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11.04.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Brian Harker
Estate of Bliss: Pamela and Steve Storrs think their newly planted estate vineyard in Corralitos will yield first-rate pinot grapes.

More in Storrs

Storrs Winery takes it to the next level with a Corralitos estate vineyard planted to pinot noir and chardonnay.

By Christina Waters


THIS YEAR'S San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition gave gold medals to the Storrs 2007 Santa Cruz Mountain and the 2007 Stu Miller Vineyard chardonnays. It was an exciting honor for local winemakers Steve and Pamela Storrs, but it was hardly an unprecedented one. Peer awards are typical for this poised winery that was started up on a proverbial shoestring 20 years ago by the husband-and-wife team of UC-Davis-trained oenologists.

Recently the couple made some more dreams come true by planting an estate vineyard at their home in the Pleasant Valley district of Corralitos. Sited atmospherically between the steep vineyards of Alfaro and the Lester Family Vineyards, the Storrs property has pinot noir and chardonnay grapes enjoying a sturdy second year of growth. Fifty-seven acres of former apple orchard is now home to the couple, their three children, chickens, dogs and a robust garden. And the area is being meticulously managed to preserve natural wildlife corridors, riparian margins and organic soil practices. Deeply committed to environmental sustainability, the Storrses took their time, did their research and made sure everything on their future vineyard lands would exist in harmony with natural ecosystems. The entire vineyard is organic, and the house, timers, drip-irrigation system, computers, you name it, are all solar-powered.

Consulting with environmental groups like Wild Farm Alliance, the Storrses labored to preserve not only the incredible beauty of the landscape but to enhance the soil fertility, habitats and wildlife corridors to attract and protect native species.

"My theory is to get the grapes to grow well," Steve tells me as we stroll the perimeter of the young vines, only a fraction of what will one day be a much larger vineyard. "I'm working to get balance in the soil."

To that end the couple has consulted with colleagues at Davis, pulled out (reluctantly) many of the ancient Newtown pippins, added "calcium, compost, gypsum." Along the curved rows of young vines, graded by laser tractor, stand high poles--perches for hawks and owls that control gopher and rodent populations. "We were trying to solve all the problems before they happen," Steve says.

The aroma of alyssum perfumes the early afternoon sun. Cover cropping began several years before the vines even went in. First the stakes, seven feet apart. Little to no irrigation. "We want to push the roots, so we try not to give them too much water. The planting took a dozen people three or four days," the winemakers recall. When the shoots are draped horizontally along the cordons, they will "lay the foundation for decades of wines," Steve says with obvious satisfaction.

I ask about alignment of the rows. "We went against the north/south thinking," they tell me. Looking to maximize heat in the morning and shade protection in the afternoon, Steve says he ended up turning the vines southwest/northeast. Since growing grapes is, after all, agriculture, all the variables involved in farming--wind currents, frost and crucial water retention--had to be considered.

Over lunch, we sample a few of the stellar house wines along with quiche and heirloom tomatoes from Pam's garden. "We're convinced this part of Corralitos can be a premiere pinot-growing area," Pam says. From the dining room table, the vines are visible all the way to the horizon. Now it's up to the grapes.

A Wine to Love
From its citrusy opening to its graceful echo of ginger and lime, the 2007 Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay is a lovely bottling of the region. Green apples haunt the center of this crisp, impeccably bodied wine. A slight float of jalapeņo underscores full varietal characteristics. Oak has been skillfully applied, creating a harmonic container for this extremely drinkable example of the Storrs style. $20.


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