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Cask Force: A look inside the workings of Beauregard Vineyards. That's Ryan keeping things rolling.

All Due Respect

After more than a century of toiling in obscurity, Santa Cruz vineyards finally get the recognition they deserve

By Christa Fraser

Randall Grahm has a "pathological fear of running out of quality wines to drink." That's why he started Bonny Doon Vineyards in the first place. But these days, he's got nothing to worry about, as long as he sticks close to Santa Cruz. There's been winemaking here since the first missionaries in this area planted Old World mission vines to make sacramental wine. And one thing's for sure: local vintners haven't had it easy. But after more than 100 years of slow growth and setbacks, the winegrowers and winemakers of Santa Cruz County are making a big impression with a bounty of exceptional wines. In fact, the wine industry here is exploding, with a half-dozen or so new wineries opening up in the last year alone. But much of the rest of the wine-sniffing world has yet to catch on to the uniqueness of Santa Cruz wines. Just last year, Daniel Scoggs wrote in Wine Spectator, North America's premier magazine for the wine world: "Who knew about these views, 2,000 feet up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the expanse of Silicon Valley? Why, you'll wonder, haven't I been here before?"

While the media may have not have noticed the growth of boutique and family wineries here until recently, many pioneering families knew that this was prime grape-growing country. By the late 1800s, this steep, cool, sandy region was supporting a thriving winemaking industry with as many as 5,000 acres of vines planted and roughly 10 times the production of today, according to John Hibble, the director of the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association. Several Santa Cruz wines even received national and international awards. But events in California and abroad consistently threatened the growers and vintners in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"Recession at the end of the 1800s, the wine market collapse, a big depression worldwide, the 1906 earthquake, World War I, Phylloxerra, Prohibition, World War II," says Valerie Ahlgren of Ahlgren Vineyards, listing off the rather impressive challenges faced by this area's winemaking pioneers.

In light of all that, perhaps it's no surprise that the industry here has collapsed repeatedly. Much of the former vineyard land will probably never be recovered--by now, it's either been developed or else it's too expensive for small winemakers to purchase. Still, a century later, the industry is returning to its former glory.

"One thing the Santa Cruz Mountains has is that it because it is so steep, it has changed less than other regions," says Paul Draper, the legendary winemaker from Ridge Vineyards.

In other words, what land does remain is as ideal for grapes today as it was 100 years ago. And the current generation of winemakers--descendants of established Santa Cruz Mountain winemakers like the Beauregards and the Bargettos, seasoned vintners like the Ahlgrens and iconoclasts like Randall Grahm--exhibits the same resilient spirit and resourcefulness as the first generation of winemakers. While Santa Cruz may never be Napa (which Ahlgren describes as the "Wall Street of wine"), it is nonetheless continually creating winemaking niches and names that belong wholly to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Scions: Beauregards And Bargettos

One of the founding brothers of the Bargetto family wineries actually claimed that the repeal of Prohibition was the worst thing that ever happened to the wine business--nervy bootleggers, after all, were making a mint off, shall we say, "niche marketing" during the supposedly dry years. This was at the same time that Dwight Amos Beauregard was sheriff of Santa Cruz County.

Interestingly, these two families, once on different sides of the law, both threw themselves back into the reborn legitimate wine industry as soon as Prohibition was repealed, and decades later the descendents of Beauregard and the Bargetto brothers--Ryan Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards in Bonny Doon and twins Peter and Paul Bargetto of Soquel Vineyards in Soquel--are now growing and producing some of the best wines in Santa Cruz as fourth generation viticulturists.

Ryan is as much a product of Santa Cruz as his wines: he lives in a house on West Cliff right by the Cowell's Beach stairs, he surfs and he knows the history of this area backward and forward. At the ripe age of 29, he's gaining a reputation as a hard worker--not only is he growing a huge wine crop in Bonny Doon, but, along with his father, Jim, Ryan has also been instrumental in helping other winegrowers develop their land and replant grapes.

Ryan's great-grandfather bought the original land in the '40s, when vineyards began to be popular again. The wine industry of America was still fairly haphazard at that time, however. France and Italy had marked regions and specific criteria for designating wines varietals, but American viticulture was a virtual free-for-all.

