On the Trail

Exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains

David Driscoll
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Living on the San Francisco Peninsula, I find that many of my neighbors overlook the fact that world-class wines are being made just a few miles south of our homes, along the steep hills that begin to form near San Jose. When it comes to Pinot Noir, the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley come to the forefront of any California conversation, followed by the Santa Ynez Valley and Central Coast. But to overlook the Santa Cruz Mountains is to completely underestimate one of California's great wine-making regions, one steeped in history as well as perfect Pinot Noir conditions. The steep terrain, high elevation, proximity to the ocean, and maritime fog create the perfect combination for developing balanced wines with ample fruit, bright acidity, and complexity of flavor. While Mount Eden quickly comes to mind as one of the region's top Pinot Noir producers, we recently found ourselves looking at a newer project spearheaded by Adam Comartin, the former winemaker at Testarossa. His 2014 "R-Bar-R Ranch" expression had both myself and my co-worker Ryan Woodhouse standing at full attention. 

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The R-Bar-R vineyard is perched at 1,100ft at the southern tip of the range near Mount Madonna, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The extreme location produces a vibrant style of Pinot Noir with beautiful berry and earth flavors, kept in balance by the cool breeze that flows in from the sea in the evening. A Pinot Noir and Grenache enthusiast, Adam seeks out unique vineyard sites like R-Bar-R and makes tiny batches of wine in a small urban winery in located nearby in San Carlos. He did whole-berry fermentation for the 2014, which added in a bright, lively fruit element that explodes on your tongue with the first sip. I'm glad there's a nice score 95 point score from the Wine Enthusiast to grab everyone's attention, but the truth is we would have featured this wine either way. It's a sensational Pinot Noir from a local site that will definitely have customers coming back for seconds. For about thirty bucks, it's a more affordable gateway bottle into Santa Cruz's all too secretive seduction.

-David Driscoll