Food & Wine

Gelato Massimo
Charlie Hong Kong
Companion Bakeshop
Birichino Wine
The Wine Label Prince
Windy Oaks Winery
5 Dishes or Meals That Will Blow You Away

Paradise Beach Grille

Creative food offerings and a ‘Cheers’-ish atmosphere makes everybody feel at home

cover_paradise2Good memorable meals boast several courses. First, you might nosh on an appetizer, followed by a robust main course and then, of course, there’s dessert. For Gary and Leslie Wetsel, owners of Capitola’s Paradise Beach Grille, life feels so much like dessert these days—mindblowingly sweet, in fact. That’s because Paradise is enjoying a continued boom of success.

It’s called longevity.

After more than 13 years in business, Paradise has never been more popular. Chalk it up to the great meals found here—and a new executive chef—but there must be something else the Wetsels are doing that keep locals and tourists returning for more.

“We used to come to the beach,” Leslie recalls. “We just sat there one day and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to own a restaurant?’ And we saw the building and somebody said, ‘Oh, it’s for sale.’”

That was back in the late ’90s, and it didn’t take that long for the Wetsels to purchase the building and reboot what was there—Larry’s Surf and Turf. The result blossomed into Paradise, on many levels. While the Wetsels found themselves entering brand new territory as restaurant owners, they could not have predicted how well Paradise would be received.

Part of that early success had something to do with the view—the ocean and Soquel creek make for a lovely backyard dining experience—but the variety of food offerings were not only plentiful but also unique and clever. And fresh, too. There was an infusion of hearty vegetables in many of the entrees and listings of prime steaks along with creative fish dishes stood out. So, too, did comfort food—from innovative burger selections to basic fish and chips, which were, really, anything but “basic.” (See sidebar.)

Gary oversaw the wines, insisting Paradise offer only California wines, with a fine selection of wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. But it wasn’t until this past decade, when Paradise nabbed its first award for Restaurant of the Year and Best Capitola Restaurant in GT’s annual readers poll, that something began to click—differently, and in the very best way. The awards were stellar and it just naturally gave the place more exposure. Since that time, Paradise has won consecutive Best Of awards, making a considerable mark in the local culinary/entertainment scene.

“I think one of the things is that we hire employees that work with us,” Leslie muses about the restaurant’s appeal. “You know, there’s a difference between having somebody work for you or with you. And it’s really important to both my husband and myself that the people that work here—the kitchen, busers, hostesses and more—that it’s a family. And we’ve made Paradise a family, and I believe that’s why we’re successful. I think that when they walk in, they enjoy working here. They all work with us. I think that’s the key.”

So, too, is the man mastering the kitchen—executive chef Scott Cater, who became one of Paradise’s major creative entrees back in April. Previously at Casablanca Inn and Restaurant, Cater has enhanced what already works so well at Paradise—the vast, tasty food choices—and added his own flare.

“Scott is bringing in a lot of healthy foods—different fish specials every week,” Leslie notes. “We’ve kept the same menu because it’s worked for us. But you always need to bring in fresh fish and vegetables and change it up very week for people who come here regularly.”

She’s also jazzed about “Italian Night,” which is a new offering every Tuesday night. (Brace yourself for some memorable Italian food creations.) There’s also locals night (Thursday), which continues to be a big draw.

Originally from upstate New York, the Wetsels found California to be a good fit—Gary, who always worked in high tech, eventually went on to become CEO of Borland. The idea of owning a restaurant never really crossed their minds until that fateful day on the beach.

“We go around and talk to everybody in the place and we treat everybody the same—I don’t care who they are,” Leslie adds. “I think everybody feels comfortable. It’s a Cheers bar.”

Ambiance plays a key role.

