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Vol. 7 No.2. Apr '99

Central Coast

Vineyards & Wineries Visited -

Journal and tasting notes from a two day tour of Santa Cruz and Monterey County.

Sat, April 17, 1999

Since I hadn't been able to get to very many of the Santa Cruz wineries the last time through this area (November '98), it was nice to have another chance to visit again so soon. Plus, I was also able to visit some wineries in Monterey County, as well. As timing would have it, my visit to Santa Cruz Mtns also coincided with "Passport Day," a day when many Santa Cruz wineries that are not usually open to the public are open for tasting.

Leaving from Monterey about Noon, I'd hoped to hit 4-5 wineries, which was probably a little ambitious in the " can't get here from there" appellation of the Santa Cruz Mtns. Headed up Hwy 1 to 17 and then over 9, where I worked my way through lovely Saratoga and into the mountains.

Arrived at Cinnabar at 1:20 after a 10-15 minute drive up a dirt & gravel one-lane road. Passed lots of people coming down, along with one very angry driver of a cherry '66 Mustang convertible who had apparently been eating everybody's dust on his way down. (Well, come on. He takes a drive up and down a dirt road -- and he doesn't want to get dirty? Gimme a break.) Nice modern facility, with the tasting being done inside the winery. Large patio area in back, with a terrific view looking West across a beautiful wooded valley. I decided to buy a Passport here at Cinnabar. But, they must have been holding an open house today, because it didn't seem to matter to them whether or not I had one. Three genial staffers pouring 3 wines. And, for a change, I was offered that seldom-heard refrain, "Would you like to re-taste anything." Well, duh! Out at 1:50.

Tasted at Cinnabar:

1997 Cinnabar Estate Chardonnay - Santa Cruz Mtns. $22
Nose of smoky pineapple with hints of grass/hay. Moderate weight, very nice balance, with a little residual sugar detectable. Overall: B+
1997 Cinnabar Merlot - Central Coast. $18
Nose of plums, raspberry, cedar, pine, vanilla. Very fragrant. Very fruity mouthfeel. Slightly sweet fruit, very good balance, clean finish. The fruit comes from the Bien Nacido and San Ysidro Vnyds. 4% Syrah, 2% Cab Sauv, Overall: B+
1996 Cinnabar Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Cruz Mtns. $30
Nose of cassis, shoe polish, and vanilla, with a touch of sweet herbal notes. Fleshy mouthfeel, medium body; flavors of cassis and toast, with hints of oak show through nice clean finish, 15% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot. Overall: B+


Arrived at Cooper-Garrod at 2:15. Moderate sized crowd. Family member Doris Cooper poured 5 wines and chatted about the historical background of the winery. What used to be an apricot farm is now a working ranch and horse boarding stable, in addition to being a winery. The place is reminiscent of Rancho Sisquoc winery, with its stables and Western appearance. And, I was a little worried that the, shall we say...natural odors from the horses might inhibit or otherwise taint one's wine appreciation, but it didn't seem to be a problem (the stables are probably downwind). This family operation has an annual production of less than 3,000 cases. Inquired about visiting Mt. Eden, which was just down the street. But, was told that they are appointment only, and are apparently not part of the SCM Winegrowers Assn anymore (or, they're silent members). Out at 2:45.

Tasted at Cooper-Garrod:

1996 Cooper-Garrod Estate Chardonnay - Santa Cruz Mtns. $18
Smoky, grassy and slightly oaky nose. Smooth mouthfeel of pineapple/apple fruit and grass. Some RS shows through lingering finish. Overall: B+
1995 Cooper-Garrod Estate Cabernet Franc - Santa Cruz Mtns. $18
Very Chinon-like nose of cool rose petal and stems. Good fruit, with a coarse woody and paint thinner quality. Has a bite to the finish that says oak. The nose is better than the mouth. Overall: B
1995 Cooper-Garrod Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Cruz Mtns. $28
Stunning nose of cassis, rose petals, vanilla. Medium bodied, with rich and flavorful mouthfeel of cassis, vanilla and toast. Overall: B+
1995 Cooper-Garrod Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Proprietor's Reserve, Santa Cruz Mtns. $35
Very similar to regular Cab, but much bigger nose, with more cassis. Medium mouthfull of ripe sweet fruit. Soft tannins, and clean long finish. They don't always make a Reserve, which in this case is better than the regular Cab, and certainly worth the difference in price. Overall: A-



