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Critical Acclaim for Santa Cruz Mountains Wine

Bargetto’s Regan Vineyard

May 19, 2020 – Some of our local wineries have fared quite well in a recent spate of reviews from Wine Enthusiast, Rhone Report, Vinous and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. So well, in fact, that some are already sold out of those wines. For example, Richard Alfaro says the 2017s, which were scored by Wine Advocate, are all sold out, and the 2018s have not yet been rated. It’s a similar story for many, but there is still plenty to celebrate. All scores listed are from Wine Enthusiast and are for Santa Cruz Mountains wines, unless otherwise indicated. Grab a corkscrew and let’s have some fun!

Apriori Cellar, Phillipe Melka (consulting winemaker)

Apriori chooses special vineyard sites throughout the Anderson Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma Coast. Hicks Vineyard, located in Pleasant Valley, is farmed by viticulture consultant, Prudy Foxx. This wine was made by Shawn Johnson.

94 points 2016 Apriori Hicks Vineyard Pinot Noir

Armitage Vineyards, Brandon Armitage

Winemaker and Pinot lover, Brandon Armitage, took over the Heart O’ The Mountain brand in Scotts Valley in 2014. You might recall this is the former estate of Alfred Hitchcock, maker of some mighty memorable thrillers. These wines might be good with an old classic like “Rear Window,” as we wave goodbye to the worst of the pandemic in the rearview:

92 Points 2016 Armitage Heart O’ the Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 

92 Points 2017 Armitage Heart O’ the Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir (Wine Advocate)

Bargetto, Bobby Graviano

Bargetto’s winemaking team, including winemaker Bobby Graviano and assistant, Keegan Mayo, impressed Wine Enthusiast with their solid 2018 efforts:

94 Points 2018 Bargetto Mount Eden Clone Pinot Noir

92 Points 2018 Bargetto Reserve Chardonnay

92 Points 2017 Bargetto Pommard Clone Pinot Noir

Beauregard Vineyards, Ryan Beauregard

The recent Wine Enthusiast scores for the 2018 vintage garnered winegrower Ryan Beauregard and his faithful vineyard and cellar crew their highest scores ever: 

96 Points Editors’ Choice, 2018 Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains $50

95 Points 2018 Sand Hill Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains $65

94 Points Editors’ Choice, 2017 Coast Grade Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains $60

94 Points 2018 Beauregard Ranch Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains $55

93 Points 2016 Forager Series Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains $35

93 Points 2017 Beauregard Ranch Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains $60

93 Points 2018 Ouef en Beton Beauregard Ranch Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains $60

92 Points Editors’ Choice 2015 Forager Series Merlot Santa Cruz Mountains $35

92 Points 2018 Ouef en Beton Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains $50

We tried the top three scoring wines from this list. 

2018 Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay – Vibrant aromas of wild honeysuckle, golden apples, Meyer lemon shortbread and flavors of kumquat, tangerine and Shaker lemon pie. Vivid, finely honed acid makes this wine a standout: will age brilliantly. 

2018 Sand Hill Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay– Aromas of melon, pear and apple pie lead to apple strudel, Meyer lemon bars and almond biscotti. There’s a raw silk texture, a touch of oiliness and a distinct minerality. 

2017 Coast Grade Vineyard Pinot Noir —Classic SCM pinot, oozing alpine strawberry, warm pine forest, exotic woods and ferns. A soaring wine, it delivers red fruits, baking spice, warm bourbon vanilla, and essence of forest. Truly special.

Big Basin Vineyard, Bradley Brown

Big Basin Vineyards was among 10 wineries from the Santa Cruz Mountains featured in the April edition of Food & Wine Magazine. Editor, Ray Isle, chose to highlight the 2017 Big Basin Vineyards Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir ($60), and praised it for its ruby red hues and raspberry and rhubarb notes.

Big Basin Vineyards also won both the Bottle Prize and the Great Wine Prize for its 2016 Santa Cruz Mountains Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir from the editors of the “Slow Wine Guide 2020.”

