One of the early pioneers in Santa Cruz winemaking is David Bruce Winery. Highly respected for their amazing Pinot Noirs, they have been around almost 40 years, longer than most Napa or Sonoma houses. Winding up another mountain, I found the modern winery perched at 2,200 feet, overlooking Monterey Bay. Eyes twinkling and emotions stirred, Bruce talks about his Pinots as if they were his children, and proudly visits the sleeping wines in their barrels on a daily basis. Although he loves Pinots, his repertoire includes many other grapes like Petite Syrah, an intense, dark grape from France that yields grapey, sometimes peppery wines. His wines price between $18 and $40, and are widely available.
Closer to the Pacific, the hyperactive child of Santa Cruz winemaking, Randall Grahm, rules Bonny Doon Vineyards. His twisted experimentalist attitude is motivated by his goal of making what he calls "an original wine that matters." Grahm spent years trying to "subvert the dominant paradigm" by releasing obscure wines, and exploring what his 140 acres of 80 different types of grapes would cough up. But now, like a kid growing up, he wants to create "soul" in his wines, where you can taste personality. Although he says he hasn't reached that level yet, his fun, wily wines have certainly garnered attention. This is the same guy who is converting all his bottling plants to screwtops because he considers them superior -- in his gut. He takes chances, and succeeds quite often. Counted in his stock are successful wine names designed to thumb the nose at the establishment: Big House Red, Le Cigare Volant, Bouteille Call, and Heart of Darkness. Wine drinkers are lucky to have the deliciously original and decadently devilish Bonny Doon on their side. Wines range from $8 to $30, in wine stores everywhere.
Other wineries of note in the Santa Cruz region are Bargetto, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards, and Cinnabar. Like Ridge, David Bruce and Bonny Doon, their wines are refreshingly original, unpredictable and fabulous -- the way wines with soul should be.