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09.24.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Traci Hukill
Different oaks for different folks : Katie Fox of custom winery Vino Tabi

Surfing the Wine Trade

A new suite of tasting rooms joins the fun on Santa Cruz's Westside.

By Christina Waters


There's a new wine collective in town--Surf City Vintners. And if you thought "urban rustic," you'd be on target. The ambience of these compact, hard-working winery spaces at the edge of Swift Street is decidedly artisanal--in other words, as far from Napa glitz as possible. The group of wineries has collaborated into a tasting destination, fleshing out the already lively marketplace between Kelly's and Bonny Doon at the corner of Swift and Ingalls. Watching Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard's Jeff Emery and his associate Dennis Huey forklifting huge bins of freshly harvested chardonnay grapes last week, wine geeks got a peek at the harvest action in this busy site.

Paul and Peggy Crews of Pelican Ranch Winery were the first on their block, having pioneered a tiny winetasting slot next to Kelly's a full five years ago. "It's been a great location," admits Peggy. "There's definitely more visibility being near Kelly's." Like Emery and Huey (who moonlights as the genius behind Dragonfly Cellars), the Crews are delighted to bring their wares down from the mountain to an easy-access location.Crediting her husband with the vision to pursue the "urban winery concept," Peggy explains that Mark and Kelly Sanchez were just putting the finishing touches on their concept for the big block when the Crews were exiting their former Roudon-Smith location on Bean Creek Road. "Here there's lots of walk-in traffic, thanks to our signs on Mission Street, and as Kelly's has become common knowledge, we get a lot more of the neighborhood people coming in."

Most of the tiny operations are open for tastings on weekends from noon until 5pm. The narrow tasting rooms each offer a modest public space at the front. Behind the counters--some of which amount to boards slung across wine barrels--the actual winemaking facilities, complete with cellars, bottling lines and two-story fermenting tanks, plunge deep into the former Bonny Doon annex.

Slightly less rustic is Vino Tabi, equipped with sparkling granite counters and custom woodwork cabinets. Open every day for tastings and consultation, Vino Tabi offers something beyond simply tastings and bottle sales. The brainchild of Katie Fox, whose experience marketing wines in Japan gave her some alternative views of the business, Vino Tabi specializes in private label, microcrush winemaking--for die-hard wine-lovers, to commemorate special milestones and as a hands-on aspect of corporate team-building.

Fox likes to call her approach "customer-centric," adding that "the consumer can come out to the vineyard or watch us make the wine. They can visit the wine they've commissioned as it ages in the barrel and get educated about the whole process. It's about wine demystification." The Vino Tabi concept allows clients to sign up for a future installment of small-batch wine. Varietals are chosen, grapes are reserved and then styles are selected. "Different oaks, different aging techniques," the Vino Tabi entrepreneur says. "It's really about the consumer having what the consumer wants."

Next door at Sones Cellars, Lois Sones cheerfully pours and chats about the luscious petite syrah for which the tiny winery is famous, as well as a wonderful 2004 syrah her husband, Michael, has created from Gilroy's Wiedeman Vineyard grapes. The winery's distinctive label, with a ship's figurehead of Minerva, adds graphic attraction to the no-nonsense tasting room décor.

Already deep into the crush of 2008, the Santa Cruz Mountain facility holds down the end of the new line of tasting rooms. Emery's award-winning pinot noirs share tasting honors with his locally made brandy and a line of Iberian-inspired varietals, labeled under the "Quinta Cruz" name--including a Tempranillo and a port-style blend. Added to the Equinox winery just down Swift Street a few blocks, the new tasting shops add energy to a neighborhood poised for the mid-November unveiling of Bonny Doon Vineyards' cavernous tasting facility, biodynamic wine market and pizza cafe.

SURF CITY VINTNERS, Swift and Ingalls Streets, Santa Cruz, weekend tastings, noon-5pm, tasting fee $3-$5: Dragonfly Cellars, 831.566.5147; Equinox Champagne Cellar, 831.423.3000; Pelican Ranch Winery, 831.426.6911; Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, 831.426.6209; Sones Cellars, 831.420.1552; Trout Gulch Vineyards, 831.471.2705; Vino Tabi Winery, open daily, 408.813.8384. (www.SurfCityVintners.com)


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