1933 was a banner year for Phillip and John Bargetto. Prohibition finally ended, and the brothers were able to reopen their winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Originally from Piedmont, Italy, Phillip and John embraced their passion for growing northern-Italian varietals, twining their hillsides with vines of dolcetto, nebbiolo, and refosco grapes.
Now run by the Bargetto family's third generation, the winery continues to cultivate these same grapes as well as two of Santa Cruz's more well-known varietals, chardonnay and pinot noir. Its most heralded wines hail from the 40 acres of trellised vines at Regan Estate Vineyards, which produces balanced yet concentrated fruit thanks to its sunny hilltop location, loamy soil, and cool breezes from thousands of naturally occurring ceiling fans.
Controlled aging in new-French- or American-oak barrels imbues some of the winery's reds with lingering finishes and toasty sweetness, and stainless-steel barrels ensure that the whites retain their vibrant acidity. Although most of the wines display a more approachable style, the La Vita line embraces the family's Old-World routes, featuring complexly tannic and age-worthy blends of Phillip and John's favored dolcetto, nebbiolo, and refosco grapes.
At 2,600 feet up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, one might expect to find sprawling views of the ocean and surrounding forest and not flourishing vineyards. Yet there are more than 70 wineries dappling the hills at various altitudes, privy to the dewy, cooling breezes of the sea and the richness of the rocky soil. The San Francisco Chronicle speaks to their scattered presence, deeming them "less a cohesive wine region than a patchwork of vineyards." Still, this characteristic isolation has resulted in "a perfect laboratory for winemaking not held hostage to fashion"—no one style dominates in this rustic setting.
Pinot noirs and chardonnays populate the western front, and the east yields cabernets, merlots, and zinfandels. The majority of the vineyards are small and family owned—a fact reflected in their meticulously bottled libations and the matching sweaters of their holiday photos—but though they exist in chosen hermitage, many of them welcome visitors to their scenic sites. They host weddings, festivals, and open events such as Pathway to Pinot Paradise, a self-guided tour of the pinot noir hotspots.
Aspiring sommeliers boost grape-based know-how during events at Vino Tabi that empower students to design palate-pleasing blends of multiple vintages. Instructors begin class by doling out tastings of classical bordeaux blends, pontificating on balance, flavor signatures, and correct pronunciation of the word “tannin." Next, fusions are broken down into individual elements, with samples of five traditional varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and malbec. Finally, apprentices take charge, using newly acquired knowledge to pour a personalized concoction heavy on desirable characteristics such as hints of berry, oak aromas, and the power to turn dogs invisible. Hands carry home bottles of the one-of-a-kind blend that have the sides festooned with a personally designed label for future display.
In 1975, Ken Burnap established Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard with one goal in mind: to produce one of the best pinot noirs in California. Four years later he hired his protégé, Jeff Emery, who now runs the vineyard and ensures that it continues to produce award-winning pinots along with complex cabernet sauvignons petite sirahs. The staff makes the rounds of seven vineyards, where it cultivates traditional Californian grapes as well as varieties that originated in Spain and Portugal for its Quinta Cruz label.
Odonata's winemaker, Denis Hoey, combines old-world methods with modern ideas and techniques to create subtly complex wines in the traditional French style. A focus on sustainably grown, organic local grapes helps to create the food-friendly wines, which can be enjoyed immediately but also age well.