Tour The Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail
Most people speeding down Highway 101 past Morgan Hill and Gilroy have no idea that the oldest wine region in California lies on either side of the freeway.
Here, rolling hills studded with hundred-year-old oak trees stand along side small family farms and thousands and thousands of acres of vineyards. This is the home of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail, a loop that includes over two dozen wineries that have numerous awards to their credit—including eight wineries that collectively won 47 awards at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Some of the wineries follow traditional techniques honed over a hundred years; others are crafted by innovative winemakers who experiment with new varietals and Rhone-style wines, which are particularly suited for the region’s warm days and cool nights. It makes for a wine-tasting experience that is varied and fun.
Lion Ranch was started by Kim and Todd Engelhardt, who pour Rhone-style wine in their open-air tasting pavilion just off their side yard. A huge lawn bordered by their vineyards creates a casual backdrop for the picnickers, who sample their Viognier and award-winning Grenache, while listening to local musicians.
A few miles away, Seeker Vineyard is located down a country road next to a pasture of horses, where winery owner Karen Seeker pours wine from their back porch. Her husband, Randy, a nuclear and chemical engineer turned winemaker, crafts their limited-production Cabernets, Syrahs, rosés and award-winning blends a few steps above the house.
Aver Family Vineyards is packed with locals and Silicon Valley residents alike who flock to the family’s purpose-built home and winery to sample Rhone-style wines with names that honor their winegrowing philosophy. Their flagship Petite Sirah is named “Blessings,” a tribute to their vineyards being spared from a devastating fire in 2008. Their “Homage” is an estate-grown Syrah dedicated to their families.
At the southernmost part of the Wine Trail, in Gilroy’s Mt. Madonna district, is Sarah’s Vineyard known for its Summer Music Series, where locals lay down blankets and enjoy packed picnics for dinner. Proprietor Tim Slater handcrafts artisan Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and classic Rhône varietals.
The region’s winemakers are a close-knit group, getting together monthly to share tips and taste one another’s wines. Welcoming to visitors, they’re likely to pull out a map and suggest other wineries you should visit, a gracious example of the relaxed style of this region.
More information at SantaClaraWines.com