Driving into the Santa Cruz Mountains it is often safer to focus on the winding road ahead than to look around you. But through the forest to either side of the highway is dispersed a vibrant community of viticulturalists and vintners involved in a renowned wine industry. Winemaking in the Santa Cruz Mountains started in the mid 1800’s when homesteaders planted vineyards where patches of the redwood forest had been logged. Santa Cruz Mountain wines rose in global prominence and in the 1960s and 70s the regional premium wine industry took off.
In 1981 areas from Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo were classified as the first mountainous American Viticultural Area. The appellation, a defined geographic area in which vines can be grown, is very diverse. The changing elevations, Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, and warm inland all contribute to microclimates which allow vineyards to produce surprisingly diverse grapes.
To learn more I traveled to Muns Vineyard, which is situated 20 minutes east of Highway 17 near Loma Prieta at 2600 feet. Their high elevation keeps them above fog and allows them to grow cool-climate grapes like their popular Pinot Noir. Almost entirely a vineyard, Muns processes its grapes into wine at wineries around the summit area.
Situated lower down at 400 feet between large slopes to the west and east is Hallcrest Vineyards in Felton. Much older than Muns, Hallcrest was one of the largest wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 1940s. In 1987 the Schumacher family bought the site, revived the vineyards, and started producing popular wines from grapes across the appellation.
There are many vineyards ranging from large productions to backyard projects and over 70 wineries in the Mountains.
Muns Vineyard is located off Summit Road in Los Gatos. They produce Pinot Noir and Syrah and at 2600′ are the highest Pinot Noir vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. You can find their website here and their Facebook profile here.
Hallcrest Vineyards is located off Felton Empire Road in Felton. They produce wines from an array of different vineyards and offer tastings M-F, 12-5 PM for $7. You can find their website here.