Forget Napa and Sonoma this weekend. The Santa Cruz Mountains, ranking among California's oldest wine-growing regions, are beautifully untrammeled. With vineyards spread beneath old-growth redwood forests, many of these winemakers have achieved cult status, especially for their estate Pinot Noir bottlings.
The trouble is, some top Santa Cruz Mountain wineries are only open to the public four times each year on quarterly Passport days. Your next chance to visit some of these hidden vineyards is Saturday, November 21. Participating wineries will be open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. (click here for a map). Even wineries that are normally open to the public often celebrate Passport day by pouring special vintages and offering barrel samples.
To buy a Passport ticket ($40), which can only be used once at each winery but conveniently has no expiration date, call (831) 685-8463 or pick one up at any participating winery. You can use that same ticket again on future Passport days, usually held on the third Saturday of January, April, July and November.
After all, there's much more amazing wine to dig up in these mountains than anyone could possibly tipple on just one Saturday afternoon. And don't worry if you can't make it tomorrow, because chic Vinocruz wine store in downtown Santa Cruz pours rare and outstanding local vintages every day of the year, no passport required.
Do you have a fave winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains? Or another under-the-radar California wine country you'd recommend? Let me know by posting a comment below.
Photo: California vineyards (Michael Connolly, Jr.)