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Santa Cruz Mountains producers to know
Santa Cruz Mountains at a glance
Location The appellation encompasses approximately 194,250ha of the California coast south of San Francisco, running from Woodside in the north to Watsonville in the south and including only land above the fog line.
Planted area 526ha
Most-planted varieties About 25% each Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Soils Rocky, well-drained and geologically complex
Bitten by the Burgundy bug, software entrepreneur Kevin Harvey planted vines in his Woodside backyard in 1995. Before long he had founded Rhys Vineyards, which soon emerged as the source of some of California’s most interesting Pinot Noirs. Harvey and Rhys winemaker Jeff Brinkman spare no expense to farm five extreme hillside sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains, planted at high density with an exciting variety of vine material. The wines are some of California’s most Burgundian in style and character.
Established in the 1970s by Dr Thomas Fogarty, a heart surgeon and medical inventor, this winery farms eight estate vineyards – in total some 10.5ha – in the cool northern Skyline sub-region of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Recent vintages from winemaker Nathan Kandler emphasise nuances of geology and climate: it’s the more restrained ripeness and more moderate oak influence that set these bottlings apart from the wines of yesteryear.
Dynamic duo Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts work with three sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains for their Sonoma County-based Arnot-Roberts label, the source of some of California’s most interesting small-lot wines. Attaining ripeness at moderate sugars and retaining vibrant acidity are priorities. Their Peter Martin Ray Vineyard Pinot Noir hails from a site that’s still owned and farmed by the legendary Martin Ray’s son: an interesting connection between the Santa Cruz Mountains’ past and future.
Born when Mount Eden Vineyards acquired a neighbouring property in 2007. Today, winemaker and proprietor Jeffrey Patterson supplements Domaine Eden’s own Cabernet Sauvignon plantings with grapes purchased from the region’s best growers, and sometimes with wine that doesn’t meet the exacting standards to go into Mount Eden. The wines share the classical aesthetic of Mount Eden Vineyards, with refreshing acidity, moderate alcohol and fine structuring tannins, but their window of drinkability begins a little earlier.
Ceritas is another Sonoma-based winery with a passion for Santa Cruz Mountains fruit. Winemaker John Raytek (who formerly worked at Arnot-Roberts) and his partner Phoebe Bass produce a range of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from cool-climate sites, three of them being located here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, emphasising elegant tannins and pure fruit in an almost minimalist style.
Kutch has built a reputation as a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir specialist, but his greatest wine might just be his new Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. A blend of grapes from two sites, the Zayante and Trout Gulch vineyards, Kutch’s debut vintage bears a strong stylistic kinship with contemporary white Burgundy: taut, mineral and framed by a lick of reduction. A bottling to watch.
This first appeared in the July 2017 issue of Decanter magazine. To see the full feature, subscribe to Decanter here.
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