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The Wine Column

Pinot Envy

By Stett Holbrook

NEXT WEEKEND is Pinot Paradise, two days of pinot pleasure hosted by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association. The event is a showcase for local pinot noir, and this year it will offer an opportunity to explore the regional variations of the sprawling Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.

For the first time, the dozen wineries participating in the event will be organized by six subregions. The Santa Cruz Mountains fall into the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, a federally recognized designation that covers a huge area from Woodside to Watsonville. The area also includes the tiny Ben Lomond Mountain appellation. But now organizers with the winegrowers association have offered up five additional subregions in an effort to identify and celebrate the geologic, climatic and other variations of Santa Cruz Mountains pinot noir.

The subregions are "Skyline," the northern end of the appellation in the Woodside area along Highway 35; "Saratoga/Los Gatos," the hilltops above Saratoga and the Lexington Reservoir; "Summit Road," south of Highway 17 above Soquel; "Santa Cruz Coastal Foothills," the Highway 17 corridor below the summit area and moving toward the coast; and "Corralitos/Pleasant Valley," the southern end of the region above Watsonville.

For the past few years, local winemakers, wine writers and wine industry folks have been gathering a few weeks before Pinot Paradise at Burrell School Vineyards for a blind tasting of several vintages of local pinot noir. The tasting offers an early look at what's in store for the event and an assessment of how the region's signature varietal is doing. This year, the group tasted wines broken down by the six subregions. I missed the pre-tasting this year but sampled some of the group's top picks from 2006 and 2007. The wineries and respective subregions were Heart O' the Mountain (Santa Cruz Coastal Foothills), Thomas Fogarty Winery (Skyline), Silver Mountain Vineyards (Summit Road), Beauregard (Ben Lomond Mountain), Sarah's Vineyard (Corralitos/Pleasant Valley), Mount Eden Vineyards (Saratoga/Los Gatos) and Beauregard Vineyards (Ben Lomond Mountain).

Although I tasted some truly fantastic wines, especially Sarah's Vineyard 2007 and Silver Mountain's 2006 offerings, I confess I need to taste more wine from each category before I buy into the subgroup designation, which is just what Pinot Paradise allows you to do.

For me, there's as much that unites the wines I tried as divides them. All express an intensity of flavor and masculinity that I don't taste in pinot noirs from, say, Sonoma County's Russian River Valley or Napa County's Carneros region. That said, many of the wines do display clear differences, but I'm not ready to say it's terroir (the taste of place) or winemaker style. Or both. I need to drink more to find out.

I'll be twittering from Pinot Paradise live at and let you know what I discover. On a sad note, Muccigrosso Vineyards winemaker Phillip Kauffman died unexpectedly in his sleep March 12. He was 34. Kauffman was a big fan of Pinot Paradise and a devotee of pinot noir. For eight years, Kauffman was the winemaker for Muccigrosso Vineyards, where he was partners with Michael and Lynne Muccigrosso. Under the Muccigrosso label, Kauffman created award-winning pinot noir, zinfandel and a zinfandel-syrah blend, called Table Two.

He got his start at David Bruce Winery while in his senior year at UC–Santa Cruz. He worked as both cellar master and assistant winemaker at David Bruce Winery. An avid surfer, he attended UC–Santa Barbara from 1993 to 1995, completing his undergraduate studies at UC–Santa Cruz in 1997.

A celebration of his life was held March 22 at Byington Vineyards and Winery. Donations in his name may be made to the Kuumbwa Jazz Society of Santa Cruz (; the Gail E. King Memorial Scholarship fund at Goshen College, Goshen, IN, 46526, or the National Democratic Party.

PINOT PARADISE takes place March 28–29. On March 28, 'Pathway to Pinot Paradise' offers a self-guided wine tour, barrel tastings and some library wines at participating Santa Cruz Mountains pinot noir–producing wineries. Cost is $25. March 29 is the main event. The 'grand cruz tasting' at Campbell's Villa Ragusa is 2–5pm and features more than 30 wineries and food from a dozen local restaurants. Cost is $55 in advance and $65 at the door. For info, go to

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