The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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34 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2014/2015 { appellations } IN OCTOBER, THE SANTA CRUZ Mountains Winegrowers Association invited 18 professional wine judges (including myself) to evaluate, in a double-blind tasting, 120 of their wines in a "Grand Pro Tasting." According to Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticulture, who monitored one of the panels, "Our winemakers and growers are serious about getting outside input, for good or bad. We're proud of our wines, but we want to know how to get better." Judging from the results: Santa Cruz Mountains winegrowers may crave more respect, but they're not standing by idly, waiting for it. Their Pinot Noirs—grown as close as five miles from the ocean, at 400- to 2,600-foot elevations—are pinpoint, perfumed and generally higher in acid than comparable regions, from Willamette Valley to Sta. Rita Hills. Our panels did not "rate" the Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnays high in terms of varietal typicity, but we did make note of the pervasive minerality and acid- driven moderation, distinguishing these wines from those of other regions. As a group, the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignons exhibited hillside concentration, pungent earthiness and occasional weediness, yet virtually none of the overripe or excessively alcoholic characteristics associated with most California Cabernet Sauvignons. If anything, what we found were wines expressing strong "sense of place"—what we all know as terroir. In a talk preceding the judging, Foxx remarked: "Although I believe wine comes from vineyards, our feel for terroir might be different. It's com - plex here, but there's more to do with it than just climate and soil. Over the years I have found there are a lot of human ele- ments that factor in." In fact, heroic human elements have always played a role in Santa Cruz Mountains winegrowing, which dates back to 1853, when a Scotsman named John Burns planted vines in the present- day sub-AVA of Ben Lamond Mountain. A Frenchman named Paul Masson carved out his historic "château" on a Saratoga hillside in 1905; and in the 1940s Martin Ray pioneered barrel fermented Chardonnay on a neighboring mountain - top (where Mount Eden Vineyards still stands), decades before it was done in Sonoma or Napa. Santa Cruz Mountains' Ridge Vineyards (established in 1962) and David Bruce (1964) were among the leaders in the mod - ern day California wine industry. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard (1975) was one of the first producers crazy enough to spe - cialize in Pinot Noir; and tiny Woodside Vineyards (1961) still cultivates the state's oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines (La Questa Vineyard, planted in 1884!). While it may seem like this region has seen its "glory" days, today's Santa Cruz Mountains winegrowers can't help but believe that their wines are still second to none: something made abundantly clear at the Santa Cruz Mountains Grand Pro Tasting. A "Different Feel" for Terroir SCM Grand Pro judges at a reception at Windy Oaks Estate (left to right): Randy Caparoso; Ellen Landis, CS, CSW, wine journalist and co-owner, Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn); Jerry Starr, CS, wine journalist; Megan Metz, Executive Director, Santa Cruz Winegrowers Association; Keiki McKay, Marketing Consultant, Santa Cruz Winegrowers Association; Dave Donofrio, consulting winemaker/microbiologist, and his wife Barbara Donofrio; Brian and Maurgerite Nicholson, owners, Nicholson Vineyards; Christina Glynn, Communications Director, Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council; Steve Daniel (husband) and Lori Daniel, wine journalist; Jay Trenchard, Wine Buyer, Whole Foods, Los Gatos; Judy and Jim Schultze, owners, Windy Oaks Estate; Jill Robinson, wine journalist and her husband Doug Robinson. SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS WINES IMPRESS JUDGES AT A GRAND PRO TASTING story and photos by Randy Caparoso Mountain vines at Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards and Winery.

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