Then in 1981, the Santa Cruz Mountain Viticultural Area became one of the first federally recognized growing regions in the U.S. According to Michael Holland's 1983 book Late Harvest, most of today's Santa Cruz-area vineyards have been planted within the last 40 years, and the Beauregards developed many of those acres, along with men like Paul Masson, Martin Ray and Hallcrest Vineyards' Chaffee Hall.

Though he has used some grapes from Napa and Sonoma in the past, Ryan has decided to distinguish his wines as a truly Santa Cruz product,

"I want to use only Santa Cruz Mountain fruit," he says. "People assume that Santa Cruz Mountain wines are grown in Santa Cruz, but that's not true."

For the next few bottling seasons, at least, Ryan will continue the traditions he witnessed as a child, when local Italian families came to his grandfather's property and crushed local fruit together. "We always have had about 5,000 gallons underneath the kitchen," Jim explains in the book Wines and Winemakers of the Santa Cruz Mountains, An Oral History.

Striking Out

The Bargetto twins, along with their partner Jon Morgan, also a fourth generation vintner, are carrying on their family tradition in a different way. While the rest of the family works just down the road at the Bargetto Winery, the three owners of Soquel Vineyards have struck out on their own and are making wines independent of the family name--though the speakeasy door on the front of their tasting room does serve as a subtle reminder of the family past.

Soquel Vineyards focuses on buying low-yield batches of quality grapes from growers and then painstakingly crushing their grapes in even smaller batches. They even go so far as to add an only-in-Santa Cruz twist to an ancient French crushing technique, donning wetsuits and sloshing around in their tanks to create a delicate crush for their pinot noir.

Peter feels that part of the reason for the high quality of wines from this area is the close relationship between vintners like himself and growers.

"During the growing season, we are in daily contact with them," he says.

The Bargettos realize that preserving the integrity of the grape is important, despite the fact that regions like the Central Valley grow for quantity.

"There is so much potential for growth here because people know the quality of the grapes." says Peter. "That's what is so great about this industry--you can make something so unique. It's about making art."

The Santa Cruz Mountains feel like "a find" for wine lovers, Peter says.

"The wineries are notoriously hard to get to, located up steep mountain roads and far apart,' he says. "Much of the industry's recent growth can be attributed to word of mouth."

The Rhone Ranger

The inside of the Bonny Doon offices on the West Side of Santa Cruz feels more like a hip graphic design studio than the headquarters for the biggest winemaker in the county. Funky artwork adorns every cubicle, and employees who look like they just graduated from UCSC or UC Davis chat on headsets.

Currently, the office is working hard on a press kit that will go out to sommeliers for the release of the latest Le Cigare Volant. The kit will include a ray gun, a vial that should smell like tainted cork, a "cooty catcher," a mood ring, a vial of patchouli oil (no one knows why), a comic strip and a bottle of Le Cigare Volant. The kit is intended to warm wine critics up to the idea of the screwcap, a recent innovation in the wine industry that will enable wines to age without being ruined by a bad cork. Screwy as the kit seems, it is just one of the many brilliant marketing strategies that the vineyard has used to call attention to its wines. While some locals dismiss Grahm's wines because he is currently not using any fruit from the Santa Cruz Mountains, his success is inarguable. He produces around 300,000 cases of wine a year, just in America--about double his nearest competition, Ridge Vineyards.

Grahm says he never expected to have so much success with such an offbeat strategy, and attributes it to good karma. But it certainly must also be because Randall's personality is stamped all over the business.

"He is like J.R.R. Tolkien in terms of his imagination," says Jim Beauregard.

John Locke, Bonny Doon Vineyard's creative director, adds, "Randall, more than anything, likes to play."

But he doesn't play with "the usual suspects," as Locke calls the chardonnay, cabernet and pinot grapes that are typically used by local wineries. He uses obscure grapes like grenache, viognier, and old vine mourvedre, to name a few.

"There is no reason for us to make a chard or cab. There's not nearly enough reisling or pigato in this world, and someone has to do something about it," says Locke.

While Bonny Doon isn't a Santa Cruz winemaker in the traditional sense of using locally grown grapes, Locke certainly does seem to have imbued his wines with quite a bit of Santa Cruz imagination and free spirit. When Grahm says, "We're in our own universe here," he could well be talking about many people in Santa Cruz. And his immediately recognizable labels and rather affordable wines are putting Santa Cruz on dinner tables all over the country, including the White House.

