins a bit rough. Then, at the recommendation of the server, I tried it with a piece of salami that he provided and you know what? I really liked it! This is definitely a wine that will cut through fatty meats and needs it to be truly appreciated. It is interesting and definitely something everyone should taste to expand their palate and knowledge of wine… but… am I willing to shell out $45 for it?




If you love Pinot Noir as I do and don’t mind taking a road winding mountainous adventure to get there, then you’ll want to soon visit Loma Prieta Winery.

For more information or to visit:

Loma Prieta Winery
26985 Loma Prieta Way
Los Gatos, CA 95033
Phone: 408-353-2950

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