View from Loma Prieta Winery. Click twice to magnify.

View from Loma Prieta Winery. Click twice to magnify.

For Christmas, the darling husband bought us Santa Cruz Mountains wine passports, an excellent gift. I wasn’t a wine drinker when I lived in Santa Cruz, so now that I’m in the Bay, I’ve wanted to try what that designation has to offer. Plus, any excuse for a weekend in Santa Cruz is a good one for me.

The passports are $45 each and entitle you to one tasting at each of the participating wineries over a 2-year period. The passports themselves have detailed information on the wineries, their locations, and their hours, and they are intended for use on the quarterly Passport Days, during which some wineries normally closed to the public open their doors. But they are also valid any day of the year during regular operating hours—or at least they are supposed to be. We encountered resistance to that at one winery, which only honors it on Passport Days. Everywhere else let us in no problem.

And the wine passport is a great deal. We plotted a course essentially following Soquel-San Jose Road through the mountains, planning to hit up however many wineries we could handle in an afternoon. There are roughly eight participating wineries in reasonable distances from the main road.

We started at Bargetto, right outside of Santa Cruz on North Main Street in Soquel.

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This winery has a gorgeous creekside location, with a large deck under the trees.

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Santa_Cruz_Wine_Tasting_02The tasting room is really nice as well, though under construction against the back wall when we were there.

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Our wine pourer, a retired police officer, was pleasant and laid back. I fell a bit in love with their 2011 Chardonnay, which I’ll review on its own once I get to drinking it.

We then headed down Soquel Avenue to reach Soquel-San Jose Road and begin our northward journey. Poetic Cellars off N. Rodeo Gulch Road was next, and it was probably my favorite of the bunch.

Click twice for magnification.

The wine pourer was very engaging and again laid back (this is Santa Cruz, after all). We happened upon a great group of couples from Santa Maria, where I spent my adolescence, there. They were taking a wine break from their retreat down the road. A number of the wines were intriguing, but the 2008 Mourvedre was amazing. I’m salivating just thinking about properly enjoying the bottle we took home. Soon, very soon.

Next on our list was Dancing Creek Winery, but we were disappointed to find it closed despite the Saturday hours listed in the passport. That just means we ought to have called to check on hours if we wanted to be truly prepared. So we headed back to Soquel-San Jose Road and north toward Summit Road where a handful of Passport wineries can be found. Silver Mountain Vineyards on Silver Mountain Drive became our #3 for the day. It was probably the most popular of the vineyards we went to with a good crowd in their tasting room.

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We ended up taking our tastes to their back balcony and enjoying the view from there. The wine pourer suggested we each pick a different six from their wines to taste, which was a good plan for trying them all out by sharing. None of their wines left us a strong impression, but the view of the gazebo certainly did.

Click twice for magnification.

Click twice for magnification.

Our next intended vineyard was MJA, but that one apparently only honors passports on Passport Days, so we passed on their tasting and headed farther up Summit Road to Loma Prieta Winery. It’s on the Loma Prieta peak, and the view is worth the drive all its own.

Click twice for magnification.

Click twice for magnification.

This is the sort of winery you want to set aside some time for relaxing at because of the views and also because they have a game of giant chess and a bocce court.

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I love the warning about high heels on the bocce sign. The tasting room was decorated for Mardi Gras when we were there.

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Once again, I enjoyed the company of our wine pourer, and Ben enjoyed their 2009 Port.

After four wineries, and two strike-outs, we were ready to take Summit Road to Highway 17 and drive home. Most of the wineries we went to had a mix of wines from grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains and ones from Lodi and Corralitos. Pours were generous at nearly all of them, to the point that I had to pour out extra several times, which always breaks my heart a little. Yes, you can consider that a sign I’m still not a true gourmet. Wasting wine makes me sad, even when it’s part of the wine-tasting custom or I’m not enjoying the blend.

Will I be back? Of course! The western side of Highway 17 will likely be the focus next time, and we definitely need to hit up some of the wineries that are only open on Passport Days. The next one of those is April 19….it could happen!

Trip taken 22 Feb 14.

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