All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
Did you know that the Santa Cruz area is home to one of the oldest wine growing regions in California? The Santa Cruz Mountain appellation—lauded for its high elevation, ocean influence, and varied microclimates—enjoys more than 200 vineyards, 75 wineries, and, maybe most importantly, zero hassle. Here, it’s the scenery that will take your breath away, not the crowds or tasting fees. Santa Cruz wineries are small, intimate and family-run, and, oftentimes, your glass will be filled by the winemaker or owner themselves. From urban tasting rooms to spectacular country settings, the following wineries should be on your radar and on your next Santa Cruz County itinerary.
Follow the sounds of Hawaiian tunes and a happy crowd to this lively tasting room where the aloha flows as freely as the wine. Bon vivant Marin John Artukovich, the MJA of MJA, farmed coffee on the Big Island before the allure of winemaking brought him to California. With yummy Cabs, extended evening hours, and a convivial atmosphere, MJA has fostered a family-like feel among its patrons (small plaques that bear the names of regulars line the bar). Wine club members have it best with a free movie and dinner hosted each month in the cellar. Grab some grub from one of the nearby restaurants or markets, nab a glass of wine, and cozy up around the lively fire pits out front.
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards
Craving the perfect food pairing? Head to Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards where a foodie staff has been pouring food-friendly wines since 1975. In the European tradition, oak and alcohol have been dialed back to let the characteristics of the varietals shine through. Ever tried a Souzão? Their second line of wines, Quinta Cruz, exclusively features varietals from the Iberian Peninsula, a first for a California label! Just don’t leave without inspecting the tasting room bar. Built from hunk of redwood from owner Jeff Emery’s Bonny Doon backyard, it’s dotted with 400-year-old acorns preserved in the wood.
Photo by @haleymullins3
The first thing you'll notice at this fun, easy-going tasting room and winery is a tapped wine barrel marked with a sign that reads “Beware, protected by hedgehog with attitude.” Influenced by European markets, Sones invites patrons to purchase a repurposed spring top belgian beer bottle and fill it again and again with their delicious Hedgehog Red. “It’s our pizza blend wine,” says owner and winemaker Michael Sones. It also goes great with the gourmet hot dogs that you’ll find sold in the parking lot on weekends. Want to decide what goes into the blend? Join the wine club, and twice a year, you’ll get to vote for your favorite grapes. It’s not the only wine they produce—check out the floral white blend, Canción del Mar—but it’s definitely the most fun!
Storrs Winery + Vineyards
Seek out this charming tasting room in the Old Sash Mill for exceptional examples of Santa Cruz’s most prevalent varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Winemakers Pamela & Steve Storrs opened the winery in 1988 making it one of the region’s first urban wineries. Their Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay, a crisp refreshing sipper that’s not overly buttery or oaky, is a local staple that was awarded Best Chardonnay of Region and a gold medal from the 2016 California State Fair. Wine Enthusiast just gave their 2013 Pinot Noir a whopping 94 points and made it their pick of the month for December. Come sip for yourself in the cozy space that’s decorated with vivid, retro-style posters from a neighboring signmaker.
Alfaro Family Vineyards + Winery
Tucked into the rolling, vineyard-covered hills of Corralitos, this stunning property delivers that quintessential wine country experience. You’ll sip award-winning Pinots, Chardonnays, and other varietals while being surrounded by gorgeous vistas. Grab a seat on one of their outdoor patios and welcoming staff will guide you through a tasting as you relax. Gather up some friends, load up on the cheese and crackers, and enjoy the perfect day in the vineyards!
Another bucolic stop along the Corralitos Wine Trail, Nicholson Winery is situated in the peaceful, former apple-growing region of Pleasant Valley. Acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards and Tuscan olive groves hint at the deliciousness awaiting you inside the tasting room. Available to sample are not just Nicholson’s elegant, estate wines but also their smooth, extra virgin olive oil that’s made with hand-picked fruit from the Tuscan olive trees outside.
History and scenery abound at this historic winery perched directly above lush Soquel Creek. Established in 1933, Bargetto is the oldest winery in Santa Cruz County, and is still operated by the same family. Belly up to their beautiful wood bar, compare differing vintages and vineyards of Pinot Noir, and enjoy dramatic river views through floor to ceiling windows. Or take your glass out to an airy light-strung patio that is an in-demand spot for wedding parties. Don't miss their popular mead that’s made from 100% natural honey.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS
Byington Vineyard + Winery
The scenic, mountainside road that winds up to this destination winery is half the fun. You’ll arrive at a handsome mansion surrounded by seven acres of rolling Pinot Noir vineyards and a sweeping view of the entire Monterey Bay. In addition to tasting through numerous Pinots, you can also tour their awesome, underground wine cave. There are also picnic areas, BBQ grills, and bocce ball courts that are available to reserve in advance. Bring the pups, the kids, and some BBQ fixings, and make a day of it!
Housed in a historic cabin-like structure that once served as a popular general store and bar, Beauregard’s cozy tasting room on Ben Lomond Mountain feels like a vacation in the woods. The fourth generation family winery excels at Cabs, Zin, Pinots, and Chards in a setting that will make you swoon. The wood-fireplace warmed interior oozes mountain charm while an adjacent lawn is dotted with redwoods and lawn furniture and enlivened by a rippling, year-round creek.
Wine Tasting and Craftbar at Annieglass Studios
Although not technically a winery, Annieglass’ Watsonville glass factory and shop is open to the public daily and the onsite tasting room features local and regional fine wines and craft beers. Take part in a craft workshops, cooking demo, free studio tour, or bargain hunting at the outlet store. Featuring Alfaro, Bonny Doon, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards, Storrs, Ser, Odonata, Martin Ranch, and other local wines. Sip away and get inspired!
Need another reason to hit the Santa Cruz wine trail? Oftentimes, you won’t be able to spot these wines outside of their respective winery. To maintain the quality of both the product and experience, many local wineries limit their wholesale distribution and instead sell directly to their customers via their tasting room and wine club. It’s more personal and it helps support a healthy, local, independent winemaking community. Of course, you can find many Santa Cruz wines at local restaurants and wine bars and we encourage you to ask staff about their local selections. Santé!