“Years ago, at a competition I entered, a question was asked of me—and I will never forget it; and I try to live up to it: If you had unexpected guests come for dinner in your home, what would you serve them and how would you feel?” Leslie recalls. “My answer was, ‘It’s not what you serve them for dinner, but how you made them feel while dining with you.’ I laugh now, because at the time, I never thought of the restaurant. So, to me,  Paradise is more than a restaurant. It’s a ‘home away from home’ to many of our local patrons and, hopefully, we make everyone who walks in our door feel as if they are ‘home.”  | Greg Archer

Paradise Beach Grille serving seafood, steaks in Capitola (near Santa Cruz) with music & cocktails paradisebeachgrille.com.
215 Esplanade, Capitola, 476-4900. Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Happy Hour: 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Feasting on Paradise

After more than 13 years in business, Paradise Beach Grille boasts one whopper of a menu. Owners Gary and Leslie Wetsel (above) can attest to that. We indulged on (most of) these offerings, from appetizers to dinner items. Dig in …

Appetizers, Two that captured our interest and why.

Haleakala Lava Flow Prawns ($14) Luscious Tiger prawns given special attention with a garlic sautée that rocks. The Hawaiian pineapple and paradise spice mix is a winner. Note the splash of Pinot Grigio. Your standard prawn appetizer can be so, well, uneventful. Not so here. Beyond the inventive name, the dish is really creative.

Gorgonzola-Stuffed Balsamic Marinated Portabella ($13) It’s as if the Gorgonzola tangoed with the fire roasted portabella. Note the marinated splendor here and you can’t miss the capers inside this flavorable fare either. It’s a knockout, also not only for its curious combination, but because it leaves a memorable impression. Delicious.

Salads and Such

Three that stand out.

Louisiana Steak Salad ($15) The sautéed Angus Skirt Steak here is given fine treatment with onions and peppers in—wait for it—a Cajun-esque vinaigrette. Nice touch. It rests in an abundant bed of fresh greens, with roasted potatoes and asparagus along for the ride. Crumbled Gorgonzola adds zesty spunk to this already tasty arrangement.

French Onion Soup ($5/cup; $9 bowl; $11 bread bowl) Sometimes it’s challenging to find a good French Onion encounter, but Paradise does it right. Yes, really. These caramelized sweet onions are given fine accompaniment by way of thyme, Marsala wine, crunchy garlic crostini and cheese— melted Emmenthaler. Delish.

Fuji Apple, Walnut & Gorgonzola Salad ($13) Mixed spring greens topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, candied walnuts and fine-sliced Fuji apples. Served with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.

NOTE: Let’s talk about the salad dressings, which can often make or break your salad experience. There are a few clever combinations here but three that we recommend are dynamite: champagne wasabi vinaigrette, toasted sesame miso vinaigrette, Louis and honey mustard vinaigrette.

Lunchtime Bliss

It’s hard to leave hungry after lunch here—the portions are so plentiful. Note the three that captured our interest:

Sugar & Spice Salmon ($14) Anything with garlic mashed potatoes tops my list. Fresh veggies are on board, too, but you’ll appreciate not only expertly prepared char-grilled fresh salmon fillet, but also how it appears—topped with caramelized pineapple salsa.

Vegetarian Fettucini in a Vodka Marinara ($12) This al dente fettucini pasta is tossed with fresh roma tomatoes, asparagus, button mushrooms and olive oil. The best part: they didn’t leave out the vodka-infused marinara.

Grilled Chicken Mozzarella Po’ Boy Sandwich ($14) What you get is a fire-roasted chicken breast topped with fresh mozzarella. Basil and olive oil come along for the ride. It’s all stacked on a grilled sourdough roll with plenty of fixins’.

NOTE: Those with really healthy lunch appetites, try the Kona skirt steak in Gorgonzola Cream ($16). It arrives with four-cheese tortellini. A full, creamy-cheesy experience. For fun: the Paradise Fish and Chips ($12) are inventive—tilapia fillets dipped in a Samuel Adams beer batter. Hello!