Arrived at Savanna Chanel at 3:00. Formerly know as Mariani Winery, this is a large, kind of touristy-looking tasting room obviously geared to visits from larger crowds, with two pouring areas handling the 6 wines being poured. $3 for tasting, or N/C with the Passport. Good sized crowd here, but everything ran smoothly. Accessories and condiments abound, and the heavily merchandised room is clearly intended to deliver sales. Apparently Savanna and Chanel are two daughters of the proprietor(s) (shades of JanKris). As I was leaving, I inquired about how long it would taketo get to Ahlgren, and was informed that they were closed for the day due to an emergency. Out at 3:25.

Tasted at Savanna Chanel:

1991 Savannah Chanel Sparkling Wine - Sonoma County. $36 (Mag)
Very clean nose of fruit, yeast and grass. A touch sweet in mouthfeel, it won't be mistaken for a Brut, but is still very nice. Of course, it isn't exactly inexpensive, either. Overall: B+
1997 Savannah Chanel Estate Chardonnay - Santa Cruz Mtns. $22
Extremely light in color -- I thought maybe I'd forgotten to dump water out of my glass. Nose of apple, pineapple, and smoky grass. Big and tasty mouthfeel. Apple and pineapple fruit seem very nice initially. But, the wines seems a bit "played with," and comes across as more of a brunch accompaniment. Overall: B
1996 Savannah Chanel - "Always" Santa Cruz Mtns. $15
Oaky, singed, shoe polish nose, that seems pure and sweet at times. Mouthfeel is a bit fleshy with decent fruit, but the wine feels more like a quaffer. 70% Pinot, 30% Merlot. Overall: B
1996 Savannah Chanel Cabernet Franc - Santa Cruz Mtns. $24
Alternately dumb and then beautiful nose of rose petals and stems. Tannic/astringent mouthfeel, thin coarse fruit, but somehow the wine finishes up okay, if that can be said for a wine that was more Zin-like than Cab Franc. Overall: B-
1996 Savannah Chanel Zinfandel - Santa Cruz Mtns. $28
Nose of raspberry, vanilla, black cherry - very nice! Astringent and slightly coarse mouthfeel, but with with very nice raspberry fruit, good body, and a long lingering finish. Nice work here. But, $28 worth? Overall: A-



Arrived at David Bruce at 4:20 after what seemed like a lengthy race against motorcycles through the Santa Cruz Mtns. The place was hopping, and the tasting room was surprisingly small. But, they're building a new winery/tasting room closer to the Hwy that is just about ready for occupancy, and the staff can hardly wait. The two ladies doing the pouring of 4 wines N/C were fast and efficient. Everything was humming along all right, when a patron asked if they were pouring the something-or-other Pinot. One pourer replied that this was a Passport Day, and they don't pour other than what is out. "We get slammed on Passport Day, so we don't bring out any other wines." As if it were obvious, she wondered aloud, "...why would anybody come to a winery on Passport Day, when we're open every other day of the year?" Hmmm. I thought about several possible replies to her rhetorical question: "...well, maybe because they're from out of the area and don't know any better." Or, "...because your appellation's brochures are two years behind and don't have accurate info..." (I was MAILED these a month before) " Or, how about "...because intended visits didn't materialize, since some wineries were unexpectedly closed." I would have debated the issue, but that would've been like teasing a tiger. I figure I'll just visit again on a more tranquil day. Out at 4:40.

Tasted at David Bruce:

1997 David Bruce Pinot Blanc - La Colline Vnyds, Arroyo Grande. $14
Very Sauvignon-like nose, with lots of grass and a touch of oak. Grassy and fruity mouthfeel, with a sweetness to the aftertaste. Overall: B
1997 David Bruce Chardonnay - Santa Cruz Mtns. $18
Grassy nose with touch of oak, dishwater, and petroleum. Very clean mouthfeel, nice fruit; oaks comes through on finish. B
1996 David Bruce Pinot Noir - Sonoma County. $20
Sweet and slightly overripe plus a bit singed smelling. Young fleshy fruit, slightly tannic and coarse, with a tart light finish. Overall: B
1997 David Bruce Petite Sirah - Central Coast. $16
Wow. Huge blast of floral notes and dark fruits. fleshy and chewy on the palate, fruit gives way to soft tannins and long finish. Overall: A-



Arrived at Byington at 4:45 to a nearly full parking lot, and a mass of picnickers. This is a large place that also seems equipped to handle lots of tourists and special bookings (a wedding party arrived at 5:00). The busy tasting room was being handled by two staff who maintained quite well through the crush of people. I decided to skip the white wines and just do the two reds being offered, which turned out to be "imports." Apparently, they do have some limited release "Reserve" wines from the SCM appellation, which were available on a per-taste basis, but I didn't try them. Out at 5:05.

Tasted at Byington:

1996 Byington Pinot Noir - Central Coast. $18
Very light and even a bit maderized in color. Floral nose, but absent of strawberry or other PN fruit. Bit of flesh and stem noted. Overall: B-
1996 Byington Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma Valley. $15
Nice nose of sweet cassis, vanilla, and toast. Very nice mouthfeel, with lots of body and flavor. Overall: B+

Arrived back in Monterey about 6:15, and 166 miles. Totals for the day: 5 wineries; 18 wines.


Sun, April 18, 1999

Left Monterey at 11:00 to cover parts of the Santa Lucia Highlands and Carmel Valley areas of the Monterey County appellation. The Santa Lucia Highlands are on the West side of the Salinas Valley, to the West of the Salinas River; the Arroyo Seco is close to the Valley floor on the West as well. While not headed there today, across the Valley on the East side are the Gabilan Mtns, and home of the newly established Chalone sub-appellation in Monterey County. The Carmel Valley is sort of a box canyon at the Northernmost end of the appellation, and located just South of Carmel and Monterey.

Arrived at Cloninger at 11:40. This is the first stop on the River Road wine trail. Several people already there, so the small tasting room was a little crowded. Congenial fellow pouring 4 wines. Nice view out of the window of the vineyards to the East. Not much memorable here, except that most of the wines had a tendency toward an oxidized quality. Since the bottles being used for tasting were about half-full (some might say half-empty), it seemed safe to say that they had been opened at least the day before. The winery promos indicate lots of details about Burgundian winemaking techniques, excellent vineyards, etc., but from what I tasted, somehow the whole effort seems to fall short. Out at Noon.

Tasted at Cloninger:

1996 Cloninger Chardonnay - Monterey County. $13
Smoky grassy nose. Grapefruit and pineapple flavors. Overall: B
1993 Cloninger Pinot Noir - Monterey County. $?
Very ripe and nearly maderized nose. Fleshy mouthfeel, but very dry on palate and thin on fruit. Overall: B-
1997 Cloninger Pinot Noir - Monterey County. $14
Nose of oak and redwood. Dry and fruitless mouthfeel. Overall: C+
1996 Cloninger Cabernet Sauvignon - Carmel Valley $22
Nose of beet, stems, and shoe polish. Dry and fruitless mouthfeel. Overall: C+


Arrived at Hahn Estates - Smith & Hook at 12:15. Ended up running into some of the same crowd from the last stop. Large and spacious, the very well appointed room has a large deck and patio looking East across the Salinas Valley, with a beautiful view from a several hundred feet up into the Santa Lucia Highlands. Two ladies pouring from a wide selection of Hahn Estates and Smith & Hook wines. This stop took a little longer than normal, due both to the large selection of wines being poured and the number of tasters. Browsed a bit while waiting for people to break away from the tasting bar. The Hahn Estate wines are conceived to be more a more accessible and ready-to-drink line, while the Smith & Hook line is meant for a bit of aging. The Hahn line was indeed more accessible, and usually not as complex. The Smith & Hook's seem to have lost a lot of the "veggie" quality from years past, and had nice concentration. Enjoyable stop. Out at 1:10.

