With Vintner’s Fest just around the corner, there’s no better time to introduce some of the more unique Bay Area wineries that offer a little something different with some of the best tasting and most exquisite wines – surprising and satisfying even to the most experienced connoisseur and selective of palates. We do hope Examiner readers will enjoy the first of many to come.
Wine tasting is not only meant to be a pleasurable experience, it’s the perfect opportunity for individuals to learn more about the winemakers and their wine, pairings, the history and traditions of the winery, the riches of the land and the winemaking process. There is so much excitement to be found in the discovery, with so much of the discovery to be found in the excitement – unforgettable memories awaiting those who dare travel to the unique and slightly off-the-beaten path wineries just waiting to be visited by those looking for more than just a “taste” of wine. With P.K.’s guide to the Bay Area’s unique, palate-pleasing wineries, wine tasting becomes more than just an exciting adventure – it becomes an unforgettable experience.
Heart O’ The Mountain Estate Vineyards, Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley, CA
Just a few miles over Highway 880 into quaint Scotts Valley, California, a gem of a winery awaits the true wine connoisseur at heart with not only a unique location, but one full of history, elegance and grace: Heart O’ The Mountain Estate Vineyards. Reminiscent in some ways of the Titanic’s “Heart of the Ocean” blue “Hope” diamond pendent for its grandeur and originality – this truly is one vineyard where wine tasting becomes an experience like no other – with some of the best pinot noir in the Bay Area, and quite possibly the world.
With an elevation of 1100 feet and amidst not only some of the richest soil in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Heart O’ The Mountain indeed lives up to its name resting atop one of the highest mountains that overlooks not only the valley but also the ocean as it truly is in the heart of some of the most gorgeous sunsets imaginable. There is something very secretive about Heart O’ The Mountain, however, as it is not open to just anyone, anytime. We just had to uncover this mystery (and we did) – on one of the most amazing wine tasting tours to date.
First established in 1881 by California Pierre Cornwall, wine was once produced on the estate under the label Santa Sada. Many remember the winery for its owner soon after, the mysterious and famous director Alfred Hitchcock, who stumbled upon the estate and made it not only his retreat but also his home and hideaway between 1940 and 1974. There are many photographs capturing him with fellow actors and producers, or some just of himself spending many an evening enjoying a glass of pinot while no doubt contemplating some of his best work as the sun set on yet another splendid day.
In 1978 the Brassfield family purchased the estate not only maintaining traditions of old but also incorporating traditions of new, refining the beauty of the estate and adding to the already immeasurable character that makes Heart O’ The Mountain everything it is today – an estate winery that produces a limited yet very tasty supply of hand-crafted Estate-grown pinot noir that just may be some of the best tasting in the world. Being a pinot girl, this was as close to heaven as we’d ever come for pinot noir, and that says a lot.
The Brassfield family has gone to great lengths and pains to keep this luxurious estate and the wine-making very much the same as it was in the 1800s. The grounds are well maintained, with some furniture from Hitchcock, but mostly I noticed that the estate has the Brassfield touch. According to our personal tour guide and co-owner, Brandon Brassfield, he assured us that tradition remained true since the estate was first built although sometimes to great lengths and to some unconventional, such as when the stone bench outside of Hitchcock’s quarters had to be numbered before disassembling when the foundation was stabilized; with more than 1,000 stones it was necessary for proper reassembly to ensure its original shape.
The pride evident in Brandon’s face as stories were shared of his upbringing and how he and the family all partook in the wine making business; the love and tradition trickling into every aspect, from vine to glass. It was difficult to remember we were reviewing a winery, not the estate – even knowing the two in a roundabout way fall hand in heart.
