Cool off on a hot summer day sipping at these five Santa Cruz Mountain wineries along Summit Road.
- By Laura Ness •
When summer cranks up the heat, Bay Area locals typically head to the beaches of Santa Cruz. When Highway 17 doesn’t feel like cooperating, that’s when it’s best to exit on Summit Road and avail yourself of all the fine wine tasting opportnities that await you. Plus, you can pick up picnic supplies at The Summit Store and then head down to the coast taking the scenic back way, which is down San Jose-Soquel Road, which dumps you onto Highway 1. It also continues on to the charming village of Capitola.
Along Summit Road, you’ll find several wine tasting destinations, including Burrell School Vineyards & Winery, Wrights Station Vineyard & Winery, MJA Vineyards and Loma Prieta Winery. Just off the Vine Hill exit of Highway 17, you’ll find Poetic Cellars, also reachable by taking a right on Laurel Glen off San Jose-Soquel Road, then a left up Rodeo Gulch. It’s an easy loop that will give you a good feel for the wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains winegrowing region.
Burrell School Celebrates 125 Years
This year markes the 125th birthday of the iconic red schoolhouse on Summit Road, about four miles from Highway 17. Built in 1890 and dedicated as a one-room schoolhouse for the region on July 4th of that year, it fell upon rough times when larger schools were constructed as the population swellled.
Owner Anne Moulton tells us, “We moved into the run-down Burrell School in September of 1973 and the first thing we did was to tear down what was left of the roof. Suddenly our mountain neighbors began to visit. Their topic of concern was whether we were going to tear down the schoolhouse. We reassured everyone that we were going to restore the building and we were accepted as mountain folk.” Anne and her husband Dave went on to add living quarters to the structure, where they raised their two daughters. The original one room schoolhouse remains their living room, dining room, parlor and mini-museum, with original desks, blackboards and photos.
Always a favorite picnic destination, with its maple-shaded deck and quaint gazebo featuring “Inspiration Point,” Anne’s fabulous rose gardens bloom all season long. Enjoy them with a glass of estate-grown wine, as you gaze out across the stunning vineyards that Anne, a former High School French teacher, originally hand-planted beginning in 1990. Her favorite wine is the “Teacher’s Pet” Chardonnay, although she occasionally enjoys a glass of “Principal’s Choice” Pinot Noir.
The vines on their estate property produce cherry-laden “Honor Roll” Merlot, perfumey “Extra Credit” Cabernet Franc and darkly seductive Petit Verdot, in addition to Chardonnay and Pinot. Another nine acres above the Lexington Reservoir provides more Merlot and Cabernet Franc, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Check out the new GSM blend, known as “Graduate School of Management, or the “High School Sweethearts,” named in honor of Anne and Dave who met in high school and have been together ever since. Wines like “Prom Night,” “Dean’s List” and “Valedictorian,” make appropriately themed gifts.
Tasting on Railroad Time: Wrights Station
Named for a stop on the train that connected Los Gatos to Santa Cruz in the 19th century, Wrights Station winery will take you back to railroad time. Set amidst the intersection of old apple orchards, Christmas tree farms, redwood groves and vineyards, this vast oasis invites lingering over a bottle of estate-grown Chardonnay or Pinot on the expansive deck. You’ll find plenty of picnic tables, couches and chairs for outdoor contemplation. Play bocce ball or take a walk through the vineyard and spot the secret hillside cellar, where a small table sits beneath an arbor, beckoning you to linger with a glass of Far Away Block Pinot, as you contemplate the grandeur of the scenery all around you.
Want Coffee with Your Wine?
MJA Cellars, located on the Summit and also in Santa Cruz on Swift Street, offers a little bit of Hawaii in every glass. There’s a wide array of everything from Napa Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet, to an assortment of Italians from the Foothills. Hangout on the picnic tables in the shade of the redwood grove with a bottle of locally grown Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir and appreciate the peaceful setting. Indulge in their own chocolate covered cofee beans and macadamia nuts, or take home some freshly roasted island-grown coffee beans.
Poetic Cellars: The Muse Speaks
Its tranqil, off the beaten path location and lush green lawn, makes Poetic Cellars ideal for a weekend get away. Just a short drive off the Vine Hill Road exit of Highway 17 above Scotts valley, the winery and tasting room can also be accessed via Old San Jose Soquel Road via Laurel Glen. Visit on Passport days for special wine sales and food pairings. The perfect place for a special occasion celebration, Poetic Cellars offers wine, poetry and song.
Beyond Pinot: Pinotage at Loma Prieta
Well-deserving of the descriptor “boutique,” Loma PrietaWinery makes fewer than 4,000 cases yearly, yet has singlehandedly become the largest producer of Pinotage in North America. Set at 2,600 feet on Loma Prieta Way off the Summit Road exit of Highway 17, Loma Prieta is named for the flat-topped mountain that towers to the southeast.
It is here, in the shadow of this iconic peak known for being the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake that bears its name, that you will find one of the most beautiful wineries in all of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Views are mesmerizing in every direction, and you can see the entire Monterey Peninsula and watch waves crashing on the Santa Cruz coastline. It’s the only regulation bocce course in the mountains where you might spot whales in the distance!
Loma Prieta is the only winery growing high elevation Pinotage, and it is worthy of discovery. This cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (a Rhone varietal originally known as “Hermitage”), only 25 acres exist in California. Here, you’ll find an impressive lineup of Pinotage, including “Bodo’s Blend,” which won Best of Show at the American Wine Society Competition. Bold, intense, fruity and friendly, Pinotage is Pinot Noir on steroids.