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The winding wine roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains; 27 wineries open for tasting, touring.

Not since Prohibition have so many wineries dotted the Santa Cruz Mountains. These coastal slopes south of San Francisco now harbor more than two dozen small wineries--most of them family enterprises, some so compact they're contained in the owner's basement or barn.

Winemakers here tend to concentrate on a few varietals in limited quantity; a dozen of them each bottle less than 5,000 cases a year. Some of the larger, well-established producers--among them, Ridge and David Bruce--have given the region a reputation for quality. But those that are too new or too small for wide recognition are equally worth seeking out.

You'll find it does take some seeking: most of the wineries are scattered along steep, winding back roads. You might combine a visit to one or two with an outing at a mountain park, such as Big Basin or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park or Montebello Ridge Open Space Preserve. In May, you can generally expect cool, sunny days, and the winery staff members should have more time for visitors than during the hectic harvest period.

This month also brings a chance to sample nearly all of the region's wines. On May 5 from 1:30 to 4:30, the nonprofit Children's Health Council will sponsor its annual wine tasting and auction at the Syntex Gallery, 3401 Hillview Avenue, in Palo Alto. Admission is $15 and includes a souvenir wine glass; auction registration is $5. For reservations, call (415) 326-5530 or 326-0643.

Revival of a famous wine district

Commercial vineyards began spreading over the Santa Clara Valley in the 1850s, but winemakers soon began looking to the ridges for what they hoped would be better climate and soil conditions. By 1890, Montebello Ridge alone boasted eight wineries, Most started by French or Italian immigrants. Prohibition killed off most of the wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it wasn't until the 1960s that the revival began in earnest.

The region's historical reputation for fine wines was a key attraction for today's crop of winemakers. Many of them detoured from a career in another field, often building upon experience as home winemakers. Some revived century-old vineyards and winery buildings; others started from scratch. In 1982, the Santa Cruz Mountains (including portions of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties) won official appellation status.

Only small pockets in the steep, wooded terrain have the sun exposure and soil depth that grapevines need. But the coastal influence combined with hillside airflow minimizes risk of frost damage, and established vineyards need no irrigation: winter rainfall averages 40 to 60 inches a year. Although growing conditions vary according to the numerous microclimates, three major varietals--Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay--are top performers

here. Since the local crop is limited, several wineries truck in grapes from elsewhere in the state.

Nearly all Santa Cruz Mountain winemakers market their wines throughout the Bay Area; a few such as David Bruce, Felton-Empire, Obester, and Ridge have a wide distribution. Following are 27 wineries you can visit; call for directions.

For a map brochure listing all the wineries belonging to the Santa Cruz Mountain Vintners Association, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the association at Box 2856, Saratoga, Calif. 95070.

Twelve wineries open regularly for tasting or touring (listed north to south)

Obester Winery, State Highway 92, Half Moon Bay. Open 10 to 5 weekends for tasting; (415) 726-9463. In 1971, Paul and Sandy Obester (and sons) converted a 1924 hay barn into their winery, which produces 8,000 cases per year. Of their eight wines, the Sauvignon Blanc and Johannisberg Riesling are most acclaimed. Thomas Fogarty Winery, Portola Valley. Open 1 to 4 the first Saturday of each month for tasting and informal tours, but call ahead at (415) 851-1946. On a stunning 300-acre site overlooking the Peninsula, this winery looks like a modern home but houses state-of-the-art equipment. It produces 6,500 cases per year from grapes grown in Edna Valley, Napa Valley, and Monterey County, soon to be augmented by the 13-acre vineyard here. Emphasis is on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ("California Pinot Noirs are underappreciated--I'd like to help change that," states Dr. Thomas Fogarty.)

Sherrill Cellars, 1185 Skyline Boulevard, woodside. From May 1 to September 1, open noon to 4 Saturday for tasting and tours; (415) 851-1932. Friends participated in a "winery raising" to construct the redwoodsided building with steel roof in 1979. It produces 2,000 cases annually of six wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel; the grapes come from central coast counties.

Ridge Vineyards, 17100 Montebello Road, Cupertino. Open 11 to 3 Saturdays for tasting and casual tours (408) 867-3233. Eastablished in 1959 by Stanford Research Institute scientists and engineers, this is one of the largest, oldest, and best known. Housed in the 100-year-old barn of the former Montebello Winery, it sits on a limeston ridge surrounded by vineyards. It produces 40,000 cases per year and has gained national recognition with its Cabernet Sauvingnon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. A quarter of the grapes are grown on-site; others come from Napa, Sonoma, and San Luis Obispo counties.

Sunrise Winery, 13100 Montebello Road, Cupertino. Open 11 to 3 Fridays through Sundays for tasting; (408) 741-1310. Rolayne and Ronald Stortz recently moved their existing winery operation into the 1885 Picchetti Brothers winery and Victorian house (restoration is ongoing). They produce 2,500 cases per year of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. You can hike through the 350 acres of adjoining Midpeninsula Open Space.

Congress Springs Vineyards, 23600 congress Springs Road, Saratoga; (408) 867-1409. Open 1 to 5 Fridays and 11 to 5 weekends for tasting. This 1923 concrete building houses the winemaker's family upstairs, winery below. It produces 7,000 cases of nine wines, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel; harvest from the vineyard here is augmented by grapes from the San Ysidro Valley. There's an open house on May 25, 26, and 27 (Memorial Day weekend) from 11 to 4 each day.

