Seedy Past Blossoms Beautifully At Beauregard Vineyards
By Amber Turpin
In 1945, the Academy Award–winning movie called The Lost Weekend came out, starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. It was the story of a writer struggling with alcoholism and what happens to him during one particular bender of a weekend. With a bit of ironic humor, a Santa Cruz Mountain landowner in the Bonny Doon community opened up a bar at the front of his property, calling it The Lost Weekend. For 33 years, that bar was open noon and night, attracting a strong following of motorcyclists roaring along the windy roads and maybe more that a few rough-around-the-edges mountain residents.
Perhaps with another bit of irony, that roadhouse is now the tasting room for a premier Santa Cruz Mountain winery, Beauregard Vineyards.
Ryan Beauregard, owner and winemaker at this family vineyard, revels in these facets of history. Not only did he grow up here, his great-grandfather, Amos, bought a ranch up the road from that bar the same year it opened. Ryan is far from trying to bury the rowdy past of his property, or the seedy stories that surely transpired there, but instead proudly slaps a label on his Lost Weekend super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot.
“It’s our house wine, and our house is The Lost Weekend. It’s a nice homage to the place,” he says.
But the truth is that the history of wine here in Bonny Doon is much richer than an old bar. In the 1800s, this was a prolific wine grape region, with 13 wineries in tiny Bonny Doon alone. The Ben Lomond Wine Company, also located up the road from the Beauregard property, was the most prestigious winery in all of California. It produced one million gallons per year, astounding not only because that scale immensely dwarfs what is being produced by most wineries today, but especially when you realize it was most likely with handmade redwood tanks and no modern pumping system. Then, of course, Prohibition came along and put an end to it all, along with Pierce’s disease, which devastated most of the vineyards throughout the state.
Jim Beauregard, Ryan’s father, is a longtime wine grower in Bonny Doon. His viticulture business, the Ben Lomond Wine Company, is titled as a nod to the momentous past, and to “remember the heritage” of where the family has deep roots. His company is also appropriately entitled to fit the Ben Lomond Mountain appellation, this uniquely small mountain region.
“He established the AVA on his own—by himself, for himself,” says Ryan, of the remarkable process that Jim underwent in the 1980s to bring attention to this part of the mountain range. His vineyards are renowned, gaining close to cult status in the winemaking and sommelier communities, especially the most recent Coast Grade vineyard, planted in 2008.
2008 was a big year for the Beauregards. Not only was the new vineyard planted, Ryan’s oldest daughter was born and the Martin Ranch fire incinerated much of Bonny Doon. In fact, on the very day that fire broke out, Ryan was at the bank putting down the deposit on his new winery, purchased from Randall Grahm, who had an equally storied past at this location. Randall bought the property from The Lost Weekend landowner George Saam in 1982, building his Rhone Ranger empire for over 20 years here until his shocking decision to sell off several of his brands and redirect Bonny Doon Vineyard towards a smaller scale at his Popelouchum property in San Juan Bautista. The Beauregards, longtime neighbors, were happy to regain the property next to their home ranch and turn Jim’s grapes into their estate wine.
And although this slice of the mountain is very small, the products of the special junction between ideal growing conditions and the skill of Jim and Ryan’s partnership are being received in a big way. The wines are consistently scoring 90-plus points in a wide array of sources and the wine industry is taking notice. The Four Seasons in Palo Alto initiated a barrel deal, and now have their own signature Beauregard label in their Quattro restaurant. Chef Craig Stoll of Delfina in San Francisco recently did a collaborative dinner at Quattro, using only Beauregard wines to pair with his menu, and Bourbon Steak in Santa Clara also just featured a “Vine to Table” dinner with Beauregard.
Bonny Doon is known best for Pinot Noir, and for good reason, but many other varietals grow here as well. The Beauregards play around with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Eighty percent of the fruit Ryan uses comes directly from his dad’s grapes nearby, but the other 20% come from Zayante Vineyard near Felton and Regan Vineyard in the southern end of the county in Corralitos. The diversity within these vast Santa Cruz Mountain ranges makes very distinct wine, with character and complexity.
“It all comes down to the site, the skill of the farmer, the clone ... but mostly climate. My dad always says it’s all climate,” says Ryan.
But not all of the magic happens before the winemaking begins. Ryan had an epiphany when he started tasting true Burgundian wines. He was able to hone in on what makes them so special, and from there, he figured out what he wanted his own wines to taste like.
“A big part of that is native yeasts,” he says. He is happy to share some of his secrets, much of which comes down to using 100% new oak and aging sur lees, resulting in terroir-driven, varietally correct wine. But the part that is really key cannot be formulated or written down. It is patience, bottling when the time is right and having the intuition to know when those perfect moments are. Those decisions are the real secret, and the ones that result in the distinction between OK wine and great wine.
Now that Ryan is settled into his own style, and the property is feeling very much like home, the Beauregards have the ability to open up the space for a select few custom crush operations and fellow winemakers. Some local wineries to watch: Sante Arcangeli, Bottle Jack and Stockwell Cellars have utilized the facilities and Mark Bright, a San Francisco sommelier, is doing some projects here as well.
Ryan says, “Helping incubate brands has been wonderful, and I’ve learned a lot too.” One of the main lessons that has come over the last decade for Ryan is what keeps his wine focused. He sums his philosophy up in a nutshell, “I’d rather make less of the very best wine, than more of the mediocre.”
Amber Turpin is a freelance food writer and baker living in Santa Cruz. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to various Edible magazines as well as the James Beard Award–winning Civil Eats blog.