Dinner in Paradise

The dinner menu is vast. Plus, there are many specials to choose from. So, where do you begin? Consider these five:

Coconut & Macadamia Encrusted Ahi Tuna Fillet ($28) One of our favorite dishes here. Sashimi grade ahi tuna encrusted with coconut and macadamia nuts—OK, that’s impressive alone—is delivered with a Thai sweet chili beurre blanc and—get this!—wasabi aioli. One of Paradise’s most popular dishes. Runner up: The Paradise Potato Encrusted Halibut ($26).

Sausage & Hazelnut Fettuccini ($18) This is one impressive dish. Crumbled Italian sausage, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Asiago cheese tossed with fettuccini pasta in a rich chicken broth. No. They’re not kidding. What a rugged yet classy dish. Runner-up: Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Butter ($34).

Flame Broiled New Zealand Lamb Chops ($28) The lamb is succulent, “flame-kissed” to medium rare and comes with fresh herbs, roasted garlic puree and a refreshing champagne-infused demi-glace. If you think you can’t combine noshing on something as robust and decadent as lamb by the beach, think again. Runner-up: Bone-in California Pork Rib Chop with Apple Rum Butter ($25).

Paradise Asiago Encrusted Chicken ($20) It’s the Asiago. The chicken breasts are encrusted with it and the combination is terrific. It’s served with fettucini pasta. Take note of the basil. Runner-up: Chicken Roulade “Cordon Bleu Style”

After Paradise

Feast on desserts if you must, but try these three at some point.

Chocolate Raspberry Ecstasy ($7) Original cheesecake made with a trio of Belgian chocolate.

Paradise Delight ($7) Stand back, it’s mine: A flaky puff-pastry, flash fried and stuffed with cheesecake, drizzled with warm caramel and topped with a scoop of vanilla bean gelato.

Caramel Apple Pie ($6) A buttery caramel is poured over Granny Smith apples and a shortbread crust. This baby is served warm.

Gelato Massimo

The Guiltless Pleasure that is Sinfully Satisfying

cover_gelatoFrom his facility in Watsonville, Massimo Caporale (pictured) makes the most delicious gelato. It is dense, rich, creamy—and low in fat and calories.

Caporale left the Lake Como region of Italy about 12 years ago and came to this country with the sole purpose of making gelato. It was a midlife change for him, but he had already worked as a pastry chef and had learned the art of gelato making. Arriving in California to set up a business, his goal was to make a superb Italian-style gelato from the very best ingredients he could find and to the highest standards. And he has succeeded.

Sitting at his office desk piled with paperwork, the affable Italian is wearing a bright orange Gelato Massimo T-shirt with the words “Sinful but Safe” across the back. One of his vendors comes by to take an order for some of the special flavorings he uses, and he apologizes as they do a quick business transaction in Italian.  “He’s an authentic Italian gelato maker,” the vendor says, with obvious admiration as she heads out the door.

Caporale needs a lot of different flavorings for his gelato and sorbets – he makes an impressive assortment of 68 different kinds. As well as popular flavors such as vanilla, chocolate and coconut, also available are blackberry; crème fraîche; espresso; mango; pistachio; pumpkin; cinnamon; hazelnut; and a killer caramel balsamic that would turn even a non-believer into a dedicated gelato eater.

“People believe that gelato is more fat than ice cream,” says Caporale, “but it’s the opposite. There’s only about five grams of fat in a four-ounce serving, and that’s less than ice cream,” he adds. The milk-based gelato with all natural ingredients is also gluten free and without preservatives, coloring or additives. A dark chocolate sorbet that is totally fat free means one can indulge without too much guilt.

Depending on the work schedule, Caporale and his team hand-make about 50 gallons of gelato and sorbet a day. Stepping into the huge Arctic-cold refrigerator reveals hundreds of cartons piled high – all awaiting delivery to places far and wide. Locally, Gelato Massimo is sold at stores such as Whole Foods; Staff of Life; New Leaf; Shopper’s Corner; Corralitos Market; Moss Landing Market; Palm Deli (in Aptos); and DeLuxe Foods of Aptos.

