- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


scmv & qc sign [1]

 A Great Under The Radar Twoofer

My history here goes back a long time. This is a small under the radar winery that consistently makes first rate wines at affordable prices. Here is the introduction to the history of these wines from my first article (to read that article click here [2]).

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 http://www.hobbitrestaurant.com/ [3] .

Ken loved wine, particularly Burgundy. But, like me at that time, 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, Mount 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 Ken 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 (to read that review as well  as reviews of many California Pinot Noirs from the 70s click here [4]). [5]

In the facility Ken also had a small space where he lived when he needed to work almost around the clock to get everything done. In 1977 Ken completed a new winery built on four levels so the wine could be moved entirely by gravity. 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. Ken and Jeff 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 unique way to produce unique and delicious wines….

This is my fourth article on Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard And Quinta Cruz (to read the previous articles click here [2]  and here  [6] and here [7]). There were also some notes on other Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Quinta Cruz wines in another article featuring newly released wines (to read that article click here [8]).

The Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Quinta Cruz wines here have always been of a consistently high quality and the last few drought years have continued the trend. But, 2015 was really something. I will taste those wines next year. The crop was severely reduced. Here is what Jeff had to say about the 2015 vintage: It was the strangest harvest ever. The smallest in many years, great quality, and we had our last grapes under roof by September 15th! Everything was pressed off and in barrels before we hit October. That shattered the 40 year record of the brand in terms of when harvest wrapped up. It all came at once, light crops ripen faster, so the fact that the quantities were down was the only thing that saved us. We usually have to turn our fermenters at least three times, but each item was so small we could fit it all at once. We didn’t even use all our fermenting capacity at any time.

Each year I buy wines from this winery and I highly recommend that you take a look at the wines for high quality and great prices. Earlier this year I paid a visit to the winery and tasted with owner/winemaker Jeff Emery. Ken Burnap, the founder winemaker of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, happened to be in town and also joined us. I tasted a couple of 2014 wines from barrel that were not yet assembled. And, I also tasted one 2013 wine from barrel. But, mostly I tasted the bottled wines that I had tasted previously from barrel. Also, I tasted a few of the 2012s that I had previously tasted. The bottled wines were showing beautifully.

jeff emery [9]

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard logo [10]


The quantities in 2014 were more than 2013 and Jeff says the 2014s seem to be more fruit forward. I tasted a couple samples of the Bailey’s Branciforte Ridge Pinot Noir made with different amounts of whole cluster fermentation. The decision on blending will be made later. Both samples showed lovely very pure fruit. The 2013 Cabernet was still in barrel. Again, it is a wine of depth and richness.

2013 Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Luchessi Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains
With a dark color this wine has a deep berry perfume with hints of spice and cedar. Rich and full with lots of fruit and a good backbone with well integrated tannins this Cabernet shows its characteristic intensity. The comparison of this wine after it is bottled with the stunning 2012 will be most interesting – Outstanding Potential.


2014 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Grenache Blanc
This wine was first made in 2012. It is a seductive and very appealing wine that really grows on you. This 2014 version looks to be the best yet. Light yellow in color with a gorgeous melon tinged floral perfume with a tropical accent the wine is light and flavorful with lovely melon and citrus fruit. It is beautifully balanced and shows a lot of style and breed – Outstanding.   $18     Best Buy

2013 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. This 2013 was bottled just 2 months prior to my tasting. It is a lovely follow on to the 2012 with very pure fruit and a lot of finesse. The wine has a very nice color and a lovely floral berry perfume with a faint spiciness. Balanced with lovely fruit this is a stylistic Pinot Noir with the promise of longevity and increasing complexity – Outstanding.   $29

2013 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Branciforte Creek Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains.
This four acre vineyard was planted in 1988 on a site that originally had vineyards dating back to 1863. It is located on Jarvis Road in the Vine Hill area of the Santa Cruz Mountains about a mile away from the old Estate Vineyard on Jarvis Road. The vineyard is planted to the Pommard clone and consistently has low yields. The wines from here consistently show depth and intensity. This 2013 was also just bottled 2 months prior to my tasting. The wine has a very nice color and lovely a floral perfume. It exhibits a lot of fruit that is a bit subdued and begins to open with air. Still a baby this will be lovely a few years out – Outstanding.   $39

2012 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Vine Hill Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains
With a relatively good quantity of fruit in 2012 Jeff decided to make this special bottling. The wine is a blend of the 2 vineyards with a bit more Branciforte Creek. The total production is 150 cases. It will be released for sale in 2017 five years from the vintage. With a deep color the wine has a great berry perfume with floral tinges. On the palate there is a lot of depth and intensity and the fruit is very supple and pure. With a firm underlying structure this Pinot Noir will be showing beautifully when released in a couple of years – Outstanding Plus.