Other recent scores for this powerhouse from Vinous or Wine Enthusiast (WE) include:

2016 Alfaro Vineyard Pinot Noir 95 points (WE)

2016 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 95 points (WE)

2015  Rattlesnake Rock Syrah 93 points (WE)

2016 Odeon 93 points
2017 Alfaro Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 92 points
2017 Howard Family Vineyard Chardonnay 92 points
2017 Homestead 92 points
2016 Old Corral Pinot Noir 92 points
2016 Gabilan Mountains GSM 91+ points
2016 Altitude 2292 Bordeaux Blend 91 points
2017 Coastview Vineyard Chardonnay 91 points
2017 Dune & Mountain Pinot Noir 91 points
2017 Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah 91 points
2017 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 90 points

Hahn Wine Estate, Paul Clifton

Clifton has been making wine for Hahn for 17 years, and is really proud of this experiment: part of the estate vineyard is planted to a mix of clones and all are picked at once and fermented together in a true field riot. The Orchestral wine is a stunner.

94 Points 2016 Hahn “Orchestral” Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands

Lester Family Vineyard, Various

Lester Family Vineyard, farmed by Prudy Foxx, is really having a heyday in the hands of many talented winemakers. Lester Estate Wines represent the family’s private branded wines, Wine Enthusiast showed them a lot of love:

96 Points Editor’s Choice 2016 Lester Estate Wines “Mercurio” Pinot Noir – winemaker, John Benedetti

94 Points 2016 Lester Estate Wines “Domingo” Pinot Noir – winemaker, Ed Kurtzman

94 points 2017 Lester Estate Wines Chardonnay – winemaker, John Benedetti

Lioco, Matt and Sara Licklider

Lioco takes pride in premium sites in Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains. They worked with local vineyard pro, Prudy Foxx, who hooked them up with Saveria Vineyards in Corralitos for a great result: 

95 points 2017 Lioco Saveria Vineyards Pinot Noir

Morgan Wines, Sam Smith

Morgan has long showed consistency and prowess across the gamut of its wines, from both their estate Double L Vineyard and others in the Santa Lucia Highlands. One of our favorites for accessibility is the 2018 G17 Syrah, which was named a “Best Buy in the Market” by Connoisseurs’ Guide, April 2020. And the acclaim didn’t stop there:

96 Points 2017 Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir

96 Points 2017 Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir, PinotFile

95 Points 2017 Double L Vineyard Chardonnay, PinotFile 

95 Points 2017 Highlands Chardonnay, Anthony Dias Blue

94 Points 2017 Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir, PinotFile

94 Points 2017 Double L Pinot Noir, Clone RC, PinotFile

93 Points 2017 Rosella’s Pinot Noir, Vinous

93 Points 2017 Tondre Grapefield Chardonnay, PinotFile

93 Points 2017 Twelve Clones Pinot Noir

92 Points Editor’s Choice 2018 Cotes du Crow’s 

94 Points Double L Vineyard Syrah, Anthony Dias Blue

94 Points 2018 G17 Syrah 

92 Points 2017 Double L Vineyard Chardonnay (Clone 15), PinotFile

92 Points 2018 Double L Dry Riesling, Anthony Dias Blue

92 Points 2018 Double L Riesling, Anthony Dias Blue

92 Points 2018 Tempranillo

Odonata, Denis Hoey

Denis Hoey organically farms the 8-year old Falcon Hill Vineyard, planted solely to Pinot Noir (115, 667, 777). It is located behind Happy Valley elementary school on Branciforte. He says he picked the dense, but delicate fruit, after the big heat spike that marked the harvest of 2017. I barrel-tasted this wine last year, and it was memorably impressive in every regard:
93 Points 2017 Falcon Hill Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

Samuel Louis Smith

The eponymous personal brand of Morgan winemaker, Sam Smith, seeks to express sites in Monterey, Santa Cruz and St Rita Hills. These wines are sold out, but the 2018s are still available.