Caporale has been written about in various publications, but a highlight was a feature in Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine in March 2008 – a well-deserved recognition. A man of many talents, he was once the team leader on the Italian national hang gliding team, but now he’s flying high making gelato in Watsonville. | Josie Cowden

Gelato Massimo, 9 Hangar Way, Suite 1A, Watsonville, 761-3198, gelatomassimo.com.


Hooked on Charlie Why Charlie Hong Kong remains a favorite culinary hangout

cover_charlie1Charlie Hong Kong is more than an affordable place to get Asian-inspired healthy street food. The benefits for your body and soul begin from the moment you walk up to the order window and are greeted by three words painted on the wall: Respect, Kindness, and Gratitude. These are the founding principles of owners Carolyn and Darryl “Rudy” Rudolph, who believe they are integral to the way they treat their staff and their customers.

“By eating here you are saying yes to your body, yes to the environment, and yes to community,” says Carolyn.

The Rudolphs are committed to giving customers inexpensive healthy food. “Organic and affordable normally don’t go together,” she adds. “We buy in bulk to do that, and work hard developing long-term relationships with our vendors.” Most of the produce is from local Lakeside Organic Gardens.

Everything is cooked fresh every day and the healthiest vegetables are used—kale, red and green chard, mustard greens, cabbage, broccoli, and bok choy, which make up CHK’s organic vegetable medley. About two and half cups of these vegetables are used in each dish that features the medley. That adds up to 400-500 pounds of vegetables the staff chops daily.

The most popular dishes among customers are Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight and Gado Gado (both feature the veggie medley) and Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl. Carolyn points out that selected dishes feature healthy ingredients including “coconut milk, with lots of vitamins and important minerals, and anti-viral properties” and “turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties and has been referred to as a natural wonder because of its many benefits.”

All of CHK’s signature dishes are vegan, but there are also many dishes available with sustainable seafood or hormone- and antibiotic-free meat. CHK features free-range Rocky’s Chicken from Petaluma. “Before deciding to use their meat, we visited the farm and plant and witnessed their process from beginning to end,” says Carolyn. “We try to have personal relationships with all our vendors.”

A special dish on last summer’s menu was Garlic Basil Noodles, featuring fresh basil from local Blue Heron Farms. Carolyn often decides on seasonal specials after getting inspired at local farmers markets. An early autumn special was Spicy Green Beans.

cover_charlie2At one point Carolyn was a vegetarian, although she isn’t anymore. “I grew up in the Midwest, and food didn’t have ‘real taste.’ In my twenties I traveled through Europe and Asia and got to taste simple, ‘real food and tastes’ and experience farmers markets,” she says. “I fell in love with feeding people simple food.

“I raised my family that way; everywhere we would go, even when we went camping, I’d have to ask ‘where’s the local health food store, where’s the farmers market?’ My kids would roll their eyes.”

Today, her kids are grown and some of them are staff members at Charlie Hong Kong; clearly their mother’s passion for healthy food has had a positive effect.

One of the sons took the passion a step further and dressed up as a carrot for a recent event, this summer’s “Golden Carrot Awards.” These awards from Santa Cruz County’s Go for Health! Collaborative recognize restaurants that have made exceptional efforts to provide high standards in nutrition and food safety and provide healthy food options to their patrons. In 2011, CHK earned the top honor: “Ultimate Golden Carrot.” Carolyn was gratified by the recognition of how hard the restaurant strives to provide healthy, delicious food.

In addition to organic ingredients, there are many facets of CHK that display a commitment to sustainability and quality. When the Rudolphs bought the restaurant from the previous owner in 2000, one of the first things they did is switch from cooking with canola oil to rice bran oil. Rice bran oil is high in antioxidants, which makes it very heart healthy. Since then, they have worked hard to ensure that all ingredients are first-rate, and in recent years they have added many eco-conscious practices, which led Save Our Shores to name the restaurant “Business of the Year” in 2011.

