Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lil local wine history lesson on this fine bud break day........

 A rainy day on the Summit at the GHETTO VINEYARD ........
I thought the view from my living room window in the AVA would be a lovely peek into the world in which I write...
Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Appellation (AVA) was federally approved in 1981 and was one of the first AVAs to be defined by geophysical, altitudinal and climatic factors. The east and west boundaries are defined by elevation, including mountainous land above 400 feet on the western side, and from 400 to 800 feet on the eastern side. The squiggly outline of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA reflects the fog line that surrounds the mountains. The Santa Cruz Mountains, part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, are a mountain range in central California, United States. They form a ridge along the San Francisco Peninsula, south of San Francisco, separating the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco Bay and the Santa Clara Valley, and continuing south, bordering Monterey Bay and ending at the Salinas Valley. The range passes through San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties, with San Francisco at the northern end and Salinas as the southern end.
The northernmost portion of the Santa Cruz Mountains is known as Montara Mountain, south of Half Moon Bay Road (California State Route 92) the middle portion is known as the Sierra Morena, which includes a summit called Sierra Morena, and extends south to a gap at Lexington Reservoir, south of the gap the mountain range is known as the Sierra Azul.

The highest point in the range is Loma Prieta Peak 1,154 m (3,786 ft), near which is the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Other major peaks include Mount Umunhum 1,063 m (3,486 ft), Mount Bielawski 985 m (3,231 ft), El Sombroso 914 m (2,999 ft), Eagle Rock 758 m (2,488 ft), Black Mountain 853 m (2,800 ft), and Sierra Morena 737 m (2,417 ft). The San Andreas Fault runs along or near the ridge line throughout the range. The east side of the mountains drops abruptly towards this fault line especially near Woodside and Saratoga.

For much of the length of the range on the San Francisco Peninsula, State Route 35 runs along its ridge, and is known as "Skyline Boulevard". The major routes across the mountains are (from north to south) SR 92 from Half Moon Bay to San Mateo, SR 84 from San Gregorio to Redwood City, SR 9 from Santa Cruz to Saratoga, SR 17 from Santa Cruz to Los Gatos, SR 152 from Watsonville to Gilroy, SR 129 from Watsonville to San Juan Bautista, and US Highway 101 from Salinas to Gilroy
The Santa Cruz Mountains have been a legally defined American Viticultural Area since 1981. Wine has been produced here since at least the 1840s. The Santa Cruz Mountain AVA has emerged as premier producer of top wines, recognized in the historic Judgement of Paris on May 26, 1976. There are over 120 wineries located in this area  some bonded some are not (moi).

Winegrowing in the Santa Cruz Mountains goes back to at least the 1860s when George Jarvis planted vines in the Vine Hill area of Santa Cruz County. By the late 1880s, the region had 38, most small wineries. There were 1,600 planted acres by 1905, with vineyards concentrated in the Felton, Bonny Doon, Vine Hill, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek areas on the western side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Phylloxera did not find its way easily into the Santa Cruz Mountains, and most of the vines were healthy until Prohibition. After Repeal, the Italians opened several small wineries,they planted these vines because there was no decent wine for the immigrants to drink.while they farmed orchard fruits, and one, Bargetto, is still in production and is Santa Cruz’s oldest.

On the eastern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Charles LeFranc pioneered commercial winegrowing. He planted his New Almaden Vineyards in 1858. Leland Stanford was a noted winegrower as well, with 350 acres near Mission San Jose and later 158 acres in the Menlo Park area of San Mateo County. Agoston Haraszthy planted vineyards between 1853 and 1856 at Crystal Springs Reservoir in San Mateo County. In 1878, Paul Masson came to San Jose from the Burgundy area of France. He developed a vineyard with cuttings from his friend, Burgundian Louis Latour, and started a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains adjacent Mount Eden. Martin Ray became a protege of Paul Masson(ledgend goes M ray was a big pain and bugged Paul til he relented and taught him the craft) and just after Repeal purchased the Paul Masson Champagne Company from Masson. In 1942, Ray sold the Paul Masson property and moved up the hill, planting the first vineyard at Mount Eden to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (Cabernet was added in the 1950s). He named his estate “Martin Ray,” and became the first boutique Pinot Noir winery and the first to produce a 100% Pinot Noir varietal wine in California making the Santa Cruz Mountains the birthplace of Pinot Noir in North America. Martin Ray’s years on Mount Eden are recorded in a book written by his widow, titled, Vineyards in the Sky. Ray eventually sold Mount Eden to a group of investors who launched the Mount Eden brand in 1972.

