Diversity in Santa Cruz County extends to the local wine scene, where varietals are poured in settings from rural and rustic to refined and rarefied. The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is one of the oldest growing regions in the United States, and home to more than 70 wineries and tasting rooms, the majority of which are generational in nature: owned and run by family members.
The Santa Cruz Mountains region represents a small amount of the over 600,000 acres of wine grapes throughout California. However, with limited production and distribution, these boutique wineries can concentrate on the art of making wine.
Distinctive microclimates and rich sandy loam soil contribute to the quality of wine grapes grown in high-altitude, small vineyard lots surrounded by redwood trees and acreage with views of the Monterey Bay. A Mediterranean climate combining warm sunny days and cool foggy nights puts a regional stamp on the flavors of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and other varietals like Merlot and Zinfandel for which the area is known. Described as fruit-forward integrated with minerality from grapes grown on ancient seabeds, these wines have a noteworthy taste germane to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Wine tasting in Santa Cruz County is an intimate experience, where owners who oversee winery operations and tend to the vineyards along with field staff oftentimes also pour wine on the weekends for guests. Visitors can meet the winemaker in person, and learn about sustainable growing methods, how different varietals are aged and stored, and what foods to pair with specific types of wine.
This forward-facing approach unique to Santa Cruz area wineries illustrates the transparency of the industry, offering a personalized wine tasting experience while fostering familiarity with the local people who produce award-winning wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
In fact, the following Santa Cruz County wineries participated and won medals in the 2022 Sunset International Wine Competition: 2018 Soquel Vineyards Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir – Double Gold; 2018 Storrs Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Best of Class; 2018 Storrs Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Double Gold; 2020 Storrs Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Proprietor’s Reserve Wildcat Ridge Double Gold; and the 2019 Nicholson Vineyards Barbera Amador County Double Gold.
These local wines can be enjoyed in a variety of unique settings: a stylish urban tasting room, a bucolic winery surrounded by vineyards, or a family- and pet-friendly winery where picnics are welcome. Explore local wines at area restaurants too, where knowledgeable staff can suggest wines to pair with menu options.