As of Earth Day 2011, the restaurant no longer uses plastic bags; it stopped carrying plastic water bottles in 2010. CHK also uses compostable utensils. For to-go orders, re-usable fabric totes are available for purchase (or customers can take food home with just the box it comes in). “ I see organic food and the environment woven together,” Carolyn says. “I care about sustainability.”

An active food advocate, Carolyn signed up CHK to be a part of Food Day (Oct. 24), a national event pushing for healthy, affordable food produced in sustainable, humane ways. “We participate in these kinds of events as much as possible, whether it’s donating a percentage of sales to an organization or giving in other ways,” she says.

The Rudolphs’ collaboration on inexpensive, nourishing food has helped make Charlie Hong Kong a mainstay in Santa Cruz’s food scene. “This is a space to come and nurture yourself, and be in community with other people,” Carolyn says. | Tara Fatemi Walker

Charlie Hong Kong, open daily 11am-11pm 1141 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 426-5664, Santa Cruz Vegan Restaurant. Asian Street Food at Charlie Hong Kong charliehongkong.com.


High Five

5 Meals You Can’t Pass Up

1. Breakfast and Lunch Tacos at The Truck Stop Tacos at a truck stop may sound ordinary, but let’s clarify: these are not just any tacos, but tantalizing organic seasonal breakfast tacos and Korean-inspired lunch tacos. And they’re not served at any old truck stop, but at the Truck Stop, a food truck open Wednesday-Sunday on the Westside of Santa Cruz. Breakfast tacos have been rotating since The Truck Stop opened in August, and have included an exquisite vegetarian combination with scrambled eggs, padron peppers, summer squash, cheese, and sour cream. Asian lunch tacos feature ingredients such as chicken or tofu with ginger-scallion sauce, cabbage, pickled carrots, daikon, and black sesame seeds: a dynamic blend of textures and spices. It’s obvious Grayson’s longtime involvement in the organic and local food community has paid off! Don’t miss her flavor-packed homemade salsas on the side: smoked chili, chimichurri, and tomatillo. And the final reason to support The Truck Stop? Grayson provides training opportunities to youth from local empowerment organization Food, What?!
1500 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 621-7361, thetruckstopsc.com.cover_companion

2. Breakfast at Companion Bakeshop There are too many possible yummy breakfast combinations to list here, but we’ll throw out a couple recommendations to get you started. Try a farmhouse cheddar bacon biscuit with a cup of coffee for a meal that’s sort of “comfort food with flair;” the biscuit is doughy with sizeable chunks of bacon and sharp California cheese. Or opt for a hearty, gluten-free buckwheat blueberry scone with a latte. Companion uses local Lulu Carpenter’s coffee and a great vintage espresso machine to produce very-well-made and quite beautiful coffee and espresso drinks (also note: the milk in these drinks is organic). Owner Erin Lampel, a longtime Slow Food advocate, opened the retail bakery in June with her husband Jeremy. Previously, Lampel’s Companion Bakers products (including renowned organic sourdough loaves and many types of scones) were Bakeshop sold only at farmers markets and via a few CSA programs.
2341 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 252-2253, companionbakeshop.com.

3. Artichoke Appetizer and Barbecue Platter at SmoQe BBQ SmoQe’s artichoke appetizer is fabulous, and a great way to whet your appetite for one of the restaurant’s barbecue dinners. The wood-fired artichoke is always perfectly cooked, with a housemade pesto generously spread on it. The accompanying smoked tomato aioli for dipping is creamy and very addicting; it complements the artichoke well. For an entree, the enticing barbecue options include tender pulled pork, meaty beef or pork ribs, and moist chicken. Plates come with your choice of two sides such as highly recommended cole slaw: tangy and flavorful. Yes, this is a lot of food—lighter entrees include à la carte sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas – but it’s hard not to order such amazing barbecue platters. Just make sure you don’t have plans to accomplish anything afterward.
10110 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 662-2227, smoqe.com.

4. BLT and Other Sandwiches at Café Iveta The BLT is definitely worth making a special trip. Hearty, whole wheat sliced sourdough bread is filled with crispy hardwood smoked bacon, fresh Bibb lettuce and tomato, and homemade spicy mayonnaise. The textures and flavors blend deftly, making the BLT Iveta’s best-selling sandwich. Some customers add soft-poached egg or avocado to the mix. Other sandwiches worth noting include the #2 top-seller, delicious Turkey (organic Diestel turkey with Havarti cheese, avocado, homemade mayo on sprouted wheat bread) and Caprese (fresh mozzarella, flavorful homemade pesto, lettuce, tomato, on ciabatta roll). The family-owned Iveta is operated by the Bilankos, who are delightful, and include café manager Lisa and her mother Yvette, who cooks many homemade items including biscotti and daily rotating soups such as Roasted Eggplant or Southwest Vegetable. Iveta serves scrumptious scones and other homemade desserts. Iveta actually started as a retail business specializing in award-winning scones; you can also purchase mixes to make some yourself at home.
2125 Delaware Ave., Santa Cruz, 713-0320, info.iveta.com/café.

5. Lamb Specials at Zameen Aptos-based Mediterranean restaurant Zameen serves excellent lamb dishes, among other great foods. There are two frequent specials: Spicy Lamb, and Slow-roasted Lamb. Spicy Lamb features ground lamb, raisins, almonds, and cinnamon. This very moist and flavorful dish comes with a side sauce (your choice: pomegranate walnut, tzatziki, mint pesto, tahini, or fig chutney), but it’s so tasty it doesn’t even need the sauce. If you’re a sauce person, choose the pomegranate walnut – this is perfectly suited. Slow-roasted Lamb, a rich and tender stew, contains chunks of leg of lamb slow-roasted overnight in a marinade of butter, coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika. Like all of Zameen’s entrees, customers can select to have the lamb as a filling for a wrap, a topping for a salad, or as the basis of a platter that includes soup or salad and a side dish (Persian Herb Rice, Moroccan Skewered Potatoes, etc.). One lamb dish permanently on Zameen’s menu, Lamb Shish Kebab, includes a delectable mint-garlic-onion-yogurt marinade. | Tara Fatemi Walker
Zameen Mediterranean restaurant serving lamb with Moroccan décor in Aptos zameencuisine.com.7528 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 688-4465,  

Birichino Wine How two locals created some of the most distinctive wines from the Central Coast

cover_birichino1Age has its benefits. It certainly works in the favor of winemakers Alex Krause and John Locke, the titans behind Birichino wines. The duo’s 2010 Grenache Vieilles Vignes, for instance, a dynamite, one-of-kind red—lush and profoundly original—originates from local George Besson’s 100-year-old vines in the Besson Winery near Gilroy. The grapes certainly boast a rare vitality. But it’s just one of the many things that make this duo’s pairing, and their journey together as winemakers, so intriguing.

“We created Birichino to make a particular wine—Malvasia Bianca—for a particular customer, the Quebec alcohol monopoly,” notes John Locke, Birichino’s co-creator, and also wine manager at Soif in Downtown Santa Cruz.

The Bianca has received much attention for its aromatherapeutic qualities—effusive jasmine, lime blossom and honeysuckle perfume.

“No one else was going to do it,” Locke adds, “and we had the very particular expertise and relationships we would allow us to do so.  Alex and I both wanted to produce something ourselves and thus the not-so-staggering epiphany [probably staring at us from two feet away for quite some time] revealed itself—that we could start a company to make the wines about which we feel really passionate, in the style we righteously prefer—and work with people we already know and like.”