Tasted at Hahn Estates - Smith & Hook:

1997 Hahn Chardonnay - Monterey County. $10
Nice nose of apple and pineapple fruit, with a just a touch of butter. Apple and grass on palate, crisp finish. Overall: B+
1997 Smith & Hook Viognier - Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. $18
Nose of spiced peaches. Light mouthfeel with crisp finish. nice job, with none of the oily components often found. Overall: B+
1996 Hahn Merlot - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. $11.50
Slightly singed nose, with a fleshy cherry and some vegetal/herbal qualities. Lightly fruity on the palate. Overall: B
1996 Smith & Hook Merlot - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $18
Slightly singed nose of cherry. Plenty of fruit and soft tannins and sufficient structure to age. Overall: B+
1996 Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $10
Nose of cassis and green bean. fleshy, with a hint of veggie and a maderized taste. Overall: B-
1996 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $18
Nose of ripe cassis, shoe polish, and some veggie. Fleshy and tart, with a sweet/sour fruity finish. Overall: B
1996 Hahn Cabernet Franc - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $10
Nose of blueberry and veggie. Singed taste, with bitter and tart fruit and stems. Overall: B-
1995 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $29 (Mag)
Nose of cassis and black cherry and green bean. Fleshy mouthfeel, but fruit seems quite thin, with an off-sweet finish. Overall: B-
1996 Hahn Meritage - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $15
Slightly veggie nose. Fleshy sweet/sour fruit. Overall: B


Arrived at Paraiso Springs at 1:15. Roughly the last winery at the south end of River Road trail. I was looking forward to this visit, since I'd heard that the Pinot was supposed to be something of a jewel. Nicely appointed medium-sized room, with some of the same crowd traveling together arriving before me. Very friendly and informative lady doing the pouring of 4 wines, with a fifth wine added by our very gracious pourer at an [anonymous] taster's request. (Well hey, I came for the Pinot, and it wasn't sitting out.) Both of the Pinot Blanc's were surprisingly good, and the Syrah and Pinot were very nice as well. When the staff member noticed my keen interest and note-taking, I explained my credo (with forlorn face) "...there's a huge number of wineries in California, and I feel it's my duty to taste the wines of each of them. Yes, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it." Out at 1:50.

Tasted at Paraiso Springs:

1997 Paraiso Springs Pinot Blanc - Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. $13
Light fruity nose. Fabulous smoky flavors. Overall: B+
1997 Paraiso Springs Reserve Pinot Blanc - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. $22.50
Wow. Huge wonderful nose of smoky fruit. Big mouthfeel, clean taste and long finish. Great effort. Overall: A-
1996 Paraiso Springs Cobblestone Chardonnay - Monterey County. $22.50
Nose of apple and pineapple. Apply fruit, very nice balance, hint of oak, and long finish. Overall: A-
1996 Paraiso Springs Pinot Noir - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County $22.50
Fleshy nose of slightly singed strawberry fruit. Mouthfeel of fleshy off-sweet fruit. Overall: B+
1996 Paraiso Springs Syrah - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. $22.50
Very ripe nose of fleshy blackberry fruit. Big fleshy mouthfeel, slightly tart fruit. Overall: B+


Driving back out of the Salinas Valley, and over into the Carmel Valley via Laureles Grade, arrived at Bernardus tasting room at 2:45. Located in Carmel Valley Village, the building serves as offices and tasting room for the winery. Very busy medium-sized room, with an energetic, very informative, and congenial fellow doing the pouring of 8 wines, N/C. He fielded lots of basic questions, while demonstrating patience and well thought-out answers. Very nice wines here, if a bit pricey. But, what isn't these days. The Pinot was a particularly good rendition of Bien Nacido PN - but, $42 worth...? Out at 3:20.

