The Surf City Vintners collective of micro-boutique wineries, numbering a dozen, has made Santa Cruz a vibrant mecca for wine tasting. An urban renewal project has turned former warehouse space into a hip, trendy destination that also includes Kelly’s French Bakery, the New Leaf organic market, and some darling little shops. All are in renovated warehouse spaces on Ingalls and Swift Streets, clustered within an easily walkable couple of blocks on the westside of town off of Hwy. 1 near UC Santa Cruz; and Storrs Winery is nearby in the Old Sash Mill.
Spend an afternoon in the tasting rooms, many of which are right inside the wineries with the fermentation tanks and barrels. You can actually see the wine process and inhale the heady aromas of wine as it is created. Some of the oldest and newest wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains are here. Most are small, family-owned and operated local businesses. The winemakers themselves are usually there and happy to share their stories, as well as their wines.
You will find a wide variety to taste: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet; and some of the unusual, including Spanish and Portuguese varieties at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard/Quinta Cruz, as well as Durif, Malbec, Grenache. If you are lucky you might have the opportunity to taste a 30-year old library wine from Jeff Emery’s earlier winemaking years.
Also on Ingalls Street you will find Silver Mountain, known for its organically-grown estate wines from its vineyard high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, including its Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. Enjoy the artwork adorning the gallery walls here, as well as at Sones Cellars across the driveway, where the focus is on Zinfandels and Petite Sirah (and enjoy other wines, too).
Explore the Dooniverse at Bonny Doon’s eclectic tasting room, with the option of a private tasting with a Wine Ambassador. Its Cellar Door Café offers up seasonal fare from local producers, under Executive Chef Charlie Parker, and is open for lunch and dinner. If you want to make your own wine, you can do so at Vino Tabi, and wine taste there, too.
Rexford Winery (formerly Hillcrest Terrace Winery) is the passionate second career for UCSC astronomy and astrophysics professor Joe Miller, who has also taught UCSC extension courses on enology and wine appreciation for many years. MJA Vineyards offers wine tasting and also the “best coffee in America”, according to Forbes Magazine in 2001, grown by the owner at his Kona plantation and sold at the tasting room.
A huge bonus is the sparkling wine at Equinox Champagne Cellar on Swift Street, where winemaker Barry Jackson also makes wine under the Bartolo label. Next door is Copious Winery, where you can enjoy some fine wines and fine art, too.
At Odonata, Denis Hoey specializes in Rhone wines. He crafts elegant wines in small batches, mostly from grapes grown in local, Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards. Sip wine on the patio at his new tasting room a couple of walkable blocks away on Mission Street, next to Companion Bakery.
Storrs Winery is a short drive away in the Old Sash Mill, near Hwy. 1 and River Street. Steve and Pamela started their winery in 1998, and specialize in Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, as well as Zinfandel and a wide variety of red and white wines. A trip here is an exploration in wine tasting.
More in the area
In the Swift Street Courtyard Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing serves up a dozen different organic micro-brewed beers and ales. Sit on the patio and connect to free wi-fi from your laptop. You can also bask in the sun at the courtyard café at Kelly’s Bakery, and enjoy a sandwich or scrumptious dessert. The patio is dog-friendly, so bring your furry friend. Explore the little shops, including soaps and gifts at Scentsations; boutique clothing at Cameron Marks and The Vintage Store. For yarnies there is The Swift Stitch; and Le Salon Cruz for a beauty break. One street away is the Frans Lanting Gallery, with an exhibit of stunning wildlife photographs from around the world. Saturday mornings year round the Westside Farmers Market sets up at 2801 Mission St. (at Western Dr.), only a couple of blocks away, where dozens of local farmers offer fresh, mostly organic, produce.
Create a picnic from the gourmet cheeses and takeout bar at the New Leaf market and head down the street to the Natural Bridges State Beach, less than half a mile away. At UCSC’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center on the other side of the park you can view the science exhibits and aquarium, and hold in your hand sea creatures from the seawater table. The Center is the University’s laboratory for ocean field research, and is open to the public. Then you can bike or walk along West Cliff Drive and it is only 1.5 miles to the roller coaster and rides at the Boardwalk, past Lighthouse Point where you can take in the Surfer Museum and watch the surfers at Steamer’s Lane.
So spend a delightful afternoon at the Surf City Vintners at their Westside enclave, then dine at any one of a number of excellent Santa Cruz restaurants. Ask your tasting room hosts for recommendations, or visit the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council.
Kelly’s French Bakery: 402 Ingalls St. kellysfrenchbakery.com
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing: 402 Ingalls St., santacruzmountainbrewing.com
New Leaf Community Market: 1121 Pacific Ave., newleaf.com
UCSC’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory, 00 Shaffer Road and Natural Bridges State Beach. seymourcenter.ucsc.edu Open Tues-Sat. until 5pm; every day in July and August
Frans Lanting Gallery, 207 McPherson Street, lanting.com