David Bruce Winery, 21439 Bear Creek Road, Los Gatos. Open 11 to 4 Saturdays for tasting and sles, 10 to 4 weekdays for sales only; tours by appointment; (408) 354-4214. Sitting at 2,800 feet overlooking Monterey Bay, the winery makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown here and brought in from Sonoma and Santa Clara counties. Its annual production of 25,000 cases makes it one of the area's largest, and Dr. David Bruce, a physician with a 21-year winemaking background, is one of the region's well-known representatives.

Novitiate Winery, 300 College Avenue, Los Gatos. Open 10 to 4:30 daily for tasting, with tours at 11 and 1 weekends, at 1:30 and 2:30 weekdays; (408) 354-6471. Started in 1888 by Jesuits, it produces sweet Black Muscat dessert wine, Chenin Blanc, and champagne, among others, but 40 percent of the 40,000-case production is for sacramental use. Grapes come primarily from other northern California regions.

Felton-Empire Vineyards, 379 Felton-Empire Road, Felton. Open 11 to 4:30 weekends for tasting and informal tours; (408) 335-3939. Opened in 1976 in the 1940s-era Hallcrest Winery buildings and fronted by its old vines, Felton-Empire boasts a sophisticated laboratory for wine analysis. Fast-growing, it produced 12,000 cases last year of White Riesling and Pinot Noir and 20,000 cases of five nonalcoholic varietal grape juices.

Frick Winery, 303 Potrero Street, Santa Cruz. Open noon to 5 Saturdays for tasting and informal tours; (408) 426-8623. This tiny winery, in a former sash mill, produces 3,500 cases per year. Owners Judith and Bill Frick make four wines--Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay--with grapes from Santa Clara and Monterey Counties and the Santa Maria Valley.

Bargetto Winery, 3535 N. Main Street, Soquel. Open 10 to 5 daily for tasting, with tours 11 and 2 weekdays; (408) 475-2258. The bargetto family started their winery in 1933. Annual production of 35,000 cases includes Chardonnay (from Santa Barbara County grapes), Cabernet Sauvignon, and fruit wines. Its tasting room, dotted with antique winemaking equipment, sits next to Soquel Creek.

Devlin, 2815 Porter Street, Soquel; (408) 476-7288. Tasting room (separate from winery) open noon to 5 daily. Cheryland Charles Devlin produce 3,000 cases per year of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and others from Edna Valley and Sonoma grapes.

Fifteen that offer tours or tasting

by appointment

Woodside Vineyards, Woodside; (415) 851-7475. In a winery under the carport, it produces 1,000 cases of estate-bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Blanc from some grapevines planted before Prohibition.

Cronin Vineyards, Woodside; (415) 851-1452. The Cronin cellar is in Duane Cronin's home, where he makes 500 cases annually, mainly Chardonnay, plus Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cloudstone Vineyards, Los Altos Hills; (415) 949-0647. Open for tasting only. In their home winery, Judith and Peter Wolken produce 500 cases of Zinfandel (from their own grapes), Cabernet Sauvignon (Lake County grapes), and Chardonnay (Monterey County).

Page Mill Winery, Los Altos Hills; (415) 948-0958. Richard Stark excavated his basement to add a winery, where he now produces 2,500 cases a year of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Call for evening tastings and sales in May, November.

Kathryn Kennedy Winery, Saratoga; (408) 867-4170. The 8-acre vineyard yields about 1,000 cases a year of Cabernet Sauvignon. Tours and sales; no tasting.

Mount Eden Vineyards, Saratoga; (408) 867-5832. At 2,000 feet above the Santa Clara Valley, it produces 2,500 cases annually of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir with grapes from its own vineyard, plus more from Monterey County.

Martin Ray Vineyard, moving to a new location; call (408) 978-9463 for details.

Ahlgren Vineyard, Boulder Creek; (408) 338-6071. Perched on a 1,100-foot ridge, the winery makes 1,500 cases a year of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Semillon, using grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Napa and Monterey counties.

Walker Wines, Felton; (408) 335-2591. Begun in 1979, this remote ridgetop winery produces 1,000 cases of six wines, primarily Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc.

Cook-Ellis Winery, Scotts Valley; (408) 998-7120. Opened last year, it produces 500 cases of Chardonnay and Fume Blanc in a geodesic dome.

Roudon-Smith Vineyards, Santa Cruz; (408) 438-1244. Surrounded by redwoods, this winery building produces 10,000 cases annually of five wives, including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from their own grapes, plus others from Sonoma, Mendocino, and central coast counties.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Santa Cruz; (408) 426-6209. Overlooking Monterey Bay, new winery buildings use gravity flow to aid production of 3,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Owner Ken Burnap has replanted one of the region's oldest vineyards, which he supplements with grapes from San Luis Obispo County.

Crescini Wines, Soquel; (408) 462-1466. Open weekends for tasting. Paule and Richard Crescini produce 750 cases per year of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Napa Valley grapes, Chenin Blanc from Monterey County grapes. You taste inside the small wood cellar building.

Nicasio Winery, Soquel; (408) 423-1073. A home winery since 1948 and bonded since 1955, it produces 220 cases of Chardonnay and Johannisberg Riesling in a hand-dug sandstone cave.

Silver Mountains Veneyards, Soquel; (408) 353-2278. Owner Jerold O'Brien makes 2,000 cases per year of Chardonnay and Zinfandel on site of old orchard overlooking Monterey Bay.
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Date:May 1, 1985
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