Thanks to talented winegrowers, hospitable soil, and the cooling waters of nearby Monterey Bay, you won’t have trouble finding world-class wines with distinctive terroir in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. But what about a setting that is equally delicious? As local hikers and nature lovers are well aware, the Santa Cruz Mountains abound with a striking natural beauty which provides an inspiring backdrop for the many wineries dotted about its hillsides. Below, you’ll find three picturesque wineries where you can sip amidst the vineyards, and drink up the scenery.
Lester Family Vineyards is well-known to local wine enthusiasts, having been used to create high-end wines for labels such as Big Basin, Alfaro, and La Rochelle. Now, rather than only sell to other winemakers, owners Steve and Lori Johnson are producing their own wines with fruit from their esteemed vineyards. With rockstar viticulturist Prudy Foxx and a handful of talented winemakers, Lester Estates Wines unveiled their first commercial release in fall 2018 which included a pinot noir, syrah, and chardonnay. Given its pedigree, it’s little surprise the new label has already caught fire. Conde Nast Traveler recently proclaimed the Santa Cruz Mountains one of the top ten wine regions in the world, noting that Lester Estates shouldn’t be missed. Steve Johnson refers to the property as the crown jewel of the region given its sheer beauty. Tasting room hours are limited to two Saturdays each month during the summer (and one Saturday a month in winter), but visitors should jump at the chance to experience the Johnson’s wines and estate. The tasting room—filled with fascinating objects and treasures collected by the estate’s namesake, the globe-hopping, late Dan Lester—is worth the trip alone. Sign-up in advance, and you can enjoy the spectacular property aboard a restored 1981 Land Rover Defender which shuttles lucky guests to quiet spots such a redwood meadow where the label’s wines are paired with bites prepared by a resident chef. Visitors can also arrange for a “picnic pail” catered lunch served on an outdoor deck overlooking the vineyards.
Enjoy a lush, vineyard setting with sweeping views of the region at this hilltop winery that feels worlds away, but is just 10 minutes from downtown Soquel. The label was founded in 1987 by twin brothers Peter and Paul Bargetto—a family name that should be recognizable to anyone familiar with local wineries—and their childhood friend, Jon Morgan. The brothers and Jon got their start in the business at the family’s Bargetto Winery, the oldest wine producer in the county which opened on December 5th, 1933 (history buffs will note the non-coincidental date as the repeal of Prohibition). Today, Peter, Paul and Jon produce award-winning Pinots and Chards on the same land farmed by their grandfather in the early 20th century. Visitors are welcome to visit the scenic tasting room every Saturday and Sunday from 11a.m. – 4:30p.m., enjoying a scenic redwood-lined drive up the hillside, and nursing a glass on a patio overlooking the Monterey Bay and the surrounding region. When you visit, seek out fun details such as Italian roof tiles that date back to the mid-1700s, and a pair of towering wooden doors fashioned from a 12,000-gallon redwood tank salvaged from the original Bargetto winery. Did we mention they’re award winning? Soquel Vineyards scored Double Gold for both the 2017 Santa Cruz Mountains Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2016 Partner’s Reserve Regan Vineyard Merlot, also from the Santa Cruz Mountains at the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this past January. Click here for a full list of awards they received!
Storrs Winery has been a beloved fixture of the Santa Cruz wine scene since it was founded by U.C. Davis grads Stephen Storrs and Pamela Bianchini-Storrs in 1988. Until recently, their cozy tasting room in the Sash Mill complex was the only spot to sample their collection of handcrafted wines. Now, visitors are welcome to a striking new tasting room on the couple’s sprawling estate in Pleasant Valley. Set amidst rolling hills, the serene property features a modern, 6,800-square-foot concrete “barn” with tasting room and sunny outdoor terrace bounded by vineyards and a forest of swaying eucalyptus. Each weekend, guests can taste through Storrs’ award-winning wines made from the estate’s California Certified Organic Farmers-approved vineyards. Storrs recently nabbed Best Chardonnay of the Region at the California State Fair, and took home Double-Gold for their pinot noir at the Sunset International Wine competition. Check their calendar for upcoming events such as picnic lunches and tours of their Hidden Springs vineyards where you’ll learn about Storrs’ biodynamic practices and successful efforts to foster more wildlife.
Thirsty for more? The Santa Cruz wine region is home to more than 70 wineries and tasting rooms, many of which are charming, family-owned and operated destinations. Find your next favorite bottle via our site which details the many ways to sample the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA.