Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Historic Picchetti Winery – Santa Cruz Mountains, California

Just a short drive from the Silicon Valley and down the hill from Ridge Vineyards is Picchetti Winery. Located on the historic Picchetti Ranch, with roots dating back to the late 1800’s, it is one of the oldest wineries in California and it is listed on both the National Registry of Historical Places and the Santa Clara County Heritage Resource Inventory. 

The Picchetti brothers, Secondo and Vincenzo, for whom the ranch was named, were among the earliest settlers to plant grapes on this ridge, which they named “Monte Bello” or “beautiful mountain.” Vincenzo and Secondo settled on Montebello ridge in 1877 and purchased an initial 160 acres for $1,500. The ranch then continued to expand to 500 acres by 1904.
The first house on the property was built around 1882, followed by a larger residence in 1886. The complex is composed of seven buildings built between 1880 and 1920, which retain their original design details. Both homes, plus the stone winery, were in the Picchetti family until 1976.
The first grapes planted were Zinfandel, Carignane and Petite Sirah. Initially, the brothers sold the grapes to local wineries, but in 1896 they decided to make their own wine, becoming one of the early wineries in California (California Bonded Winery number 148).

Vineyards were the life-blood of the economy of the nearby town of Cupertino, but unfortunately phylloxera (a small parasitic, sap-eating, greenish insect) destroyed many of the vines in the region in the 1890s.
Upon Vincenzo Picchetti’s death in 1904, his sons Antone and John ran the winery and ranch. Commercial wine production later ceased in 1963 due to a lack of profitability, and much of the land was sold to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Later the Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commission provided funding for the restoration of the winery building and the land produced wine from 1982 to 1998 as Sunrise Winery.
In 1998, Leslie Pantling took over the winery and production resumed under the “Leslie’s Estate” label, operating under a lease from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space. New production equipment was then brought in, as was a staff committed to the success of a small winery.
Picchetti Winery produces approximately 9000 cases of hand crafted award winning wine a year, drawing from a multitude of vineyards that include 3 acres of Zinfandel vines that are over 110 year old, Leslie’s Estate Chardonnay and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on Montebello Road as well as other commercial vineyards located throughout the state. From the lofty heights of Montebello Mountain the estate grapes make the journey down to the historic ranch where they are examined, pressed and crushed in the shadow of the original Picchetti homestead house.
With a number of public picnic tables adjacent to a beautiful year round creek and with easy access to the Picchetti Ranch hiking trails and a number of Peacocks’ roaming freely on the ranch, Picchetti Winery is a beautiful place to visit for the entire family.
For a modest fee of $5 you can choose five wines from a very a large portfolio of wines, many of which are not listed on their web site. I chose to taste the following:

My first wine was a unique blend, the 2009 Tahoe White. It is 68% Viognier from Paso Robles, and 32% Chardonnay from the Estate Montebello vineyard. It was fermented in stainless steel, and barrel-aged in neutral oak for 10-months, without malolactic fermentation. I’ve only had one Viognier / Chardonnay blend before (which I didn’t care for) and usually Viognier is blended with the other two Rhone whites – Marsanne and Roussanne. Usually the only time Chardonnay is blended with any other wine is when making sparkling wine, and then it is blended with other Bugundian varietals – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  This wine has some floral notes from the Viognier but the Chardonnay mutes it tremendously and all tropical characteristics that one would look for in either varietal are completely lost. The body, acidity and other aspects of its profile are okay, but in putting these two wines together the distinctive beauty of these wines is lost. They would probably be better off either finding some Marsanne and Roussanne to add to the Viognier or just leave out the Chardonnay altogether. This wine sells for $25 a bottle and I would give it a definite “pass.”

My first red wine was the 2009 Pinot Noir, from the Truchard Vineyard in Carneros. The Truchard Vineyard is located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley on a series of hills and valleys containing various soils of clay, shale, sandstone, volcanic rock and ash. This combination of geology, in conjunction with marine-moderated temperatures provides ideal wine growing conditions for Pinot Noir. The wine was barrel-aged in French Oak (30% new) for 11-months. Carneros Pinots have a distinctive profile that once you’ve had a few from this region, they are easy to identify – light, fruit forward, not very earthy and may contain some spicy notes. This wine has a big nose of raspberries, strawberries, cola with a touch of cinnamon and it has a fairly long spicy finish. An okay Pinot but I know of many others like it at half the price. This wine sells for $40 bottle.

My next red wine was the 2008 Tempranillo from El Dorado County, home of Picchetti’s South Lake Tahoe Tasting Room. The vineyard is located at an elevation of 2,800 feet, and is a close match to the climatic conditions found in Tempranillo’s Spanish homeland. While the person standing next to me at the tasting bar said that he liked this wine, I found it to be rather “blah.” It is earthy, has some old leather notes and is rather tannic but it seemed to be lacking a real fruit in its profile. This wine sells for $37 a bottle, and again I’d say, “pass.”

My third red wine was the 2007 Super Tuscan, which is 80% Sangiovese from the Cienega Valley in San Benito County, blended with 20% Merlot from our San Martin vineyard. I purchased a Super Tuscan in a while so I was really hoping that this would be one to take home. But, on the nose I got a lot of stinky barnyard on the followed by tart raspberries, tart cherries, cherry cola and anise followed by a hint of root beer on the back end. The stinky character is NOT on the palate but the other items on the nose are confirmed by the palate. This wine wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t impressive especially at $40 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2005 Vino Di Vicino – Santa Cruz Mountains. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is a blend of three vineyards. It is bold with a lot of muscle, dark currant fruit, with spicy cumin and some herbal notes on the back end. I liked this wine, but in no way does it merit the $56 price tag.
To visit or for more information:

Picchetti Winery
13100 Montebello Road
Cupertino, CA 95014
Phone: 1-408-741-1310

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