Somewhere between the slower paced beaches of Surf City USA North and the faster paced life of commuting there is a mountain range we call the Santa Cruz Mountains. Most people just think of this as Highway 17 – a road to be avoided during rush hour, but hidden within the curvey backroads are some of the best wineries California has to offer. It is a secret so please do not tell anyone. Let the tourists continue to bombard Napa so I can walk into the wineries 30 minutes from my house and taste Pinots from the Russian River Valley, some of the berriest Zins I have ever tasted, and hands down the best Port you can find.
If you ever see a Pinot that comes from the Russian River Valley, buy it. You will not be disappointed. This is not to take away from the magic that Savannah Chanelle has done with theirs, but you just can’t go wrong. In fact, if you ever see a RRV + SC…buy a case. This winery was the first that I visited in the region almost 10 years ago now and for that I may be biased, but after drinking my way through most of others since then I can still say this winery makes a fantastic wine. The tasting room is also worth a mention as it is housed in a beautiful old barn that makes for a nice romantic date.
Next to Savannah Chanelle is a winery that makes a meritage like no other. For under $20, the Mercury Rising from Cinnabar is arguably my favorite “most versatile” wine. If I was stuck on an island, I think this would be the one wine I would choose to have to drink till the end of time. As for the winery, it can only be visited now by way of the tasting room in downtown Saratoga.Jumping up HWY 17 and just off Bear Creek Road is the next hidden gem, David Bruce. One of the best wines I have ever had was a 2001 Petite Syrah from here. They mostly make reds and have recently switched to just focusing on delivering the worlds best Pinot. The winery and tasting room are not much too see, but the wine is reason enough to make the drive.
On the other side of 17 is a whole slew of other wineries with great views and it seems more crop up every day. Loma Prieta has a fantastic view where you can see the ocean on a clear day as well as an outdoor patio to picnic from. MNJ is the most recent opening as of this writing and looks to have a great future ahead of it. The lodge looking tasting room is a prime example of don’t judge a book by it’s cover…sort of. Like a lodge they are very friendly and over the top explanative, but the wines far exceed something you would expect to get from a log cabin.
The most noteworthy on this side of 17 for me though is Burrel School. They too have a very cool view- as the picture shows it is a foggy, mountainous vineyard with a tasting room built inside an old school house. They offer some remarkable reds ranging from soft Pinots to hard core Zins.
All that said, I implore you to visit Napa. Keep the traffic up there and let me keep my hidden secret to myself. As for the best Port you can possibly find- you have to come find it for yourself.