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Pinot Paradise, Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Cruz Mountains (AVA)

The fickle grape finds Paradise in the Mountains:

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA gets ready to strut its stuff at the 2nd annual Pinot Paradise Festival.

by Laura Ness
March 6, 2006



The Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, established in 1981, was among the first viticultural areas in North America to be defined by geophysical and climatic factors. The appellation encompasses the Santa Cruz Mountain range, from Half Moon Bay in the north, to Mount Madonna in the south. The east and west boundaries are defined by elevation, extending down to 800 feet in the east and 400 feet in the west.

Here, a unique combination of elevation, marine influence, mountain terrain and distinctive soils help make the Santa Cruz Mountains paradise for producing elegant, classic Pinot Noir in the Burgundian style. Pinot Noir, much like a fair-skinned blonde, isn’t very fond of sun. It favors the moist mountain climate influenced by the ocean, and is often planted where it will be protected from the heat. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, this often means hilly slopes which are exceedingly difficult to farm. Furthermore, the grape-yield per acre for Pinot is lower than for other crops, making it a costly wine to produce.

250 out of a total 1100 acres under cultivation in this appellation are devoted to Pinot Noir. Most of the 75 plus Pinot vineyards in the appellation are planted on mountain ridges where they enjoy cool nights and warm days mitigated by the coastal fog. Pinot grown in areas that are too warm or have vigorous soils tend to be watery and one-dimensional. Not so Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots. The region’s low-producing vineyards yield intensely concentrated fruit that makes wines of great complexity. Many exhibit that classic Burgundian experience of persistent acidity married to complex layers of earth, minerals, fruit and spice, with and underlying tannin structure firm enough to carry the wine through a long maturation process. These wines have great cellar prowess and deserve to be allowed due time to develop into the elegant beauties their producers can taste on the vine and in the barrel. Burrell School Winery sets up for Pinot Paradise 2005

On the last weekend of this month, Pinot Noir lovers will have the opportunity to savor the unique quality and intensity of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir at the second annual Pinot Paradise Festival. Saturday, March 25, features “Pathway to Pinot Paradise” -- a self-guided tour of select Santa Cruz Mountains wineries who will be pouring barrel samples of their latest Pinots. On Sunday, March 26 Technical Sessions and a Panel Discussion on Pinot and Terroir will be held at the historic Mountain Winery in Saratoga, followed by the festival culminating “Grand Cruz Tasting” where more than 30 wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation will pour their finest Pinot Noir, accompanied by gourmet hors d’oeuvres from some of the best restaurants from San Jose to Santa Cruz. The venue for Sunday’s events is perhaps the “cradle of pinot noir” in North America. The historic Mountain Winery, originally home to the Paul Masson Winery, boasts the first planting of The Noble Grape on this continent.

Pinot Paradise is the brainchild of Dave Moulton, owner and winemaker of Burrell School Winery. His dedication to improving the stature of wine across the board in this rugged mountain appellation led to a focus on the obvious potential for Burgundian rivals to shine in this Type I climate. He believed that the distinctive characteristics of Pinot grown in the region, most notably their lively acidity, elegant structure, complex earthiness and sublime fruity flavors, was worthy of a showcase. Hence, Pinot Paradise was born. Last year, 24 wineries participated. This year, the number is up to 32. Moulton called the inaugural event an “unqualified success.” Says Moulton, “This region has the climate, the soils, the geography, and the winemakers with the determination and talent to make world class Pinot Noir. This year’s San Francisco Chronicle Competition already demonstrates our ability to make award-winning wines, with 19 Gold Medals, 10 of them for Pinot Noir. We’re raising the bar for quality higher and higher each year, and the Pinot-loving public is going to have more fantastic wines to choose from with the 2003 and 2004 releases.” He added that many vintners in the region produce age-worthy wines that require significant bottle time before release.  Special magnum bottlings of Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz Mountains producers For example, the two Burrell School 2003 Pinots are not yet released to the public, but will be available for special preview during the upcoming Pinot Paradise event.

The recent and dramatic rise in popularity of Pinot Noir in America positions the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA favorably in the consumer consciousness. And events like Pinot Paradise only help to disseminate the message that this region is producing as fine and distinctive Pinots as any other. For more information about Pinot Paradise events or to obtain tickets, click here, or contact the SCMWA at 831-685-8463 or www.scmwa.com.

~ Laura Ness, Santa Cruz Mountains Editor


To comment on Laura Ness’s writings and thoughts, contact her at l.ness@appellationamerica.com

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