94 Points 2017 Sandstone Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains

93 Points Editor’s Choice 2017 Albatross Ridge Chardonnay

Sante Arcangeli, John Benedetti

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate recently showed a lot of love to John Benedetti’s latest releases, with the top nod going to wines from the 30-year old Split Rail Vineyard. The 2017 Split Rails were among my favorite Santa Cruz Mountains wines ever, so can’t wait to try these 2018s: 

94 Points 2018 Split Rail Vineyard Pinot Noir 

94 Points 2018 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir

94 Points 2018 Integrato Pinot Noir

93 Points 2017 Herr Vineyard Pinot Noir

93 Points 2017 Split Rail Vineyard Pinot Noir

93 Points 2017 Lester Family Vineyard Chardonnay (W.E.)

92 Points 2018 Split Rail Vineyard Chardonnay

92 Points 2017 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir

Ser Wines, Nicole Walsh

Winemaker, Nicole Walsh, has some fine vineyard partners, and in particular, appreciates the immense knowledge and skill of grower, Pat Wirz of the Wirz Vineyard in San Benito. This is where she sources her Cab Pfeffer and Riesling, which were recently highly rated by Wine Enthusiast.

94 Points Editor’s Choice 2017 Cabernet Pfeffer, Wirz Vineyard, Cienega Valley $40

92 Points Editor’s Choice 2018 Orange Muscat, Nelson Vineyard, Mendocino, $18

91 Points 2016 Sparkling Riesling, Wirz Vineyard, Cienega Valley, $34

The Cab Pfeffer tickles your nose with brazen insouciance, then surprises every part of your mouth with its peppery spice. It’s a most delightful wine to enjoy with a peppered salami pizza or a ratatouille. I personally adore the Orange Muscat, as it starts out with a subtle fragrance of distant gardenia, but keeps building with an alluring hyacinth warmth, all the way to narcissus. The flavors are light and airy, but the flavors come on vividly, making it a mouthwatering warm weather sipper.

Soquel Vineyards, Peter and Paul Bargetto

Soquel makes wine from a cornucopia of vineyards, but Wine Enthusiast found something special about the Saveria:

94 Points 2017 Soquel Vineyards Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noir

Waxwing, Scott Sisemore

Scott Sisemore, winemaker/proprietor of Waxwing Wines in Belmont, has some fine sources for crafting his portfolio of fine wines, including Lester Family Vineyard, Coastview (Gabilan Mountains) and the relatively new Deerheart Vineyard, near La Honda, about 5 miles from San Gregorio beach. These very recent scores are affirmation:

95 Points 2018 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Syrah

94 Points 2018 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 

93 Points 2018 Waxwing Deerheart Vineyard Pinot Noir 

92 Points 2018 Waxwing Coastview Vineyard Syrah; 94 points, Grapelive

92 Points 2017 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Syrah

92 Points 2017 Cuvée Bohème Three Vineyard Syrah Blend 

Let’s begin with the 2018 Lester Family Vineyard Syrah, a phenomenally en pointe execution of this grape from one of the best vineyards to grow it in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Vivid scents of cedar, juniper berries, peppercorns, plum sauce and a roaring pinon bonfire fill your nostrils, a clue this is no wimpy wine. It’s a veritable flood of raspberry balsamic, pine essence, dried fig, graphite, juniper berries, exotic cardamom, Asian Five-spice and fine cigar tobacco. Lamb grilled with juniper and tarragon over a cedar fire would be a perfect pairing. Truly outstanding stuff.

Sisemore also nailed the 2018 Waxwing Lester Pinot Noir.  Many winemakers get a crack at this vineyard, but he makes what is often the most precise expression of that vineyard, capturing its vast tonal range. There is no such thing as too many notes. Bright with red fruits, leaning towards cranberry and pomegranate, this wine evokes autumnal flavors, including chestnut puree. Complex and lithe, it resonates like a cello in a concert hall. 

Swoonworthy, though, is his Deerheart Vineyard Pinot Noir, from a young marine-influenced vineyard that really shows spunk and horsepower. The 2018 is powerful stuff, starting off with slate, laden blackberry bushes, a summer forest hit with sunlight, baking summer weeds on a hillside, and rye bread fresh from the oven. Lovely black raspberry, porcini mushrooms, ripe mission fig and date nut bread show up on the palate, which is blessed with big natural acid and tremendous textural complexity. Sisemore is the only winemaker getting grapes from this rising star of a vineyard, owned by Bob and JoAnn Larson. The site borders La Honda Open Space Preserve and is planted to six different clones. One block is trellised just 18” above the earth to capture the heat reflected from the soil, a common sight in France. This wine was aged for 10 months in once-used French barrels: all its richness is inherent in the fruit. 

For those who are keeping score, the greatness is just beginning. 

About the author

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Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.