OK, fellow wine lovers, what’s on our checklist for an ideal, quick, wine-country getaway? It should be an easy drive, so we can get there comfortably and bring vino back. We want multiple wineries, scenic vistas, moderate crowds, affordable tastings, great eats and, of course, world-class juice.
Sommelier Jeffrey Perisho rocks the bubbles. | Lou Phillips
In our getaway series we will feature popular and under-the-radar destinations that deliver in all categories and sometimes in more.
In this edition, we are traveling to the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga. Given this area’s proximity and rich wine history, it’s amazing how few realize that top-tier wines were being crafted here long before Napa was in vogue. From the early 1900s, this region was touted among the cognoscenti as the new Burgundy or Bordeaux.
First to the game was Frenchman Paul Masson, who created the jewel that is now known as The Mountain Winery, high on a peak between Silicon Valley and the beach town of Santa Cruz. He specialized in sparkling wine and brought the first worldwide recognition to American bubblies. Renowned California vine pioneers Martin Ray, Kathryn Kennedy and Paul Draper, led the next wave in this region. Ray and Kennedy started their eponymously named wineries in Saratoga’s mountain terrain and Draper took over the operation of Ridge Vineyards in the mid-1960s in the same area.
From the early 1900s, this region was touted among the cognoscenti as the new Burgundy or Bordeaux.
Saratoga’s viticulture is defined by elevation, fog and geology. The Santa Cruz mountains are on the San Andreas Fault Line and the soil types and structures, along with the cool climate from the elevation, fog and coastal winds, lead to difficult grape-growing, low vineyard yields and best of all, when done right, high-quality sophisticated wines.
Current top-tier players here are the aforementioned Ridge Vineyards, which feature a world-class red Bordeaux blend called, “Monte Bello,” the name of their estate vineyard; Kathryn Kennedy Winery, which produces a Cabernet that also stands toe-to-toe with Bordeaux; and Mount Eden Vineyards where Jeffery Patterson creates Chardonnays and Pinots that truly rival anything Burgundy’s can offer.
A step below these superstars are Michaud Vineyard and Testarossa Winery. These are by no means all the options here because The Mountain Winery, which also hosts a top-notch concert series in a spectacular amphitheater, is among many on the scenic Saratoga Wine Trail.
Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello | Courtesy Plumed Horse Restaurant
Leading the way in incredible edibles is Saratoga’s Plumed Horse restaurant, which is also one of a handful of Wine Spectator Grand Award winners worldwide. It has been awarded the Michelin Star continuously from 2009 to 2016. Its cellar contains 3,500 selections, bursting with the world’s best from Burgundy, Napa, Bordeaux and Champagne. Also, its cuisine is to die for — it has been awarded the Michelin Star continuously from 2009 to 2016.
Saratoga checks all the boxes for a great wine getaway and is just four hours from our little slice of heaven. Cheers.
Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and his consulting business wineprowest.com assists in the selling, buying and managing wine collections. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com for more wine columns.