During the early winter (December – January) the Northern California wine country can be a bit photographically challenging. In February – March the wine country is blooming with mustard and other wild flowers. Before then the vines are all bear, the skies are cloudy, it is constantly raining and it can be a bit gloomy. Of course the wine still tastes great but taking beautiful pictures can be rather difficult. So, this year I decided to visit wineries near redwood forests and, as I did last year, check out a few urban wineries.
The day after Thanksgiving I visited two redwood forest groves and a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. On that trip, from the Easy Bay I drove south through San Jose, up highway 17 to Henry Cowell Redwoods and visited Hallcrest Vineyards. After hiking through the woods and tasting some wine I drove up the scenic highway 9 through the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Big Basin Redwoods. After a rigorous hike on the Sequoia Trail I drove back home along Skyline Drive, highway 35, until I got to highway 92 and took the San Mateo Bridge back to the East Bay. It was a great adventurous road trip around the south end of the Bay Area and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
It has been constantly raining since then but, two days after Christmas, we got a break with a nice sunny (but cold) day. So I decided to take another scenic drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains, hike on another trail at Big Basin Redwoods, visit Beauregard Vineyards and then take a scenic drive up highway 1 to enjoy the scenic cruise along the ocean to Half Moon Bay. I then headed east on highway 92 and back across the San Mateo Bridge to the East Bay.
Big Basin Redwoods – Redwood Loop Trail
On my last trip to Big Basin Redwoods I did a 2-hour hike on the Sequoia Trail, which is up hill most of the way and it ends at a water fall. This time I decided to take a leisurely stroll on the Redwood Loop Trail which is only ½ mile long but it hosts some of the biggest trees in the park.
I then took a crazy winding drive over the mountain to the town of Bonny Doon. I had visited this venue many years ago when it was the tasting room for Randal Graham’s Bonny Doon Vineyards which has since then been moved to become an urban winery in Santa Cruz. The Beauregard family bought the location in 2008 so now the historic building has become home to Beauregard Vineyards.
Owner and winemaker Ryan Beauregard is a fourth-generation winegrower in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the year 2000, at the age of 25, he founded his winery and with his father, James, he replanted and upgraded the estate vineyards. Today the winery farms 105 acres, the largest holding in the Santa Cruz Mountains and he produces about 5,000 cases.
The history of the winery goes back to 1949 when Amos Beauregard planted 13 acres of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines at Beauregard Ranch, and farmed the land for many years. His son, Emmit (Bud) Beauregard, founder of Shopper's Corner Grocery Story in Santa Cruz, farmed the family land while running the family store. Bud’s son James Beauregard planted hundreds of acres throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains and from 1976 to 1984 was a partner in the famed Felton Empire Winery. Today, he maintains all 105-vineyard acres (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon) with son Ryan.
Although I arrived at the tasting room by driving over the mountain, it is more commonly accessed from highway 1. As you drive along the coast of the Pacific Highway, you turn east on Pine Flat Road and take a steep climb up into the hills where you’ll find the tasting room surrounded by redwood trees, a lovely green lawn and a trickling stream.
While visiting I tasted the following wines:
My first sample of wine was the 2011 Chardonnay – Bald Mountain. Bald Mountain sits on a sandstone bench just slightly above the north coast fogbank that blankets the beach town of Davenport all summer long. The grapes come from the Bald Mountain Vineyard, located in Bonny Doon, which is one of only four vineyards in the Ben Lomond Mountain sub-appellation of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. The vineyard was originally planted in 1900 and it consists of a 40 acres (9 of which is dedicated to Pinot Noir) and it sits at an elevation of 920 to 1050 feet on a southwest facing slope. The terroir of the wine consists of Monterey Bay marine influences combined with the rare white sandy Zayante soil. Today the vineyard is owned and farmed by James Beauregard. On the nose this wine is somewhat tropical with notes of green apples, caramel, and butter. On the initial impact on the palate it is somewhat tart like granny smith apples with has crisp medium (+) acidity. It is medium bodied with additional notes of dried pineapple, hints of cream and butter and it is well balanced with a prolonged finish. Overall, this wine is a balance between the austere stainless steel/no-oak Chards and the over-the-top big oaky Chards. A very fine wine, it sells for $45 a bottle.
The second wine was the 2008 Chardonnay – Santa Cruz Mountains. This wine is radically different from the previous Chardonnay. This one is more golden in color with very intense notes of caramel, butterscotch, baked apple pie, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and butter on the nose. On the palate it is medium bodied and a creamier full-mouth feel and a very long finish. Whereas the previous wine had a bit more finesse, this one is more robust and has a greater impact on the senses. I’ve had similar wines that sold for $35 - $45, yet this one sells for only $27 a bottle so I brought two of them home.
The third sample was the 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir – Byington Vineyard. The grapes are sourced from Byington Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just down the road from David Bruce Vineyards. This wine is salmon-pink in color with subtle notes of rose petals, tart strawberries, cranberries and pomegranates on the nose. On the palate this wine is dry, light bodied and crisp with medium (+) acidity and a medium length finish. Personally, I find it difficult to get in the mood for a Rosé on a cold winter day so it may have been more appealing if I tasted it during the summer. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.
The fourth pour was the 2011 Pinot Noir – Byington Vineyard. Fortunately, I brought my own Riedel Pinot Noir stemware because they use a standard Bordeaux glass for all their wines. From the same vineyard as the previous wine, this wine displays aromas of strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. On the palate it is fruit forward and bright with maraschino cherries dominating the profile. It has medium (+) acidity and is light to medium (-) in body. Most Pinots that I have had from the Santa Cruz tend to be darker and earthier, so if I was tasting this wine blind I would have guessed that it was from Carneros. This wine sells for $40 a bottle.
The fifth wine was the 2009 Sangiovese – Brunello di Montalcino Clone. There are several varieties of Sangiovese clones such as Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Brunello and Sangiovese Piccolo. Each has certain characteristics in common and yet there are some distinct differences as well. The Brunello di Montalcino clone is another variety. This variety was created in 1870 by winemaker Ferruccio Biondi-Santi. In about 1870, he planted a vineyard of Sangiovese Brunello and he found that the berries were smaller in size and resistant to pest attacks and excellent in quality. So he replaced his vineyards with this single variety and named the wine Brunello di Montalcino in honor of the town of Montalcino. One of the unique qualities of this clone is its ability to age well, even up to a century or even longer. This wine is bright ruby red in color with intense aromas of plums, chocolate covered cherries blackberries, followed by herbal-earthy notes. On the palate it has medium acidity, medium tannins and explosive fruit with a medium length finish. This wine sells for $40 a bottle.
The final wine was the 2011 Late Harvest Riesling – Dunnigan Hills. The Dunnigan Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) consists of over 89,000 acres of vines located in Yolo County, California, about 30 minutes northwest of Sacramento. On the nose I picked up aromas of honey, white flowers, fresh oranges and canned pears. On the palate it is light in body, not heavy or syrupy as many dessert wines can be. In fact, although the wine is sweet it seems more suited to be served as an aperitif or even with Chinese or Thai food. This wine was not on the menu and it isn’t listed on their web site.
To visit or for more information:
10 Pine Flat Road
Bonny Doon, CA 95060
Hours: November-May: Wednesday-Monday 11am-5pm CLOSED TUESDAYS
June-October: Open Daily 11am-5pm
Phone: 1-831-425-7777 x1