Alfaro Family Vineyards is Heating up Corralitos

“You see that? You see that? That’s the deer. They come in, they take everything. We had to individually cordon off each of the vineyards with deer fencing, because they just keep getting through.” Alfaro is the owner, winegrower, and winemaker at Alfaro Family Vineyards. After a founding and selling a successful wholesale bakery and restaurant in Watsonville, he purchased a small ranch in the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, just outside the little town of Corralitos and began growing grapes. A few weeks earlier, I had tasted his wines in Redwood City and loved them. So, I had headed south towards Santa Cruz to spend the morning with one of the region’s most acclaimed winegrowers.

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The deer weren’t the only thing on Alfaro’s mind that morning. What was meant to be a twenty-five cent tour around the property was turning into an extended opportunity to inspect deer damage, fix irrigation lines, and comb over nearly every acre of his estate vineyards. This was business as usual for him. Alfaro has a frenetic intensity about him—an extreme attentiveness to detail. He considers himself a farmer. And, after twenty years of farming, he is earning high acclaim.

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Recently, Alfaro’s vineyards begun showing up on labels of some of the most sought after wines in California. Ceritas, Arnot-Roberts, and Kusch Wines all have vineyard designate wines from Alfaro vineyards.  And with neighbors like Saveria and Lester Family Vineyards attracting top producers as well, Corralitos is quickly becoming a hot spot for cool-climate, coastal-influenced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Despite being appreciative of the newfound press, Alfaro is not looking take on new producers. “I have a huge list of people who want to buy grapes, but I’m not going to expand. I’m selling as much as I want to.”

Under his Alfaro Family Wines label, Alfaro primarily produces estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, in addition to small lots of Syrah, Merlot and even a little Grüner Veltliner. He also purchases fruit from a handful of other top vineyards, like Saveria and Garys’ as well as the old-vine Gimelli Vineyard in Cienega Valley. His wines are delicate, bright and terroir-expressive; a style Alfaro has developed over time. “We used to do major cold soaks and tried to extract all of these different flavors. Today we tend to go the opposite direction. I’m making better wine by being more gentle with the grapes and trying to let them work on their own,” he explained. The results are pretty astounding. It’s no wonder he has a line out the door of winemakers who want buy his grapes. And when you compare a bottle of his estate wines to those of his clients, the value is off the charts.

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The “A” wines are the first stop for anyone who wants to try Alfaro’s wines. The 2017 Alfaro Family Vineyards "A" Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir Rosé ($14.99) is produced from estate Pinot Noir with just a splash of Bates Ranch Grenache. Bright and snappy with cherry and strawberry notes, it has the acid-driven character of Corralitos.

The 2017 Alfaro Family Vineyards "A" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($19.99) is the most compelling wine of the “A” line-up. Bigger and rounder with just a touch of oak, it shows off the vervier, racier side of big-fruit Chardonnay.

The 2017 Alfaro Family Vineyards "A" Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir ($19.99) is stunning and beautiful. This wine is textbook Santa Cruz Mountains. Bright and airy, it’s full of pure, red fruit and subtle black-fruited undertones, with an electric acidity. Just a hint of tannin makes for an absolutely delicious, yet serious glass of Pinot Noir.

Last year, Alfaro’s son Ryan graduated from a winemaking program at the University of Auckland and has been in the cellar non-stop for the past six months. Alfaro is looking forward to his son playing a bigger and bigger role in the business. But for now, Alfaro isn’t interested in slowing down. “I retired from my first career and planted vines. In 2003, we built the winery and tasting room and just kept going. Now my wife is trying to get me to retire again and I said, ‘retire from what?’ I’m doing what my dream is.”

-Thomas Smith