They did just that. They launched Birichino in 2008, culling from their combined 32 years working in the business—Locke and Krause spent many years working as winemakers at Bonny Doon Vineyards.

The Bianca originates from Monterey’s San Bernabe Vineyard. But there’s also the Birichino Vin Gris, which hails from Lodi’s Phillips Vineyard Cinsault—the vines were planted in 1886.

cover_birichino2Often, you hear claims of wines being one of “the best” or most “innovative” of the season, and in the case of the duo’s red, the Grenache, it’s just that—one of the most provocative creatures to emerge on the wine scene in quite some time. It works on many levels and there are few notable reasons why. The grapes are hand-picked, gently handled and given special attention to drawing out inherent lusciousness from the fruit coming off of the wonderfully aged vines. (Besson’s father still lives on the property, in fact.) The fruits are sorted again—there’s a small portion of the cluster that remains whole at the bottom of the fermenter and the remaining batch is destemmed and lightly crushed over the top. There’s more to the process, but the end result is lovely and pleasantly surprising.

Undoubtedly, for Krause and Locke, winemaking is a real love.

“A lot of what we do is a reflection and evolution of what we did at Bonny Doon,” Locke notes, giving credit to founder/titan Randall Grahm’s genius and the great opportunities both he and Krause had there. Krause, in fact, still works at Bonny Doon as the director of export sales.

“Unless one really loves what one does, it’s very hard, and very rare to truly do great work,” Krause says. “The old saw is that one must start with a large fortune to make a small one, and we have neither! But what I do enjoy is the quality of life that winemaking affords us—we get to spend time calling on great restaurateurs, scour the globe for horrendously stinky cheeses to stuff in our luggage, artisanal cloudberry liqueurs from Lapland , and go on luge runs, drink whisky, and bet on stagecoach races with our crazy Albertan importers.

“I think you have to be slightly unbalanced to want to get into the wine business, and that makes for interesting company.”

As for the wine’s name, the duo tells me that they wanted something Italian and that evoked playfulness. They landed on birichino, which means naughty—“mischievous partly for the surprising, slightly racy character of our malvasia that leads you on to thinking sweet, and delivers something else entirely,” Locke says.

In this case, it doesn’t hurt to be naughty—at all. | Greg Archer

Learn more about the wines at birichino.com. Purchase the wine at Soif, 105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-2020. See also soifwine.com.

Label Maker Local artist Ed Penniman has a history of designing original wine labels

cover_LavitaEd Penniman is well known for his beautiful artwork, and, as a respected local artist, you will see his work all over town and beyond. One of his watercolors was chosen to be the poster for this year’s Capitola Art & Wine Festival, and he often participates in the annual Open Studios event. He is also involved with the Santa Cruz Art League as a board member and curator of the California Statewide Landscape Exhibition, now in its 82nd year.

But what you may not know about Penniman is that he designs wine labels. Back in the late ’60s, he started working on design projects for Inglenook Winery and the Italian-Swiss Colony Winery in San Francisco on their wine labels – before opening the first graphic design office in Santa Cruz. Then, in the early ’70s, he was contracted by Lawrence Bargetto of Bargetto Winery to do labels for their fruit wines – now marketed as Chaucer’s brand. The success of this initial work led to an ongoing relationship with the winery that has lasted for 40 years, a fact that Penniman is justly proud of.

For the La Vita wine series, a super premium, estate-grown blend of Dolcetto, Refosco and Nebbiolo grown experimentally in 1994 by John Bargetto at the Bargetto-Regan Vineyard, Penniman was asked to design the labels. Penniman not only helped choose the name La Vita, but he also developed a recognizable look for the label. “We pick a piece of art—the theme is art in history and wine and culture—with an image of wine-making, wine drinking, or farming grapes for the La Vita,” Penniman says of the work he loves to do. He has done every single label for the La Vita series, starting in the ’90s, and in 2004 the label won a gold medal for Best in Show at the Orange County Fair out of 3,500 entries.