The family all share in the making of the wines, wine club events and tastings, equally taking part in the upkeep of the property, although according to Brandon that is part of the fun – from the soils beneath the vines to the gardens that surround the beautiful estate, the tour was nothing short of breathtaking and oddly awe-inspiring. Vines can be seen growing on almost every hillside, no matter their orientation for the steep, narrow hillsides make planting challenging and of course there’s the blessing of the sun. The newly renovated wine club event room stood out above – clearly a special reward and one small way for Heart O’ The Mountain to extend their gratitude to all of their supporters. Gardens illuminated by greenery and color as if secretly encasing the estate from view, yet the views seen from almost every angle were almost unimaginable.
It was evident that the Brassfield family not only enjoyed growing up on the estate, but that they enjoyed living there and working in the winery. According to Brandon, part of the enjoyment is meeting new people, tending to the vines, making wine and sharing with others their few, but outstanding pinots. Every ounce of respect and love this family shared throughout the years trickles into every bottle of wine. It wasn’t just about how well the vines were tended, or how kept the gardens, or how beautiful the home, or how genuine the smiles or hearts of each family member – but more simply the remarkable taste of their pinot noirs being some of the best I’d ever tasted in my lifetime, and quite possibly the world. This estate vineyard truly is one of the most unique vineyards we’d ever had the pleasure of visiting, with truly some of the best pinot noir ever made.
According to Heart O’ The Mountain, the estate vineyard (comprised of five pinot noir clones from the Dijon and Pommard regions of France), produces an elegant multi-layered wine – each adding their own characteristic to the wine. Rich in color and flavor, my personal favorites would be the Triple Seven and Wild One, for not only for being light and crisp but for the lingering full-bodied taste that tells your palate it can’t stop at just one (fill in the blank).
Many wonder what winemakers do on their time off, and the Brassfield family remains true to their traditions and often vacation at the Thompson Valley Ranch in Quincy, CA, one of the few working ranches left in the state where grass-fed beef can still be found (and actually sold). The Brassfield’s work, play, vacation and spend quality family time when they aren’t making wine. I was in total awe of not only how this family works so well together not only in the wine business, but in their family – after all, that’s what it’s all about.
Part of Passport: Yes, Santa Cruz (The Estate pours Club-only wines on Passport weekends – Passport Weekend is the perfect opportunity for the public to taste Heart O’ The Mountain Estate Pinot Noirs and to become a Club Member)
Tasting Fee: $10 (refunded entirely with bottle purchase)
Wines: Reds; Estate Pinot Noir only
Address: Contact winemaker or the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrower’s Association via website(s)
Tasting Room hours: Tasting is not normally open to public; tastings are exclusive to club members only
Special events /tips: Heart O’ The Mountain is not generally open to the public for tasting except for Passport and wine event weekends, such as on Vintner’s Fest weekends.
Tip: Most events are for Club Members, and there will be a Club Member “cap” soon as the winery is becoming so popular; once that member number is reached, the winery will have to start adding Club Member requests to a waiting list. This is the perfect time to become a Club Member before the cap is reached.
Club Members receive 15% to 20% discount, receive shipments of three to six bottles per shipment, with four shipments per year. Club Members also receive private tours of the Estate and special tastings of Club-only wines where the public will not taste such wines reserved for Club Members only.
Upcoming events: Next event will be Passport and Vintner’s Fest ($40 in advance; $45 at the door) in June 2012 and July 2012. Note: On Saturday, June 2 and June 3, the east side of Vintner’s, Heart O’ The Mountain will be pouring in Los Gatos; however, for the west side of Vintner’s Fest to be held on Sunday, June 9 and June 10, Heart O’ The Mountain will be pouring at their own Estate for a chance for the public to visit and experience their Estate and taste the wines of Heart O’ The Mountain. Be sure to check their website for further event information and to sign up for their newsletter. Be sure to check website for future club and non-club member events.
Stay tuned to the Examiner’s and P.K.’s “Wine tasting made memorable with unique, palate-pleasing Bay Area wineries” to be continued, complete with winery, Passport and Vintner’s weekend information.