This is the story of two wineries, one is the remains of a winery that was established in the early days of the California wine boom and the other is only a few years old. But they have a lot in common. They are now united in one winery facility. They have a common proprietor/winemaker with a long history of making balanced, harmonious, and flavorful wines without excessive oak or alcohol. But, more on that later.
First, we have to go back to the beginning. The saga begins in a land then seemingly far away (Santa Cruz) at a time long ago (1974) and a man with a passion (Ken Burnap). I first met Ken in the early 1970s. At that time he lived in Orange County, California and owned and ran an industrial contracting firm and founded and owned a restaurant called the Hobbit. The Hobbit quickly became a go to destination for people near and far. It was unique in offering a multi-course prix-fixe dinner that began at a set time in the wine cellar with Champagne and appetizers. It was a favorite dining place for many of us. The ambience, food, and wine selection were all superb. And, Ken was a great host. I have not been there since Ken sold the restaurant, but it still exists today in the same place and follows the same format. You can check it out at www.hobbitrestaurant.com .
Ken loved wine, particularly Burgundy. But, like me, he was disappointed in most of the California Pinot Noirs. And, being an adventuresome soul, he decided one day that he would look for the right spot in California to make great Pinot Noir. His friend, the late Joe Swan, was making a Pinot Noir that he greatly admired. There were also a few others (such as Chalone, Mt.Eden, and ZD), but little else of interest. So for several years he researched the regions to best grow Pinot Noir. He finally settled on two — the Russian River area of Sonoma County and the Santa Cruz Mountains. He learned winemaking and in 1974 he found out that his friend, David Bruce, wanted to sell a Pinot Noir vineyard that he owned in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So Ken went to the vineyard. He concluded that it had the potential to make great Pinot Noir, but was not sure if he wanted to take the plunge. The more he thought about it, the more it appealed to him. So he went back one more time and this time he took a bottle of Champagne with him. He had made up his mind and with a toast to a new venture and a new life he forged ahead and purchased the vineyard.
The vineyard was called Jarvis Vineyard and it had produced grapes continuously since 1863. It had been replanted to Pinot Noir in 1969-70. The vineyard was dry farmed and produced frightfully low yields of less than one ton per acre. Nonetheless, Ken was sure he had found the right place and the low yields did not deter him. In fact, controlling yields was a factor that he felt was extremely important to making great wine. (High yields were never a problem here, but I have to believe that sometimes the economics were of some concern!)
No matter, in 1975 he produced his first wine from a temporary facility he built on the site. With this wine Ken hit a home run his first time at bat! We loved the wine and wrote it up in The Underground Wineletter with a glowing review.
In 1977 he completed a new winery built on four levels so the wine could be moved entirely by gravity. He also had a small space where he lived when he needed to work almost around the clock to get everything done. He continued to make wonderful estate bottled Pinot Noir (including the stunning 1977) and branched out into other varieties including Santa Cruz Mountain-grown Cabernet so he could fully utilize his new capacity. Ken did all the work himself with the help of a few friends from time to time. In 1979 a 19-year-old sophomore from nearby UC Santa Cruz by the name of Jeff Emery was hired on a part time basis. He and Ken became fast friends. When Jeff graduated in 1981 he could not resist the call to come back and learn grape growing and winemaking. During this time and thereafter, there was also a third person working full time at the winery. That person changed three times over the years, but Ken and Jeff were the constants and worked together as a team.
At the end of the 1990s, Ken began taking more and more time off and left the day to day operations of the winery to Jeff. In 2003 Ken retired permanently and Jeff continued to make wine on his own from the same vineyards. In 2004 Ken decided to sell the property. Jeff could not afford to buy the property so it was sold to a third party. However, in July 2004, Jeff purchased the business, including the name, equipment, and inventory. This date was exactly 25 years from the date that he had first come to work part time. Jeff then moved the equipment and the inventory to a new winery that had space available for lease. On the last day at the Jarvis location for Ken and Jeff, they walked to the place in the vineyard where Ken had popped the bottle of Champagne in 1974 that sealed the deal and changed his life. And, that day the two of them said good-bye to the vineyard and celebrated their long relationship by drinking a bottle of sparkling wine from the vineyard. That day was almost 30 years from Ken’s first visit to the site. And, on that day, Jeff was exactly the same age as Ken was when he first visited the site in 1974. Ken went on to his retirement and is enjoying life. Jeff continued to make Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz Mountain grapes that are sourced from areas very near the old Jarvis vineyard site. The new owners of Jarvis vineyard (Vine Hill Winery) tore out the old vines and re-planted it in 2005.
In the early 2000s, after visiting Spain and Portugal, Jeff was convinced that the nearly unknown varietals grown in those areas would thrive in California’s climate. He searched out vineyards growing these varietals and made some Tempranillo under the Santa Cruz Mountain label in 2003 and 2004. Quinta Cruz was launched as a new brand soon thereafter to specialize in strictly California grown Iberian grape varieties. The first vintage for the Quinta Cruz label was 2005 and these wines were first sold in 2007.
So, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it — the story of two wineries that came together in a very unique way to produce unique and delicious wines. And, now for the best part, an update on current activities at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Quinta Cruz and tasting notes on some terrific wines that are currently for sale.
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard
Under this name, but with a new label, the production of Pinot Noir continues from small plots of Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards located very near the old Jarvis vineyard. There is also continuing production of Durif (also know as Petite Sirah), Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The total production of all wines under this label today totals about 1500 cases. There is also a limited number of older bottlings from the old Jarvis vineyard available for sale from the winery. I tasted several of the Pinot Noirs and found the wines outstanding. Jeff is dedicated to continuing the philosophy that he followed under the direction of Ken Burnap and on his own. That is to make wines with moderate alcohol and oak and allow the true characteristics of the grape varieties to be expressed. They are made in very small quantities and are available in California and New York as well as directly from the winery www.santacruzmountainvineyard.com . The older wines and some of the more limited bottlings are available only from the winery. These are wines to buy!
2003 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Estate Bottled. A very small amount of this wine is currently being offered from the winery. This is the last vintage from the old Jarvis estate vineyard. After the winery and vineyard were sold, all the old vines were pulled out so this is truly the end of the line. It is a terrific Pinot Noir and is also a piece of history. Dark in color with a faint amber edge, the wine has a gorgeous perfume that is plummy and spicy with a faint earthy, cedary quality. It is rounded, rich and very flavorful with structure and backbone. This Pinot Noir is wonderful and has a long life ahead. Years from now it will be a great treat to see the evolution of this wine. The oldest wines from the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard date back to 1975. I still have the 1975 in my cellar along with many other vintages (including the terrific 1977). They have aged beautifully and are delicious today – Outstanding. $75
The more recent Pinot Noirs made by Jeff and sourced from two other Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards follow the great tradition of the old estate bottled wines. They are similar in character and have a richness and depth without being heavy or over the top. They too have the potential for long aging and are wines that every lover of Pinot Noir should own.
2004 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Bella’s Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains. Grapes for this wine came from the two current sources of Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir. The majority is from Bailey’s Branciforte Ridge Vineyard and a smaller amount is from Branciforte Creek Vineyard. It was produced in a very small quantity (42 cases) and was named for Jeff’s daughter, Isabella, who was born in 2004. It was made for long term aging. And, although accessible now, it should improve for many years to come. With a deep color showing a faint amber edge, this Pinot Noir has a great complex perfume of herbs, spice, and berries with a faint smoky nuance. It has lots of fruit and flavor with hints of plum and spice and a faint earthy, herbal nuance. Well structured with good backbone and a long finish, this is a real tour-de-force –- Outstanding Plus. $48
2007 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Bailey’s Branciforte Ridge Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains. This is a newer vineyard located in the Vine Hill Area near the old estate location. It was planted in 1999 and consists of Dijon Clones 115 and 667. Only 126 cases were produced in 2007. The wine is stunning with a deep color and a great complex perfume of herbs, spice, and exotic fruit. It is lush and rounded with great intensity and balance. There are flavors of plums, berries, herbs, and spice and the wine has a long finish –- Outstanding Plus. $29 Best Buy
2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Branciforte Creek Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains. This vineyard is located only about a mile from the old estate vineyard. The vines were planted in 1988 on a site that was originally planted in 1863. The yields here are very low and the wines produced from the site have great intensity. Only 120 cases of this 2008 were produced. This is a very intense yet balanced Pinot Noir with a deep color and gorgeous perfume of plums and berries with faint hints of exotic spice and herbs. The wine is rounded and lush and loaded with supple fruit showing hints of spice and herbs –- Outstanding Plus. $29 Best Buy
Quinta Cruz is a new venture launched by Jeff Emery in 2005. The total production is based on wines grown in California that are grape varieties originating from the Iberia Peninsula in Portugal and Spain. This area has a very similar climate to that of California. The venture was launched two years ago and production is steadily increasing. Today the total production is about 2500 cases a year. The philosophy is the same as with Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards. That is to make wines without excessive alcohol or oak and let the grape varieties show their true expression in the wines. I recently tasted many of the different wines. Very simply they are remarkable in many respects. First, they are really good. Second, they represent a new experience in drinking. Third, they are very well priced. You really should give these wines a try. I know you will be glad you did. You may contact them at www.quintacruz.com . They have a wine club and a tasting room. Both are worth investigating.