Penniman has also designed other labels for Bargetto Winery—a reserve line of Pinot, Merlot and Chardonnay—beautifully presented in a wooden box, and a special two-part label for a 2006 wine, one part of which was engraved, depicting Bargetto’s famous Regan Vineyard.

“They have been keeping me busy for a long time,” laughs Ed of the work he’s done over the years for Bargetto Winery. “I’m completely redoing the label of their fruit wine line, Chaucer’s, which will not be released until early next year,” he says. “But we have an exciting direction we’re going to go with and it’s a departure from the present label. It’s going to be handsome and elegant.”

Penniman has designed wine labels for Hallcrest Vineyards, Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery, Paisley Vineyard and others in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. He just finished redoing all of Zayante Vineyards’ labels for winery owners Greg and Kathy Nolten. “They’re very happy,” adds Penniman. “And I’m now hooked on their 2008 Syrah!” | Josie Cowden

Ed Penniman Assoc. Design, 4173 Viga Court, Capitola, 462-2333, edpennimandesign.com.


Windy Oaks Winery Spencer Schultze carries on the tradition of making fine wine

cover_windyoaksSpencer Schultze is probably the youngest winemaker in Santa Cruz County. At the age of 25 he still has much to learn. But fortunately for Spencer, he has an experienced teacher and guide—his father Jim Schultze, owner and winemaker at Windy Oaks Estate Winery & Vineyards. When Jim and his wife Judy founded Windy Oaks in 1996 and started planting vines, young Spencer began taking an interest in the vineyard.

“I was already getting appreciation for the process, but it took a while for me to take it seriously,” says Spencer.

“I was not sure if I wanted to step into the business, and I saw some of the stress involved. I was into my late teens or 20 when I really got a palate for wine. I’d been drinking wine with my parents since I was 12—in small amounts,” he laughs, “but I never appreciated the difference between a good wine and a bad wine.”

After majoring in political science at UC Santa Cruz, Spencer finally decided his path was to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he completed a course of formal training at UC Davis, a two-year winemaker’s certification program. He also did an internship in France for six months in 2009, before getting seriously into the wine business.

“It’s pretty much become a lifestyle and I’ve grown to appreciate so many aspects of it,” he says of making wine. I have a lot of other things in life that I enjoy, snowboarding in winter for one. And I love music and I’ve been making music here and there for the last five years, on the electronics side. But harvest really gets my juices going. And when it’s done, I don’t have to worry about what Mother Nature’s going to throw at me anymore. It’s a huge relief.”

As assistant winemaker to his father, Spencer appreciates learning from an expert. He is extremely impressed with one particular Burgundian Pinot Noir clone his father has nurtured. “He only planted half an acre, which he’s babied from start to finish,” he says of the superb wine made from these grapes.  “It’s a special clone and he gives it all the love it could ever want. I admire everything he’s done, but especially that one because it’s reached another level.”

Spencer’s 28-year-old brother James, who actually named the winery Windy Oaks, is still finishing up school and considering teaching abroad for a while, but he is on the same wine-stained path as Spencer. “He will end up back here in a marketing role,” says Spencer. “But I’m more passionate about the winemaking side.”

Spencer is starting his own label, called Gravity. He’s growing grapes on a neighbor’s land and harvesting them to make his own wine. “The 2010 vintage will be about 12 cases made with wild yeast,” he says. “It’s tasting good right now but I’ll give it some more time before I put it in the bottle.”

Windy Oaks sits on a prime piece of land that Spencer’s late grandfather found in the ’70s and built the first house in what is now a small community in Corralitos. Spencer feels truly blessed to live and work there.

“It’s a beautiful piece of land,” says Spencer. “I love this place and I’m not ever going to leave it—knock on wood. And I love working for my dad.” |  Josie Cowden

Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery, 550 Hazel Dell Road, Corralitos, 786-9463. windyoaksestate.com. Open Saturdays noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment only.

To Top