Another iconic figure in the Santa Cruz Mountains was David Bruce, M.D.. According to interviews conducted by Carole Hicke in 2001 (The David Bruce Winery: Experimentation, Dedication, and Success), Bruce was attending Stanford Medical School when he had his wine epiphany: a bottle of Richebourg that cost him $7.50. He planted his vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1961 and the David Bruce Winery became bonded
in 1964. For twenty-five years he practiced dermatology and made wine simultaneously. He was one of twelve California wineries to participate in the 1976 Judgment of Paris in which California wines outscored the French in blind tastings. Bruce was an innovator with many firsts attributed to him including a California Blanc de Noir, a white wine from Zinfandel grapes, late harvest wines, malolactic fermentation for white wines, and use of whole berry fermentation for red wines. He was also an early importer of French oak. Bruce was a proponent of punch downs by foot, extensive skin contact, and small French oak barrel fermentation. Bruce made his first commercial Pinot Noir in 1966. His early trials with Pinot Noir were marked by hits and misses, with Brettanomyces causing problems in a number of his early wines. Eventually, he overcome his shortcomings and produced Pinot Noirs that brought considerable acclaim.

Today, over 800 acres are planted to Pinot Noir in the appellation, most of which are 1 to 20-acre plantings on moderately steep hillsides on the western mountain ridges above Monterey Bay and the fog line. Beauregard Vineyards, the largest grower, manages about 60 acres of Pinot I gotta call Ryan to confirm he keeps planting!). Located at elevations of 400 to 2,600 feet, most vineyards are exposed to warm days, cool nights, coastal fog in the mornings, and soft marine breezes in the afternoons. There are about 90 wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, over half of which produce Pinot Noir. Because of the limited vineyard acreage, many Santa Cruz Mountains wineries source grapes from outside the appellation. However, it is the Santa Cruz Mountain fruit that is most prized and that produces the distinctive mountain-grown Pinot Noirs that have made the region famous.

The soils are varied throughout the appellation, and include decomposed rock, clay, loam and limestone. The overriding effect in most areas is a fresh, mineral character and an inviting acidity in the wines. Although the soil type is not uniform, the ocean fog influence is consistent and ties the appellation together. The Pinot Noir vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been grouped into six sub-regions through extensive tastings conducted by Appellation America and the efforts of Mary Lindsay, President of the Viticulture Association of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Prudy Foxx, a well-known viticulturist in the Santa Cruz Mountains who consults on and manages many vineyards in the region. The subregions include Skyline, Summit Road(my Hood), Coastal Foothills, Ben Lomond Mountain, Saratoga/Los Gatos, and Corralitos/Pleasant Valley. Each of the sub-regions have different climatic influences and the wines seem to have distinctive aromatic and flavor profiles. Listen to this year’s Pinot Paradise Technical Seminar which includes introductory remarks on the Santa Cruz Mountains by Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks Vineyards .

The quality of the Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation is unquestioned, but the challenges in growing wine in this harsh mountainous terrain are numerous. Historically, grapes ripened in only three out of every ten vintages and the wines were often described as rustic, chunky and tannic. Irrigation water is very limited or nonexistent, birds (all vineyards must be netted), deer (all vineyards must be fenced) and gophers are every-present, top soil is poor in many sites, skilled labor is hard to find, and disease pressure, particularly downy mildew, powdery mildew and botrytis is ever-present. Modern viticultural practices including control of mildew, proper trellising, and canopy management have been instituted in the last several years by very experienced vineyard consultants including Prudy Foxx and Greg Stokes. The result has been a noticeable trend toward dependable yields, although still small, and increasing quality of grapes, resulting in wines that consistently exemplify the unique terroir of the region. A small and determined cadre of winegrowers and winemakers have developed a modern style of Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains offering lovely aromatics, luscious red and dark fruit flavors, easily approachable tannins, lively acidity, all packaged in a medium-bodied style so juicy you can “nibble” at them.  So there you have it in a nice little package full of grapes love and the eccentric blend that makes us one of the most amazing diverse growing regions in the world.

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