The Next Generation

Beauregard, Soquel and Bonny Doon are just a small sample of the dozens of wineries in this area--at last count, there were over 50. Many are in Santa Cruz County, but the district extends to San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, as well.

Sadly, some of the older wineries, which have spent the last few decades returning the Santa Cruz Mountains to their original promise, are passing the torch to the next generation. While Ridge Vineyards still maintains some of its original founders, other legendary winemakers like Roudon Smith and Obester have been sold. Still others, like Felton Empire and Picchetti, have been absorbed into new wineries. The Ahlgrens are also considering selling in the spring.

"We are coming to the end of a generation of winemakers," says Val Ahlgren.

But at the same time, it is the beginning of a new chapter for the next generation of winemakers in Santa Cruz County. Though many of the wineries are quite small, like Storrs and Pelican Ranch, the quality of the wines has never been better. And the product is sure to remain unique.

"Because [this area] is isolated, the individuals here tend to be very independent and keep their own counsel," says Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards.

Hopefully, the reputation for independence and ingenuity that has been built by the older wineries will make it easier for new wineries to succeed. "We're starting to get more tourism just for the wineries," says Shannon Flynn, operations director for the SCMWA.

Scoggs, the Wine Spectator writer, gave this bit of advice to anyone who has yet to explore the wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains: "Expect at least a moment of self-recrimination. Don't beat yourself up. Even die-hard California wine lovers who wouldn't think twice about repeat visits to Napa or Sonoma often shortchange this area. That's their loss, because this is one of California's most spectacular wine regions."

And to think, it only took 100 years for the rest of the world to catch up to what Santa Cruzans have known all along.

Many of Santa Cruz's wineries are not open to the public, or are just open for special occasions. The Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association hosts a special Passport program, which is a great opportunity to visit the member wineries and taste the wines. Some of the vintners pour wines, or offer barrel tastings that are only available to Passport visitors. It is also a chance to stock your cellar with some of the best wines in California.

The Passport program will take place on Nov. 15 at many participating wineries. Contact SCMWA at 831.479. 9463 or visit them at www.scmwa.com.

Shadowbrook restaurant in Capitola will also do a Winemaker's Wednesdays with the winemaker in attendance. The restaurant will showcase a different Santa Cruz Mountain wine every week and will offer free hors d'oeuvres and a discount on featured wines. They can be reached at www.shadowbrook-capitola.com or by calling 831.475.1511.

Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Absolute Horsepower: The Beauregards go seriously old-school at harvest time.

Harvest Time Warp

A fourth-generation Santa Cruz winegrower uses old-school horsepower to set local winemaking back 100 years

By Christina Waters

The place is a golden bluff overlooking Wilder Ranch and the azure expanse of the Pacific. The year might be 1880. Or 1680. Two enormous draft horses pull a low-slung rig through the vineyards at first light of what will be the last blistering day of summer. The wide muscular flanks of the statuesque animals brush the leaves as they pass, stopping every 15 feet so that workers can toss clusters of fruit into the cart.

No mechanical sounds disturb the call of hawks and the lowing of cattle in an adjoining field. Despite furtive visits from coyote, crow and deer, the young vines have prevailed and now boast abundant blue-black fruit, grapes to be transformed into Beauregard Vineyards' Pinot Noir, Wilder Creek Vineyard. Only the vintage date may come as a surprise. The year is 2003.

"No one harvests this way anymore," grins 28-year-old Ryan Beauregard, fourth-generation winemaker from a pioneer Bonny Doon family. Indeed not. In fact, most winemakers would be firing up a tractor or some other mechanized way of moving those half-ton loads of grapes out of the vineyards and onto trucks. But Beauregard confesses to being a romantic history buff. And besides, his buddy Jesse Katz had a line on some powerful draft horses who just happened to board in stables at the foot of the hill on historic Wilder Ranch.

Enter Randy Clayton, larger-than-life force of nature with the hands of a cowboy and the soul of an actor. Clayton is the owner and trainer of the team of supersized English shire draft horses--Greta and Rick--now pulling the harvesting bin through the 4-year-old vineyard. The heat of the day reflected in the ocean will add to the regional character of the finished product, the terroir of this particular place and time.

While it's true the equine giants move at a languid pace, they're also highly fuel-efficient. Just a few days before, Clayton booms, they harvested the hay planted for their winter feed.