Tasted at Bernardus:

1997 Bernardus Semillon - Monterey County. $12
very light in color. Nose of grass, hay, and sweet clover. Tart and clean mouthfeel. Grassy taste with a long clean finish. Grapes sourced from Scheid Vnyd. Overall: B+
1997 Bernardus Pinot Gris - Carmel Valley. $16
Nose of paint thinner, wet hay, and dried grass. Slightly sour fruit, smoothness gives way to grassy but clean finish. Overall: B
1997 Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc - Monterey County. $14
Grassy and fruity nose. Very nice fruit, with a slightly sweet residual sugar taste, and hint of heat on long finish. Overall: B+
1996 Bernardus Marsanne - Carmel Valley $17
Nose of sweet fruit and delicate flowers, with hint of stems. Good fruit, nice balance, and medium-long finish. Clean and fruity finish. Overall: B+
1997 Bernardus Chardonnay - Carmel Valley $18
Nose of grass, hay, and lemon-lime. Sweet grass taste, with a bit of residual sugar. Light oak, medium-long finish, with a smooth, rather than crisp finish. Overall: B+
1996 Bernardus Chardonnay - Carmel Valley $18
Nose of grass, olive oil, and pesto. Very dry mouthfeel, smoky, meaty, crisp fruit fades smoothly through long finish. Overall: A-
1996 Bernardus Pinot Noir - Santa Barbara County $42
Very Burgundian nose, with strawberry, cinnamon, and feral notes. Clean and fleshy mouthfeel, with lots of edge but no harsh grip to finish. Fruit from Bien Nacido Vnyd. Very nice job -- but pricey. Overall: A-
1995 Bernardus Marinus - Carmel Valley $36
Nose of cassis, raspberry, veggie, shoe polish, and a singed quality. Full mouthfeel, good tannins, fleshy cassis fruit, clean and long finish. Blend of CS, CF, Merlot, and PV. Overall: B+


Arrived at Talbott at 3:25. Just down the street, Talbott has a small quaint tasting room next to Georis, which happens to confine their hours to Thurs-Sat. It seemedthat several family members were serving the wines. Vineyards are all out in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Very friendly place, with very nice wines. Lots of Talbott accessory items for sale as well. Out at 3:55.

Tasted at Talbott:

1996 Rosewood Chardonnay - Monterey County. $12
Smoky and grassy nose. Sweet and meaty taste. Slightly sour fruit, with some heat on finish. Overall: B+
1996 Logan Chardonnay - Monterey County. $16
Smoky and grassy, but very subtle. Mouthfull of major fruit. Very nice feel and balance that is complex and smooth. Overall: B+
1997 Logan Chardonnay - Monterey County. $16
Lots of fruit, with hints of grass and hay. Very sweet taste on palate, yet balanced oak and big fruit. Fruit from Sleepy hollow Vnyd. Overall: B+
1996 Talbott Chardonnay - Carmel Valley $35
Grassy and fruity nose. Mouthfeel of grass, fruit, oak, with some astringency and a long wheaty finish. Overall: A-


Arrived at Durney at 4:00. Just 50 yards down the street, Durney maintains a small tasting room in town. Friendly fellow pouring 8 wines N/C. Was hoping to "re-discover" this winery, as I'd tried their wines some years ago, but not had any of them recently. Unfortunately, they weren't as good as I hoped. Don't know if this was a case of palate fatigue on my part, or the wines had been opened too long, or what. Out at 4:25.

Tasted at Durney:

1992 Durney Chardonnay - Monterey County. $
Cardboard and mushroom nose. Decent mouthfeel of apply fruit and touch of grass. Overall: B
1993 Durney Chardonnay - Monterey County. $
Nose of sweaty socks, cardboard and mushroom. Medium mouthfeel of apply fruit with touch of grass. Overall: B
1993 Durney Pinot Noir - Monterey County. $
Extra light and maderized color. Singed nose of strawberry and shoe polish. Dry and fruitless mouthfeel. Overall: C+
1996 Durney Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon - Carmel Valley $
Singed and vegetal nose. Dry and oaky mouthfeel. Overall: B-
1993 Durney Cabernet Sauvignon - Carmel Valley $
Nose of cassis with a bit of anise. Dry and tannic mouthfeel with slightly apparent fruit. Overall: B-
1992 Durney Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - Carmel Valley $
Nose of cassis and shoe polish. Decent cassis fruit; a bit tannic, coarse, and dry on the palate. Overall: B


