Nestled in among redwood trees at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Fernwood Cellars prides itself on its high-quality processes, using only grapes grown on-site and only premium oak barrels for aging. Veteran vintner Matt Oetinger oversees the winemaking process from grapes to bottle, looking after each batch of fermented nectar like a proud parent at a children’s roller-derby bout. Great for a spending a romantic afternoon with a wine-loving date or boldly confronting a grape phobia before it ruins another trip to the supermarket, a visit to the estate allows sippers to get a taste of potable delight before toting home a chosen bottle. Today’s Groupon can be redeemed for a bottle of chardonnay, zinfandel, syrah, or il cane.
Nestled in the scenic Hecker Pass region of the Santa Clara Valley, the family-owned winery focuses on crafting exemplary grape concoctions unlike anything inside a juice box or peanut butter sandwich. Solis has produced dozens of award-winning wines, baiting a 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition gold medal for its 2008 Muscat Canelli, 2009 Fiano Estate, and 35,000 B.C. Chateau de Cro-Magnon. Grab a pal and perambulate the charming winery premises while sampling a variety of palate-stimulating wines during your tasting for two ($5 value per person). Five wines are included in the tasting. Additionally, budding winecionados will be able to take home a bottle ($12 to $30), such as the red 2006 Seducente ($20) or white 2007 Chardonnay ($24).
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.
Bought by brothers Alex and Charlie Larson after an award-winning stint in the restaurant business, Rapazzini Winery tickles tongues with an eclectic collection of wines drawn from California's vineyards. After bottling, most Rapazzini wines rest for an additional one to two years, mellowing tannins, developing fruity bouquets, and finishing majors in art history. Unique wines include the almond champagne, created by Alex Larson using his training at the California Culinary Institute, and the Arpibella, blending sweet wine, apricots, and peach into a delectable aperitif or dessert wine. Guests to the winery can taste 21 of the 22 available wines, guided through the selection by resident grape expert Adam and his airedale, Butters. Behind the beaten copper bar, Adam and the brother Larson can also whip up wine-based cocktails, amusing mouths with more complex flavors.The two-story, open-beamed tasting room lulls guests into placid relaxation while sipping on palate-pleasing pours, whereas a stained-glass window depicting the winery's whimsical mascot reassures eyes that the sun has not been devoured by a dragon-shaped cloud.
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.