"How many machines can produce their own fuel?" he wants to know. He's got more than one point. "We can do almost everything here with the horses--we can disk, plow, harvest--and 70 percent of it is just as effective as with machines." The horses look completely at home in this vineyard, on this hilltop 450 feet above sea level, working alongside the team of vine workers managed by vineyard veteran Pedro Nolasco.

"Using horses is not a conventional practice, nor is it a good economic way to harvest grapes," Ryan explains. "It is just that Randy and I are both history fans, and this is the way that vineyards were worked hundreds of years before tractors were even thought of." Ryan feeds a few bunches of ultraripe pinot noir to the horses. "I am excited to relive the old ways that my great grandfather farmed grapes, too."

Ryan also likes the idea of "zero emissions farming," a style of viticulture that Randy Clayton describes as "low-impact."

Resurrecting archaic traditions might come under the heading of "Only in Santa Cruz," or it may solve many problems of retaining pristine eco-conditions. One of the watersheds further north in Orinda has contracted with Clayton to use a second team of his draft horses for customized, environmentally correct logging. Granted, these are experimental uses for natural horsepower. But in terms of value-added marketing appeal, their presence is priceless.

Does young Beauregard realize just how intriguing this old-fashioned harvesting technique could be in promotions? Young Beauregard nods. He's wanted to get involved in this business since childhood. After several years of tinkering with home winemaking--it doesn't hurt to have a winemaker father like Jim, who was once a partner in Felton Empire Vineyards--Ryan started working at Hallcrest Winery in 2000. After two years, he got involved with the Mirassou winemaking facility, all the while working at his dad's store, Shoppers Corner, where he'd done a little of everything since the fifth grade. Beauregard supplemented his hands-on training with coursework through UC Davis Extension, but once he began making wine at Mirassou, he says he "hooked up with a great broker, Monterey Bay Wine Company," and dove into premium production.

The results of this on-the-job training have already come to the attention of Wine Spectator, whose picky editorial board included Beauregard Vineyards 2001 Pinot Noir in its "Best California Pinots to Drink Now"--a ranking of 295 wines. "That was my debut wine," Ryan told me. "I made one barrel." Not bad, given the thousands of California wineries vying for critical attention.

The plan is for the Beauregard label to produce only wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation--"95 percent of production is from vineyards that we farm as well," he says.

When you farm your own vineyards, you can control every inch of production, from the vertical shoot positioning trellises favored by Beauregard to hand-harvesting. And while most of that farming is done with the help of tractors and trucks, today's exercise in literal horsepower re-creates the methods of Beauregard's grandfather Amos, who purchased the first piece of the estate land in 1946. The land continued to produce grapes, grown by Bud Beauregard after Amos' death in the 1970s. Bud spent his serious time growing the family business, Shoppers Corner, on a legendary corner of Soquel Avenue where a grocery had stood since the 1930s, and still does.

Then his son Jim got into the act, establishing the Ben Lomond mountain growing appellation and expanding the family estate to 62 acres--which includes Bald Mountain and the extraordinary Meyley vines, producers of renowned chardonnay grapes.

After years of producing grapes that were turned into award-winning wines by other labels and winemakers, the Beauregard family decided to create liquid gold out of their own vines. Ryan led that charge. The flavor of the sun-warmed grapes is stunning. They are sweet, tart and haunting, all at once.

As the "stone boat" pulled by the horses begins to fill up with fruit, ladybugs and yellow jackets discover the juices oozing through skins. It will be 90 degrees in less than an hour.

Part historical re-enactment, part eco-experiment in sustainable vineyard techniques, the morning of picking is Ryan's homage to his great-grandfather's era. The scene might be a snapshot from the Old West, the true West, filled with sun-weathered men who understood large animals. As we walk and sample, Beauregard backs up what his taste buds are telling him with an on-site sugar measurement. A small chemical thermometer--a reflexometer--measures the sugar content squeezed out of a juicy grape. The instrument says the grapes are at 26 brix right now at 8:30 in the morning. Pretty ripe. No time to waste. Randy and the horses work their way up one row and back down the other. The cutting continues. The ocean sparkles far below.