Arrived at Chateau Julien at 4:35. In contrast to the published opening times, the winery was apparently having an art show and serving wine on their large patio, but was closing earlier than normal. However, the very gracious lady doing the pouring encouraged me to get a glass from inside and return. It was worthwhile. I'm not sure what is usually being poured in the tasting room, but the accent today was Italian varietals, or more properly Cal-Ital wines. I found a sleeper in the winery's second label, Garland Ranch; their Pinot Noir was a great buy at $9. Out at 5:05.

Tasted at Chateau Julien:

1995 Chateau Julien Trebbiano - California. $18
A little stinky and singed in the nose. Mouth is better than nose. Overall: B
1997 Chateau Julien Sangiovese - California. $18
Nose of sweet strawberry/raspberry. Good mouthfeel, sweet fruit, clean long finish. Overall: B+
1995 Chateau Julien Nebbiolo - California. $18
Singed nose of dry cherry fruit. Light-medium fruit, bracing acids, fleshy mouthfeel. Overall: B
1997 Garland Ranch Pinot Noir - California $9
Very nice nose of strawberry and cinnamon. Medium mouthfeel, good fruit, clean nice finish. Here's a find! Overall: B+

Very satisfactory day, with more than a few surprises and some disappointments. Totals for the day: 7 wineries, 40 wines, and 113 miles.

Wrap up:

Santa Cruz: Accurate information on the Santa Cruz Mts Passport Program appears tough to come by. Initial info I received indicated that Mt. Eden was a member, and stated that winery open houses are held 3 times per year. But, from what I learned, Mt. Eden, as well as a few others, are apparently not members anymore, and the open houses are held 4 times per year. Unfortunately, Mt. Eden and Ahlgren were two of the ones I'd hoped to visit, but both were now off the itinerary (Ahlgren was closed due to a family emergency - hopefully nothing serious).

Very nice visits at Cooper-Garrod and at Cinnabar. Savannah Chanel had a very good Zin, which I haven't seen before from this appellation. The David Bruce visit was a bit of a disappointment. But, I'm sure this had as much to due with the selections being poured, as with my high expectations of the place. It was a shame not to have been able to visit Alhgren and Mt. Eden. But, that just leaves me more reasons to return again soon.

Monterey: I'd been interested in visiting some of the Monterey County wineries for awhile now. But, I became more interested than ever, after being taken to task for expressing what was considered to be an "out-dated" viewpoint regarding the area's red wine quality. (My original opinions had been based on experiences with Monterey County red wines from the decade past. Many of these wines from the '80s had been substantially vegetal in nose and even in taste. Descriptors such as green bean, beet, olive, green pea, cabbage, etc, were more the rule than the exception.) But, things had now changed, I was told.

So, I was interested in plowing into the local reds to see what may have occurred in the past 10 years. Certainly, one of the things that's happened is an increased acceptance of terroir-induced qualities -- such that previously demeaning terms such as "vegetal" have been replaced with more agreeable terms like "herbal." But, more than this, both wine growing AND wine making have improved. And, it appears that reds, at least some of the red varieties, may indeed have a future here. However, there were mixed results.

To this taster, much of the previous vegetal/herbal qualities were indeed gone (or hiding). Unfortunately, it appears that other problems may have cropped up in their place, because I found several wines that had a maderized, oxidized, or otherwise burned-out taste. Further, the mouthfeel was nearly fruitless in several cases, with some wines seemingly nothing more than flavored water. White varietals, on the other hand do quite well hereabouts. And, I found several excellent examples of Chardonnay, as well as Pinot Blanc, Semillon, Marssanne, and even a Viognier.

Very nice visits at Hahn/Smith & Hook and Paraiso Springs. Paraiso is making some really good wines, including a pair of excellent Pinot Blancs. All the visits in the Carmel Valley were very enjoyable, with Bernardus a standout, followed closely by Talbott. I'm mystified as to why the Durney wines didn't perform better. This will certainly need to be a re-visit next time through.

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