Dining Reviews

Striking Gold

1504 Dining SoquelVineyardsA taste of Soquel Vineyards’ five gold medal-winning Pinots

The trio of winemakers at Soquel Vineyards has been winning awards for a while now. But nothing like what happened a few weeks ago at the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Winemakers Jon Morgan, and brothers Peter and Paul Bargetto, who specialize in Pinot Noir made from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, made five Pinots in 2013—and all five won gold medals. Two of these outstanding examples of SCM terroir won double gold. So, when I was offered the chance to taste all the gold medal winners, I jumped in my car! Especially since the setting was the hilltop Italianate estate on property once farmed by Peter and Paul Bargetto’s grandfather. The temperature was a perfect 78 degrees out on the terrace, and the company included the winemakers and winery associate Janette Schwabenland.

“We’re looking for a good balance between acid and sugars,” says Morgan, as we sampled the 2013 Chardonnay, 14.5 percent alcohol, barrel aged in French oak for 10 months. Despite its substantial alcohol, the wine had a gorgeously firm acidity driving its rounded tropical fruit tones. Definitely gold medal.

“The maturity of fruit determines when we pick. If the grapes hang too long, sugars increase and you can end up with a hot, soft wine,” Morgan says. Pick early, and you get crisp, cool wine. “Mother Nature is in charge,” says Paul Bargetto, who speaks in perfect sound bites. “Grapes are the boss.”

The winemakers actually do all work together to make roughly 7,500 cases of wine per vintage—“winemaking by committee” they quip.

Next came the meat of the order, the five 2013 Pinot Noirs, starting with the Santa Cruz Mountains designation made from 14 Pinot Noir clones (google it!) from three different vineyards—equal parts Coast Grade Ben Lomond, Estate, and Lester Family Vineyards. “This one is aged in only new French oak, but not for too long,” Peter Bargetto chimes in. I admire its ravishing garnet color. It yields sassafras and black pepper on the palate, lots of elusive spices, perhaps some bay leaves in the nose, and a long potent blueberry finish. It was easily one of the finest Santa Cruz Mountain Pinots I’ve ever tasted. I’m thinking triple gold.

The Lester Family Vineyards Pinot, 13.9 percent alcohol, was a blend of nine clones. “Juicy!” says Paul. It is that, and a lot more. Another knockout to my taste was the Coast Grade Vineyard Pinot, 13.8 percent alcohol, dancing on the tongue with aromas of black cherry and mint. “I like the brightness of this one,” Morgan agrees. Bright and sassy and calling out for food. “We farm organically,” Peter reminds me, as we overlook estate vines flowing down the hill in emerald bands all the way to the ocean. Or so it seems. One of my personal favorites is the ruby red Estate Pinot. It offers a remarkable flavor structure yielded from the 3-acre Estate vineyard’s four clones. “No irrigation.” The three men nod in unison. This beauty was loaded with plum and cranberry, with a flinty, birch bark center, a hint of star anise, and bay leaves in the long sexy finish. Wow! Some credit is due here to Prudy Foxx, ace wine consultant, called in to check the delicate biochemistry of the vines when the 2013 vintage came close to harvest. “She won these golds for us,” Paul concedes graciously. “The whole appellation is winning more golds,” Morgan adds. “There’s a lot of guesswork in our business, but Prudy has an intuitive touch. She sees where the grapes will go before it even happens.” Soquel Vineyards has hit its award-winning stride. “The three of us love being hands-on,” Peter says. “We’re exactly as big as we want to be.” Big enough to house a slew of new gold medals, and some of the top Pinot Noirs ever produced in our region.

In case you want to run right out and purchase these exceptional wines, the double golds went to the 2013 Pinot Noir, Partners’ Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, and to the 2013 Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyards. Both under $40. Available at soquelvineyards.com.

PHOTO: All five of Soquel Vineyards’ 2013 Pinot Noirs won gold medals in the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

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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