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CRŪ Winery Opens New Santa Lucia Highlands Tasting Room

July 30, 2021 – There’s something exciting and new in Soledad—a tasting room from a winery that might not be familiar to most, but it most certainly should.  

CRŪ, based in Madera and founded 17 years ago by Central Valley based developer Richard Spencer, has long sourced fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs. He’s gone on to build many hospitals, police and fire stations schools, and other essential infrastructure projects in the Central Valley, but always loved wines from the Central Coast. Originally called Mariposa Winery, the name was changed to CRŪ, in honor of the Grand Cru nature of the vineyards they choose as their sources. CRŪ has a tasting room in Madera, where the winery is located, but now they finally have an idyllic place smack dab in a vineyard. And not just any vineyard. 

The new tasting room is set in the Paraiso Vineyard. It will be familiar to many, as it was long the Paraiso and then the Smith Family tasting room, until closing a couple of years ago. It’s one of the first vineyards CRŪ tapped for its nascent portfolio when it began. 

The folks at CRŪ Winery, including CEO Nathan Stern and marketing manager Rebecca (Beckie) Gilbert, along with tasting room manager, Michael, are excited to welcome visitors to taste their wares, made by the father and son team of José and Juan Reyes. The winery has been sourcing fruit from several exciting AVAs including the Edna Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Maria Valley and Paso Robles. It’s a testament to their deep appreciation for the careful farming that delivers the essence of each region. 

CRŪ Winery CEO Nathan Stern (Photo: Laura J. Ness)

José Reyes, who hails from Sinaloa, Mexico, moved to California’s Central Coast and began making wine 30 years ago under the direction of the team at Bargetto Winery in Soquel. It’s fitting that he’s expanded his horizons to other regions, but never lost that appreciation for making cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

The winemaking team also includes Robert Arroyo, who is the Cellar Master at CRŪ and brings expertise from Constellation, along with enologist Tori Underwood who comes from Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards, where she honed her skills in enology and quality control. In 2018 she traveled internationally to work a harvest in New Zealand furthering her passion for producing world-class wines from cool climate AVAs. 

CEO Stern, a native of Australia, joined the CRŪ team in 2019 after many years working with Treasury Wine Estates in Napa. He says they intend to grow the brand to about 15k cases in 2021, will add more vineyards to the portfolio, and have been making changes in terms of elevage, letting certain wines rest longer in barrel before bottling. 

The main thing they are trying to do with their vineyard program, he says, is “let the terroir dictate the wines.” He’s also implemented beautiful new packaging in tune with the personality of the vineyards. It’s playful and upbeat and each wine has a color scheme that reflects its unique aura. 

I’ve long been a fan of these wines, especially the Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir, which is deeply expressive of earthy loam, savory herbs, rhubarb, roast chestnut and pungent acidity. The first time this vineyard crossed my lips was in the Sequana Vineyard Pinot Noir made by Pinot Noir specialist James MacPhail. He eventually sold the brand to Hess Collection. It’s great to see someone like the Reyes continuing the legacy of this stunning vineyard.

We began our tasting with a deep dive into the CRŪ Chardonnays. We sampled the 2020 Unoaked Chardonnay from the Cobblestone Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, owned by the Smith Family. This wine impressed the judges at the 2021 Sunset Wine Competition, who awarded it 94 points. It’s a full on tropical holiday, with abundantly heady florality, mango, pineapple, banana cream pudding and kiwi, covering all the bases and finishing with crisp lime, nectarine and mandarin. Although not on the tasting list, it’s wonderful and worth every penny of your $20.  And it’s a screwcap.

So is the juicy Albarino, which hails from Edna Valley and is graced with sufficient rambunctiousness to complement the slick nectarine and lime. It will subtly remind you of what you love most about Sauvignon Blanc, too. Brilliant! 

We next tried the 2018 Paraiso Chardonnay, graceful and lithe with honeysuckle, freesia, daffodils and butterscotch in the nose, the 40% new French oak influence adding weight and creaminess to the palate. It oozes apple and pear galette with abundant cinnamon and ginger. So pretty! We also tried a barrel sample of the forthcoming 2020 Sarmento Chardonnay, a first for the CRŪ folks, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled at the sneak peak, which revealed pretty pear, guava and grilled peaches, apple turnover flavors and a finish of lime with Cara Cara orange marmalade. Can’t wait for this one, but we have to, as it won’t be released until 2022. Stern also mentioned they have a Bien Nacido Chardonnay in barrel. 

Next up was the 2019 Sierra Madre Chardonnay, which spends a little more time—16 months—in 25% new oak, delivering aromas of gardenias, McIntosh apples and hazelnuts, along with a great creamy texture. Lemon bars and pear custard finish out this rich wine. 

This is a good time to mention the CRŪ Founders Wine Club, which gives access to all the new vineyards as they are added to the portfolio.  Stern mentions they are looking at adding more AVAs to their growing list and will add Solomon Hills Chard starting this year. Could we see at CRŪ Regan Vineyard Chard or Pinot Noir? Quite possibly. Stay tuned.

Then it was on to the Pinot Noirs, a true stronghold for this brand. Gilbert says that the Sarmento Vineyard Pinot is so popular with the 17 year-old brand that it’s considered their signature wine. The 2019 is wonderfully reminiscent of Burgundy, with its rich earth, cool forest floor, fern, white pepper, red raspberry, gravel and a serious smack of baking spice.  From aromas to flavors of roasted chestnut, raspberry truffles, cherry tobacco, coriander and cinnamon stick, brilliantly reflect its Pommard anchor clone. The acidity is pungent and precise, and the finish just divine.

Next up was the 2018 Solomon Hills Pinot Noir, a vineyard from which they’ve been sourcing fruit for many years. This is deep plummy and chocolate flavors, with a smack of ginger snaps and clove. 

We finished with the 2019 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir from Sierra Madre Vineyard, which is a standout for its inviting aromas of earthy loam, fern, mustard greens and ripe cherries, and flavors of braised fennel with blueberry balsamic, cranberry-cherry chutney with nutmeg and crystallized ginger, licorice and roasted meats. This wine begs for big bold flavors: perhaps roasted lamb with lots of garlic and a mash of fennel, parsnip and Yukon gold potatoes. Both Gilbert and Stern remark how excited winemaker Reyes gets when a single clone impresses him during harvest. “He pulls out a few barrels of a clone that truly blows his mind and that becomes the special bottling for the year.” We can see why this Pommard clone did just that. Wow! 

There are currently two tastings available at the newly opened CRŪ tasting room, and both will show you a good time. The Classic Central Coast tasting is $15 per person and complimentary for Wine Club. Tasting fee is waived with purchase of two or more bottles from Classic Central Coast Tasting Flight. 

The Single Vineyard Flight is a seated tasting showcasing CRŪ Winery’s single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, for $25 per person. It’s complimentary for Founders’ Club and $10 for CRŪ Club and Legacy Club, with tasting fee waived with purchase of two or more bottles from the Single Vineyard Flight.

Come check out this new and exciting tasting room spot and revel in the unique combination of the known and the unknown, and be prepared to go on a tantalizing field trip that will take you through our own backyard, and far far beyond. 

CRŪ Santa Lucia Highlands • 37500 Foothill Rd. Soledad, CA • 831-678-0300 • Open Thursday-Sunday 11am to 6pm • Reservations: exploretock.com/cruwinery/

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.