winemakers
Dining Reviews

A Taste of 8 Emerging Santa Cruz Winemakers

New generation of vintners hones organic, biodynamic blends

Alexis Carr, wine shop manager at Soif, helps surface emerging winemakers. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

On Sunday, July 21, Soif Winebar and Merchants will bring together a galaxy of the newest winemakers in Santa Cruz for a unique afternoon tasting. The Santa Cruz Mountains was one of the state’s first American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), and today a new generation of winemakers continues to reveal the terroir of the area through sustainable, biodynamic and non-traditional practices. This Sunday at Soif offers an incredible opportunity to meet eight of these winemakers.

Alexis Carr—who started at Soif two years ago and now serves as wine shop manager—grew up in Santa Cruz, went off to school in Vancouver and earned a master’s degree in biodynamic strategies. She has up-and-coming winemakers on her radar.

“Santa Cruz wine and food is such a tight community,” she says. “I began making friends with the new winemakers who always invited me to come and try some of their wines.” What she tasted was terrific. Carr was impressed by how “crazy brave” it was for so many young entrepreneurs to put their energy into sustainable and biodynamic wine practices. “It takes heart and soul to do this,” she says.

On July 21, eight winemakers will present and pour their wines, accompanied by bread, cheeses and small bites by Soif chef Tom McNary. (Featured wines will also be available for purchase.)

Among the featured winemakers will be Ryan Stirm, who studied viticulture, eonology and sustainable agriculture at Cal Poly before working in wineries in California, Australia and Austria. Stirm Wine Company specializes in Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir and award-winning Riesling made from old-vine grapes.

Keegan Mayo of Assiduous Wines was born on the Big Island of Hawaii but moved to Santa Cruz at age 8. Mayo learned his craft at UC Davis, Mumm and in New Zealand before returning to create wines from organically farmed vineyards.

Florèz Wines was founded by James Jelks in 2017. Born in Santa Cruz, Jelks went through the UC Davis viticulture and enology program, then worked around the globe before coming back to produce wine in Santa Cruz County using organic and dry farming practices.

Madson Winemaker Cole Thomas was an organic vegetable farmer before turning his hand to wine. Working with Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Thomas expanded his wine knowledge. He met viticulturist Ken Swegles while bottling wine, and together they launched Madson Wines. 

Margins Wine produces low-intervention wines using grapes from underrepresented regions, vineyards and varietals. Winemaker Megan Bell is committed to locating sustainably farmed vineyards and earned her degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis before apprenticing in Napa, the Willamette Valley, New Zealand, and France’s Loire Valley.

Ryan Stirm and Andrew Nelson from San Luis Obispo’s Lapis Luna Wines will represent Companion Wine Co., a collaboration among Central Coast winemakers. The endeavor celebrates terroir-driven, natural wine with an emphasis on Riesling. 

Samuel Louis Smith Wines sources grapes from sustainably managed vineyards throughout the Central Coast. Winemaker Sam Smith, also head winemaker at the historic Morgan Winery, learned to make natural wine in New Zealand, Australia and France. 

Stagiaire (from the French word for apprentice) makes wines exclusively from organic vineyards crafted by winemaker Brent Mayeaux. After learning to farm and make wine naturally in New Zealand, Australia and France, Mayeaux moved back to the U.S. to produce his own wine.

New Wave Santa Cruz Winemakers, July 21 from 1-4 p.m. at Soif, 105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. $20 adv/$25 door. soifwine.com.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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