The Wine List

Where to look for local wines around town

By Jessica Neuman Beck

Where would we be without wine? Not at any of the happenin' Santa Cruz dinner spots. Local vintners feature prominently on the menus of local restaurants, and no wonder - with so many fabulous wines to choose from, why not go local?

Santa Cruz Mountain wines are merrily poured at the following restaurants:

North Coast
New Davenport Cash Store: Hwy 1, Davenport; 831.462.4122

San Lorenzo Valley
Boulder Creek Country Club: 16901 Big Basin Hwy, Boulder Creek; 831.338.2111
Ciao Bella: 9217 Hwy 9, Ben Lomond; 831.336.9221
Joe's Bar: 13118 Hwy 9, Boulder Creek; 831.338.9417
Mama Mia's: 6231 Graham Hill Rd., Felton; 831.334.4414
Scopazzi's: 13300 Big Basin Hwy, Boulder Creek; 831.338.6441
Silvestri's Restaurant: 13164 Hwy 9, Boulder Creek; 831.338.0169
Trout Farm Inn: 7701 E. Zayante Rd., Felton; 831.335.4317

Scotts Valley
Charlie O's: 230 Mount Herman Rd..; 831.438.8686
Chez Elise: 18-A Victor Square; 831.438.5310
Hilton Scotts Valley/Cafe Max: 601 La Madrone Dr.; 831.440.1000

Santa Cruz
Azur: 1001 Center St. #1; 831.427.3554
Black's Beach Cafe: 15th & E. Cliff Dr.; 831.475.2233
Carniglia's: 49A Municipal Wharf; 831.458.3600
Casablanca: 101 Main St.; 831.426.9063
Clouds Downtown: 110 Church St.; 831.429.2000
Convivio: 655 Capitola Rd.; 831.475.9600
The Crepe Place: 1134 Soquel Ave.; 831.429.6994
Gabriella Café: 910 Cedar St.; 831.457.1677
Hollins House: 20 Clubhouse Rd.; 831.459.9177
Kuumbwa Jazz Center: 320 Cedar St.; 831.427.2227
O'mei: 2316 Mission St.; 831.425.8458
Oswald's: 1547 Pacific Ave.; 831.423.7427
Popa's: 2332 Mission St.; 831.425.5420
Ristorante Avanti: 1711 Mission St.; 831.427.0135
Santa Cruz Brewing Co.: 516 Front St.; 831.429.8838

Michael's on Main: 2591 Main St.; 831.479.9777
Theo's: 3101 N. Main St.; 831.462.3657

Cafe Lido: 231 Esplanade; 831.462.1350
Ostrich Grill: 820 Bay Ave.; 831.477.9181
Shadowbrook: 1750 Wharf Rd.; 831.475.1511
Maloney's Harbor Inn: Hwy 1, Moss Landing; 831.724.9371
Rio Grill: 101 Crossroads Boulevard, Carmel 831.625.5436

Equinox Wines can be found at:

San Lorenzo Valley
Boulder Creek Country Club: 16901 Big Basin Hwy, Boulder Creek; 831.338.2111
Mama Mia's: 6231 Graham Hill Rd., Felton; 831.334.4414
Scopazzi's: 13300 Big Basin Hwy, Boulder Creek; 831.338.6441

Santa Cruz
Casablanca: 101 Main St.; 831.426.9063
Clouds Downtown: 110 Church St.; 831.429.2000
Gabriella Café: 910 Cedar St.; 831.457.1677
Azur: 1001 Center St. #1; 831.427.3554

Bittersweet Bistro: 787 Rio Del Mar Blvd.; 831.662.9799
Cafe Sparrow: 8042 Soquel Dr.; 831.688.6238
Severino's at Seacliff Inn: 7500 Old Dominion Court,; 831.688.8987
Southern Exposure: 9051 Soquel Dr.; 831.688.5566

Ostrich Grill: 820 Bay Ave.; 831.477.9181
Shadowbrook: 1750 Wharf Rd.; 831.475.1511
Theo's: 3101 N. Main Street, Soquel 831.462.3657

Art & Wine Gardens in Boulder Creek feature the following local vintners:

Glenwood Oaks Winery
Pelican Ranch Winery
Roudon-Smith Winery
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard
Silver Mountain Vineyards
Botavina Winery

Art & Wine Gardens are a half-block off Hwy. 9 on Forest Street.

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From the October 15-22, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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