Only four times each year, boutique wineries hidden high in the Santa Cruz Mountains open their doors to curious tasters. Some of the biggest vintners - for example, Thomas Fogarty, which has foggy hilltop vineyards and pours award-winning vintages - are open year-round. But if you're seeking smaller connoisseur labels, a quarterly Passport Day event might be your only chance to taste these award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay varietals.
The next Passport Day for Santa Cruz Mountains wineries is happening Saturday, November 17. Most tasting rooms will be open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., but call ahead to check on any you're particularly eager to visit (damn, Kathryn Kennedy isn't open to the public). For $45, you'll get a printed passport that waives your tasting fee at any participating winery. That passport is valid for tastings at any time, even months after the Passport Day, because seriously, how many can you visit in six hours?
If you miss tomorrow's event, you'll have to wait until 2013 for another chance: Passport Day typically takes place on the third Saturday of January, April, July and November. If you'd rather not drive up into the mountains, chic Vinocruz wine shop in downtown Santa Cruz pours five different Santa Cruz Mountains wines every week at its mod stainless-steel tasting bar. In recent years, a handful of wineries have also opened tasting rooms in central Santa Cruz, including such major players as Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Bonny Doon Vineyard. They're clustered in industrial warehouses off Ingalls St., west of downtown and the UCSC campus via Hwy 1.
Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers
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Photo credit: Sara J. Benson