2009 Quinta Cruz Verdelho Silverspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa (Lodi). Quinta Cruz produces nearly all red wines and this one white wine. Verdelho probably originated in Sicily. It was introduced with the Madeira Islands in the fifteenth century and became the dominant white grape of Madeira wines. It later expanded into the Douro Valley of Portugal and the Anjou region of the Loire Valley in France. The grapes from this wine are grown in a warm Central Valley vineyard which closely corresponds to the European origin. The wine is made without oak and is lively and crisp with 12.5 % alcohol. In 2009 216 cases were produced. It is light yellow in color and has a lovely perfume with floral, citrus, melon, and apricot nuances. Light and crisp but elegant and very tasty with floral, citrus, almond flavors, this is a lovely, unique wine — Highly Recommended. $20
2008 Quinta Cruz Tempranillo Pierce Ranch San Antonio. This wine comes from grapes grown in Southern Monterey County and the production in 2008 totaled 225 cases. Tempranillo is the most widely planted grape variety in Spain and Portugal, but is not yet well known in the U.S. But, just wait. It soon will be. This is a great example and a great value! Don’t miss this one! With a deep color, the wine has a lovely perfume of cedar, plums, and cherry, with a faint smoky spiciness. It is lush, plummy and cedary with lots of flavor, great backbone, and balanced tannins. This is a terrific wine to drink now or age a few years –- Outstanding. $18 Best Buy
2008 Quinta Cruz Graciano Bokisch Vineyard Mokelumne River. Graciano is a Spanish grape variety grown primarily in Rioja and virtually unknown anywhere else. Rioja wines are mostly Tempranillo with some Garnacha (Grenache) and occasionally a small amount of Graciano. Jeff believes there are fewer than a dozen varietal bottlings of this wine anywhere in the world.
The Bokisch Vineyards are located in the Sacramento Valley between Sacramento and Lodi. Here it is very warm and ideally suited for growing Graciano which can hold its acidity in a very warm climate. The production of this wine in 2008 was 157 cases. It is gorgeous. The color is dark and the wine has a deep black cherry and blackberry perfume with a nice spiciness. It is intensely flavorful with great fruit and a nice spiciness. The tannins are balanced and the wine is drinkable now, but sure to soften with additional bottle age –- Outstanding. $28
2007 Quinta Cruz Touriga Pierce Ranch San Antonio Valley. This wine is made from two very distinct varietals, Touriga Nacional (82%) and Touriga Franca (10%). These are grape varieties traditionally used in making Port. Only 75 cases were produced in 2007. The federal authorities do not recognize these two varieties and will only allow Touriga on the label. Jeff says that if Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon could only be called “Cabernet” it would be the same thing as calling these two grape varieties the same. They are very different. With a deep color, this wine shows a complex perfume with floral, berry, plum, and spice nuances and a hint of toasty, smoky earthiness. It is very flavorful and rich with berry and plum fruit accented by hints of spice, smoke, and an earthiness. With some tannin still to be resolved, the wine needs a bit more time to show its full potential — Highly Recommended/Potentially Outstanding. $24
2007 Quinta Cruz Concertina Pierce Ranch San Antonio Valley. Concertina is a small hexagonal accordion with buttons for keys. In Portugal this instrument was used at harvest time when people were carrying heavy baskets of grapes on their backs. It was used to provide a lift for the workers with its sound and melody. Here Concertina represents a blend of red varieties that are grown in the Douro River Valley of Portugal. The blend consists of 74% Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain), 23% is Touriga (which is what the Federal authorities allow to be put on the label even though it is 19% Touriga Nacional and 4% Touriga Franca) and 3% Tinto Cao. The result is an absolutely stunning wine. It has a deep color and a gorgeous perfume of plum, berries, cedar, and spice. There is lots of fruit and complex flavors. Floral notes, berry, plum, cedar, spice, and earth are all present. With great structure and balance, the wine is long on the palate and very impressive –- Outstanding Plus. Best Buy $20
2006 Rabelo – Late Bottled Vintage. A Rabelo is the boat that traders carried the barrels of new Port wine from the Douro Valley to the agency houses across the river from the town of Oporto. The drawing of this boat is on all Quinta Cruz labels and this wine carries that name. It is made entirely from the grape varieties used in Portugal (50% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Nacional, and 25% Tinto Cao). It also is fortified with complex alembic Brandy made from the same grapes from the same vineyard. Very simply, it is a single vineyard Port-style dessert wine. In Portugal, the laws were changed in the 1970s requiring the Port houses to buy grapes for the fortification brandy. Also, they cannot distill the brandy themselves. This wine is unique because it uses the same type of brandy that used tbe be used in Port, It also is made from grapes that are ripe, but not overripe. Most California Port-style wines are made from very overripe, often raisined, fruit. Ports in Portugal are not made from overripe fruit and this one isn’t either. Once again, the wine is unique and totally great. It is without question the very best Port-style dessert wine I have ever experienced. You owe it to yourself to give this a try. If you do, I’m sure you will be simply amazed! Dark in color, the wine has a complex, exotic perfume of plums and Oriental spices. It is rich and packed with loads of exotic fruit flavors that are very fresh and have a gorgeous complex spiciness. This is a simply amazing dessert wine in that it is sweet, but not overly so, and has a high degree of alcohol, but that is integrated so well with the intensity of the wine that there is no sensation of heat. In fact, it is very fresh and totally harmonious with an amazing finish, WOW! – Exceptional. $30 375 ml $57 750 ml