Santa Cruz County, located on the central coast of California, is known for its stunning landscapes, vibrant beach life, and unique wineries. This region is home to one of the oldest and most prestigious wine-growing regions in California, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which is highly lauded for its high elevation, ocean influence, and varied microclimates. The county boasts a diverse array of wineries that offer a unique blend of urban and scenic country settings. This guide explores some of the best wineries and tasting rooms in Santa Cruz County that should be on every wine enthusiast’s must-visit list.
The Santa Cruz Mountain AVA: A Brief Overview
The Santa Cruz Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) is one of the oldest wine regions in California, spanning three counties: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo. This unique wine region is characterized by its mountainous landscape, high altitudes, and the influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean. These factors contribute to a multitude of microclimates within the AVA, making it an ideal location for cultivating a wide range of grape varietals, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Alfaro Family Vineyards + Winery
Hidden amidst the picturesque, vineyard-draped hills of Corralitos, Alfaro Family Vineyards + Winery offers an authentic wine tasting experience. The family-run winery sits on a captivating property where you can sample award-winning Pinots and Chardonnays while taking in the stunning views. Enjoy a tasting on one of their outdoor patios as their friendly staff guide you through their diverse selection.
You can visit them at 420 Hames Road, Watsonville, CA
Situated along the Corralitos Wine Trail, Nicholson Vineyards is a peaceful haven in Day Valley. The vineyard is surrounded by acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, as well as Tuscan olive groves. Inside the tasting room, you can sample Nicholson’s elegant estate wines and their smooth, extra virgin olive oil made from hand-picked fruit from the surrounding Tuscan olive trees.
You ca visit them at 2800 Pleasant Valley Road, Aptos, CA.
Storrs Winery & Vineyards
Storrs Winery & Vineyards is a beloved fixture of the Santa Cruz wine scene. Founded by U.C. Davis graduates Stephen Storrs and Pamela Bianchini-Storrs in 1988, the winery has a striking tasting room on their sprawling estate in Day Valley. Here, you can sample their collection of handcrafted wines amidst the serene property, featuring a modern concrete barn with a tasting room and a sunny outdoor terrace bounded by vineyards and a forest of swaying eucalyptus.
You can visit them at 1560 Pleasant Valley Road, Aptos, CA.
Lester Estate Wines
Tucked away amongst the rolling hills of Corralitos is Lester Estate Wines, an award-winning vineyard. Every wine here is a unique expression of both the land and the winemaker who crafted it. Due to limited production, Lester Estate Wines are exclusively available via their Wine Club and tasting room.
You can visit them at 1950 Pleasant Valley Road, Aptos, CA.
Bargetto Winery is steeped in history and stunning views. Established in 1933, it’s the oldest winery in Santa Cruz County and is still operated by the same family. The winery is perched above the lush Soquel Creek, offering dramatic views of the river through floor-to-ceiling windows. The winery is also famous for its mead, made from 100% natural honey.
This is one of the oldest and longest-running wineries in Santa Cruz county and has been a perennial favorite for decades. You can visit them at 3535 North Main Street, Soquel, CA
Soquel Vineyards was established in 1987 by twin brothers Peter and Paul Bargetto, along with their childhood friend Jon Morgan. The hillside vineyard is home to award-winning wines and boasts breathtaking views of Monterey Bay.
You can visit them at 8063 Glen Haven Road, Soquel, CA
Wargin Wines is a boutique family winery that specializes in Italian varietals, Petite Sirahs, and specialty grapes. Their quaint tasting room is located in Soquel Village and is surrounded by charming antique shops.
Beauregard Vineyards is housed in a historic cabin-like structure in Bonny Doon that feels like a vacation in the woods. The fourth-generation family winery excels at Cabs, Zin, Pinots, and Chards in a setting that will make you swoon.
Silver Mountain Vineyard
Silver Mountain Vineyard has been crafting fine wines in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 1979 and has a distinct passion for organic and sustainable practices. Their handcrafted and organically grown wines carry a quality, complexity, purity, and richness of flavor that is sure to please the palate.
MJA Vineyards offers a lively tasting room where Hawaiian tunes fill the air. Bon vivant Marin John Artukovich, the MJA of MJA, farmed coffee on the Big Island before the allure of winemaking brought him to California. With delicious Cabs, extended evening hours, and a convivial atmosphere, MJA has fostered a family-like feel among its patrons.
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards
Head to Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards to find the perfect food pairing. The staff, who are self-proclaimed foodies, have been pouring food-friendly wines since 1975. Don’t leave without inspecting the tasting room bar, built from a piece of redwood from owner Jeff Emery’s Bonny Doon backyard, it’s dotted with 400-year-old acorns preserved in the wood.
Sones Cellars is a fun, easy-going tasting room and winery that invites patrons to purchase a repurposed spring top Belgian beer bottle and fill it again and again with their delicious Hedgehog Red.
Storrs Winery + Vineyards
Storrs Winery + Vineyards opened in 1988, making it one of the region’s first urban wineries. Seek out this charming tasting room in the Old Sash Mill for exceptional examples of Santa Cruz’s most prevalent varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Birichino, meaning “naughty” in Italian, is a name you won’t soon forget. Founded in Santa Cruz in 2008, they are focused on attaining the perfect balance of perfume, poise, and puckishness. Their stylish tasting room in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz hits all the right notes for some afternoon sips.
Regale Winery & Vineyards
Regale Winery & Vineyards is inspired by Italian landscapes and old-world villas, making it an escape to another world. Experience a selection of boutique wines handpicked by their winemaker, as well as some limited-production wines.
Byington Vineyard + Winery
The scenic, mountainside road that winds up to Byington Vineyard + Winery is half the fun. You’ll arrive at a handsome mansion surrounded by rolling Pinot Noir vineyards and a sweeping view of the entire Monterey Bay.
The Santa Cruz Wine Trail
If you’re looking for another reason to hit the Santa Cruz wine trail, consider this- oftentimes, you won’t be able to spot these wines outside of their respective winery. Many local wineries limit their wholesale distribution and instead sell directly to their customers via their tasting room and wine club. It’s more personal and it helps support a healthy, local, independent winemaking community.
Visiting Santa Cruz County and exploring its wineries is an unforgettable experience. The area’s diverse microclimates and rich viticultural history have fostered a wine industry that’s truly one-of-a-kind. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or a casual wine lover, a visit to these wineries guarantees a delightful mix of great wines, welcoming hospitality, and breathtaking views. So, the next time you’re in the area, make sure to check out these Santa Cruz Mountain wineries and immerse yourself in the local wine scene. Santé!