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Photograph by Robert Scheer

Inbibe Every Mountain: The wine namesake of Jim Beauregard will be among those featured in the Vintners' Festival.

A Real Vine Time

Restaurants and wineries join forces for the Santa Cruz Mountain Vintners' Festival

By Christina Waters

By now you may already have picked up your commemorative wine glass--that would be the one commemorating the 16th year of Santa Cruz Mountains Winemaker Vintners' Festival. But if not, you'll be happy to know that the second weekend of alfresco winery crawls (apologies) kicks off on Saturday, June 7, and the 34 featured wineries are located on the Santa Cruz side of the hill.

Cutting to the chase, this self-guided tour of our smallest, rarest and best wineries--many so infinitesimally tiny that they lack room in which to swing a cat (more apologies) and hence don't usually meet the public--allows you, the wine-lover, to meet winemakers, sample wines and purchase stuff for your cellar. Perhaps the best thing about this two-day tasting tour through the SC Mountains appellation is that it provides the eager novice with an excuse to ask dumb questions with impunity. That this is a fun event is obvious. And the best way to really enjoy it is to trade designated driver days with another person or couple. You drive on Saturday while they sample and swill. They drive on Sunday, etc. It works like this: Participants drive up to their first stop (download list from www.scmwa.com/vintners03 or call 831/479.WINE). They pay their $25 and receive their commemorative wine glass. They proceed to taste the weekend away from 11am to 5pm.

There are plenty of new wineries and venues on this year's tour. One of the most exciting things is the creativity of teaming up wineries with restaurant venues. For example, River Run Vintners and Thunder Mountain will be showing off their premium varietals at Theo's. Festivalgoers can stroll the amazing herb and flower garden behind Theo's while sampling zinfandel and grilled delicacies available for purchase. Nobody leaves hungry. A great new site is the charming new Pelican Ranch Winery tasting facility next to the fab Kelly's French Bakery, on the West Side at Ingalls & Swift Streets. Kelly's will provide baked items to accompany Pelican Ranch Rhone-style varietals, and you'll be able to check out this gorgeously expanding new part of town as well.

Michael's on Main in Soquel provides restaurant hosting and appetizers to accompany current releases and library wines from Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards (killer zinfandel!), as well as the emerging powerhouse vintages from Beauregard Vineyards, which makes one of the fine affordable chardonnays of the Santa Cruz region. You can combine a trip to the beach with sensational tasting possibilities by making sure you add Cafe Rio to your festival pit-stops. At this Rio del Mar landmark, you'll be able to sample some of the fabled wines of Ridge Vineyards as well as stunning new releases from Thomas Fogarty. Just up the road, Bittersweet Bistro hosts the maverick elixirs from Bonny Doon Vineyards, plus syrahs from Kathryn Kennedy and estate beauties from P&M Staiger. The list goes on and on. Scenic opportunities are also endless. The views alone from Burrell School Vineyards and at Silver Mountain Vineyards high overlooking the Monterey Bay are worth the modest festival fee. Silver Mountain will have live jazz, artwork and gourmet treats in abundance. At the top of another scenic ridge, Zayante Vineyards offers current releases, hors d'oeuvres and a lovely picnic setting in the vineyard. Every site is unique, action-packed and well worth your weekend time.

And since no one, not even the second coming of Hugh Johnson, can actually swallow all those tastes, please remember to use those spit buckets. By the end of the festival you should be able to hit a pint of Thunderbird at 20 paces.

And don't forget to send your contributions--to help Jennifer Jones defray costs of arson damage to her well-loved Jones & Bones culinary boutique--to: Jones & Bones Unlmtd. Rebuilding Fund, Acct. #41460081, Monterey Bay Bank, 601 Bay Ave., Capitola, 95010.

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From the June 4-11, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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