One of the cool things about living in SF’s South Bay Area is that it seems like very little city down here, from Sunnyvale to Saratoga, has it’s own Wine Walk. It’s an event where wineries from all over California set up in local shops and pour samples of their latest releases. The most popular, by far, is the Los Gatos Wine Walk. Whether their spring or fall event, tickets sell out sometimes weeks before the actual event. Well, I finally got my ticket to this year’s fall walk. With 40 different wineries pouring anywhere from 1 to 5 wines each, it’d be hard for me to recap the whole event. But I did make it to all 40, tasting and talking at each station, and I’ve chosen my top 4 of those 40 wineries here.
This is purely based on my opinion and tasting notes from the event.
4. Wild Eye Winery
This San Juan Bautista-based winery is the artisanal collection of commercial winemaker Michael Berntsen, who has contributed to the winemaking of several major wine brands up and down the California coast. Wild Eye is named after the Bernstens’ mare who had, you guessed it, one wild eye; they had a local artist craft these labels in her honor.
Wild Eye focuses on single varietal vineyards, crafting wines from vines that are in a happy native environment. I’ve chosen Wild Eye as one of my top picks because these big, bold reds were so well-rounded. Petite Sirah and Cab Sauv can be hard for timid red drinkers, which I definitely can be. But I found that the tannic structure of both of these wines were so well refined, truly letting the fruit take center stage.
Unfortunately it seems their website is down for the moment, so I will direct you to Wild Eye Winery Yelp, Twitter, and Facebook pages.
3. Haechi Cellars
Sung Jin Park, owner and winemaker of Haechi Cellars, is one of those guys who followed his winemaking dream. He’s a new kid on the Napa block, having only been around since 2012. You can tell when talking to him how simultaneously artistic and methodical Park is — and this absolutely translates to his wines.
Haechi Cellars stand-out offering? His Dreamstar Savignon Blanc 2014, crafted from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes harvested from the Sonoma Coast. With a generous amount of tropical fruits on the nose, you’ll be surprised when your palate is filled with the smooth texture of this light-bodied white wine. It’s Park’s delicate use of new oak during the SB’s fermentation that provides this calming mouthfeel, yet still leaves room for the grape’s natural flavors to pull through. You’ll be delighted by the low level of acidity as you drink your way through a warm summer afternoon filled with mangos, papayas, and just a twist of lime for zest.
Enthused by his first two successful SB harvests (the first one being his 2013 vintage), Park has recently released his Moon Phase Merlot. I give him well-deserved credit for decanting this wine, as it’s a big tannic taste-bomb. There are lovely fruits lingering in the background and, I’d say, this wine is a cellar-stasher. Wait it out for a few years, let those fruits ferment further in the bottle, and open this wine when you’re ready for tasting a wine that’s out of this world.
2. Black Ridge Vineyards
Right in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just outside of Los Gatos proper, lies the vast and varietal-varied Black Ridge Vineyards. The San Andreas Red, a Bordeaux-style blend consisting of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot 11% Malbec & 5% Petit Verdot, has all the structure and refinement of a fine French wine, yet truly sings the praises of California terroir. Bright berry aromas on the nose pave way to dark, luscious fruits on the palate. There’s an underlying dusty earthiness about it that truly gives the mind — and mouth — pause for consideration. The tannins are medium but the tannin taste is mild, allowing the grapes’ natural acidity to burst through for a truly cleansing, though defined, finish.
Blends can be hard, but when a winemaker takes the time to harvest, ferment, and age each varietal separately, you can really taste the time, the effort, the love that went into crafting a really good red blend.
BRV also makes a Viognier that I would go back for again and again, and a solid Pinot Noir that’s worth a taste as well.
1. Drake Wines
I’ve mentioned before, even in this post, that you can truly taste the difference when a winemaker puts the time and effort to craft a wine true to the grape, true to the land, and true to himself (or herself). So much more so when tasting from a boutique winery where the owner works side-by-side with the vineyard workers, cultivating the land, harvesting the grapes, and tasting his wine every step of the way.
Drake Wines is one such winery. Mark Cummins, found/owner/winemaker, and his team specialize in utilizing older plantings of heritage clones and working the land to nurture those plantings in a completely natural, sustainable way. In fact, when speaking to Mark he mentioned he specifically ferments his wine on wild, indigenous, yeast, resulting truly individual wines — even when dealing similar vintages and varietals.
And it’s true, his lineup of two Pinot Noirs and one Chardonnay each showcased their SoCal terroir characteristics in very defined ways. The stand out for me was the Chardonnay that, yes had that soft, round Chard mouthfeel, but with a burst of brightness that pops about mid-palate. Furthermore, there’s a bit of beachy minerality that carries through the whole taste giving Drakes Wines Chardonnay a well balanced and refreshing quality.
Of course tasting two Pinot Noirs back to back is always enlightening for me. In this case, it was about tasting two separate clones of Pinot Noir that were harvested on separate vineyards just miles away from each other. And it’s amazing, when you let the fruit speak for itself like Mark does, how you can truly tell the difference between the clones. Where one Pinot Noir was bursting with fruit flavors, clean and clear from start to finish, the other had a distinct undertone of damp, fertile earth that gave it a bit more body and structure. Both beautiful, both delicious, with each serving its own individual purpose on the palate.
Unfortunately Drake Wines website is unavailable, so I will direct you to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Yelp pages.
Extra Credit for these two boys who posed for an awesome double selfie. Mark Cummins, above, Drake Wines founder/winemaker.
House Family Vineyards
Excellent line-up by Saratoga winery, House Family Vineyards, who showcased a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cab Sauv all grown on their mountainside estate. Each grape is kissed by the summer sun during the day and sung to sleep by sea salt air at night — you can really taste the Santa Cruz sea and the Monterey Bay in these wines.
Share Wine Now
Wine for a cause with Share Wine Now, a group of winemakers that travel the world for small production wines. Their current release celebrates the beauteous blends of Lisbon.
Cutest couple definitely goes to Greyscale Wines, a small family-owned winery brought to us by by Jean and Larry Rowe. Another Bordeaux-inspired lineup featuring the smoothest Merlot of the day — no wonder it won Gold at last year’s SF Wine Competition. Speaking to them, you get the sense they grow and blend what they feel like, following passion and intuition all the way. And though they may be a small-time venture, their by no means novices: read their full story here. I’m so sad that they don’t have a tasting room so I can try a full range of their offerings, but I’d say this little family adventure is worth signing up for.
Last but not least I have to mention the winery that I always forget. And I don’t know why! I’ve come across their wines at several wine walks previous to this one and I am honestly, always impressed with their work. What’s more, their tasting room is literally around the corner from my home. I keep grabbing their card, always intending to visit, and yet I never do. That’s it…I’m scheduling this visit. These Souther European inspired wines are just…phenomenal…
Many thanks to all of those who showcased their wines at the Los Gatos Fall Wine Walk — I can honestly say a good time was had by all, winemakers and wine-drinkers alike. I can’t wait until my next walk — I do hope to run in to these wineries again as well as find some new treasures. Cheers!
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