2012 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Luchessi Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains
This 4 acre vineyard was planted in 1981 on a steep hillside on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains close to Mount Eden Vineyards, but at a lower elevation and east of Monte Bello Ridge. The vineyard is dry farmed and the yields are very low. The wine is consistently rich and intense but with balance. It is a wine that will repay aging for a very long time. I have tasted this 2012 twice from barrel and felt both times that the wine would be one of the great 2012 Cabernets. Now that it is bottled it has lived up to its potential. It is a great Cabernet Sauvignon with a great future at a great price. The wine has a very dark color and deep perfume of blackberry fruit with cedar and spice and faint hints of graphite and tobacco. With lots of intense fruit the wine is complex with cedar and tobacco nuances a faint spice. There is a lot of underlying structure and the wine has well integrated tannins. This is great Cabernet bargain and a wine to lay away – Extraordinary.     $38     Best Buy

2012 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Bailey’s Branciforte Ridge Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains
Tasted last year this wine was showing beautifully as it is now. The wine has a very nice color with a lovely floral berry perfume showing a faint hint of spice. It is supple, rounded, and lush with gorgeous balance. The wine is delicious now, but will age for a very long time – Outstanding.   $29

2012 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Branciforte Creek Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine I also tasted on my visit last year. I had tasted it twice from barrel before that and felt it would be something very special. It was gorgeous when tasted from bottle last year. And this year, no surprise, it is really lovely. The color is deep and the wine has a gorgeous floral spice perfume with cherry tinges. Loaded with fruit this is a rich yet harmonious and beautifully balanced Pinot Noir that will age effortlessly for many years – Outstanding Plus.   $39

2012 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Petite Sirah Pierce Ranch San Antonio Valley
I tasted this wine just after it was bottled last year. It is a superb Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is a great under the radar California varietal that ages beautifully and evolves into something very special. Consistently this Petite Sirah and the Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirahs are superb wines that are available at very attractive prices. Jeff Emery loves Petite Sirah and has worked with it for years following in the footsteps of his mentor, Ken Burnap. Here is what Jeff has to say about Petite Sirah:
”The variety known in California as Petite Sirah has its origins in France where it is called Durif. It was named after Dr. Durif who propagated it from a cross of Peloursin and Syrah in 1880. Only in the U.S. is the variety called Petite Sirah – elsewhere in the world it is called by its correct and original name Durif. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard has worked with this variety since 1977.
The grapes for this wine come from the relatively new appellation of San Antonio Valley in southwestern Monterey County. This high valley, west of Highway 101 is well suited to slightly warmer climate grape varieties. The block that these grapes come from is on top of a well-drained, shale covered hill.
We are using a relatively new approach in fermenting our Petite Sirah. The variety is famous for over-extracting tannins, often making wines of great fruit intensity, but commonly having a lot of astringency. Starting in 2005 we went to a method of whole berry fermentation of our Petite Sirah and we are very excited about the results.
When the grapes are processed they are only de-stemmed, not crushed at all. We de-stem them into small, one ton lot, fermentation bins. By not crushing the berries we release fewer of the harsh tannins during fermentation.”
Consistently the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Petite Sirah is a winner and this 2012 is no exception.
Dark in color the wine has a stunning berry and plum perfume and great intensity with layers of olallieberry and plum fruit. The tannins are well integrated and the wine is a keeper – Outstanding.   $18     Best Buy

Quinta Cruz

Quinta Cruz [11]

These Iberian Peninsula varietals are available only from the wine club http://www.santacruzmountainvineyard.com/wineclub.html [12] . They are unique and unusual wines that also have a lot of character and style.
Touriga National and Touriga Franca are grape varieties used to make Port. In previous years Jeff has made small quantities of a blend of the two wines which was called Touriga. This was necessitated by labeling laws. But, he has always felt that the two varieties were just as different as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. So now the two varieties are bottled separately.

2012 Quinta Cruz Touriga National Pierce Ranch San Antonio Valley
With a deep color this wine has a great floral perfume with hints of chocolate. It has lots of floral tinged fruit again with a tinge of chocolate. Flavorful and well-structured the wine has a good backbone and will benefit from additional bottle age – Outstanding.   $30

2012 Quinta Cuz Touriga Franca Pierce Ranch San Antonio Valley
This wine has a deep color and a complex perfume of berry fruit with hints of mushroom and herbal leafy nuances. On the palate there is ample fruit with herbal nuances and good backbone with well integrated tannins. It will be interesting to see the flavor profile of this wine change with additional bottle age. Just now the difference between this Franca and the National is quite distinct – Highly Recommended.   $30

2012 Quinta Cruz Souzâo Silverspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa
Souzâo is also known as Vinhao in Portugal where it is used to make port wine. As a varietal wine this certainly qualifies as an under the radar wine. The wine has a very dark color and an intense black berry perfume tinged with cherry and spice. Full and very rich with lots of black berry fruit it also has a firm underlying backbone which should carry the wine for an extended period. It will be most interesting to watch the evolution of this unusual wine – Outstanding.   $30


Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Quinta Cruz wines are attractively priced, hand crafted wines that are made in limited quantities. The wines are balanced and will age beautifully for many years. If you have not yet tried the wines from Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Quinta Cruz, I strongly advise you to do so. They are available in limited retail distribution and direct from the winery. (To visit the website and learn about the wine club offering substantial discounts click here [13]).

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard [14]