When I think of Santa Cruz I don't normally think about wine. That is a shame because there are more than fifty wineries located in the greater Santa Cruz area, and they are doing some really interesting things.
Leading the pack is Bonny Doon. In 2006 they went from producing over 400,000 cases a year to 35,000 cases a year by selling off their Big House and Cardinal Zin labels. This allowed Randall Grahm, the founder and winemaker, to return to making wines he was passionate about.
Randall has a new 220 acre property in the San Juan Bautista area where he will be making wine in an "old-fangled no water way", trying to manipulate grapes as little as possible.
The great thing about Bonny Doon is the varietals they use: Sagrantino, Rousanne, Grenache, Dolcetto and many, many more you don't normally associate with California wines. Apparently they once had a wine called "tutti frutti", which was made up of more than 100 varietals.
I had a chance to try their wines at their annual wine maker dinner.
The most intriguing wine of the night was their 2004 Ca' del Solo Nebbiolo, made in a North-Western Italy style. The grapes come from Soledad, California.
Half the grapes are picked upon ripening, and half the grapes are picked before ripening and dried on mats for two weeks. The two sets of grapes are then combined, bringing a hint of Amarone to the wine.
The only thing that outshone the wines was the food. Charlie Parker's meal was an absolute triumph: six wonderful courses, each an absolute delight!
Pictured below is his line-caught albacore with sweet yellow corn, braised little gems, sun golds and marjoram.
Another dish I'll remember for a very long time was Charlie's cider braised veal cheeks with roasted escarole and creme fraiche gnocchi.
After tasting this dinner, I'd find it hard to believe there is a better chef in all of Santa Cruz! The person sitting next to me was so impressed he even asked Charlie to sign the menu.
You can try Charlie's food at Bonny Doon's Cellar Door Cafe in downtown Santa Cruz.
Truth In Labeling
Bonny Doon actually labels the back of their wines with exactly what went into them. I'll give you examples from the two wines I bought at the end of the evening.
The first, the 2007 Angel Paille, is a sweet white wine that lists "grapes, tartaric acid, sulfur dioxide and pectinase." It also tells me that "bentonite and yeast hulls" were used in the in the wine making process. Finally the label says the residual sugar is 13.5% by weight.
I didn't get a chance to try the Angel Paille at the dinner, but I'll let you know how the bottle is once I open it.
The second wine is the 2008 Ca' Del Solo Muscat. The ingredients list "biodynamic muscat grapes and sulfur dioxide...in the wine making process the following were utilized: indigenous yeast, organic yeast nutrient and bentonite". The residual sugar, listed on the label, is 1% by weight.
The Muscat label also says that it is a: "musky, melodious, melon-like meditation on minerality."
We had this wine before the meal and it tasted of honeysuckle and peach. It was towards the dry side for Muscat but sweet enough that it could be served as an apéritif, with dinner, or even as a dessert wine.
This is something that I've wanted for a long time: truth in labeling. Bonny Doon should be commended for this, and I really hope others will follow.
Ultimately though, I think its our government that needs to step in and force wine makers to follow Bonny Doon's lead. The more information given to the consumer about how the wine is made, the better.
RJ was at the dinner too, and he's posted his thoughts on the wines.