Happy Wanderer: Northern California’s off-path wine crush hot spots

CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM: September 27, 2012

Robert Louis Stevenson once described wine as “poetry in a bottle.” But the real music is made during crush, when the grape skins are broken to prepare them for wine production. Early autumn sees a steady flow of visitors to the vineyard-laced valleys of Napa and Sonoma. The tasting rooms are abuzz with the talk of tannins as wine lovers rush to find pairings for dishes such as braised short ribs and pumpkin soup.

Yet, not everyone loves a parade. If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, here are three off-the-grid wine regions that will help you avoid the rush to the crush.

Santa Cruz: Fourteen wineries make up a consortium called Surf City Vintners near Swift Street and Ingalls in Santa Cruz. The area has a funky warehouse feel, which just lends to the fun of going door-to-door to taste wine. The most recognized label is Bonny Doon Vineyard, a soulful operation that was nearly lost when disease decimated its vineyards in the mid-1990s. Today, Bonny Doon wines are a Santa Cruz favorite, coupled with a popular on-site café called Le Cigare Volant. Each table has its own private nook, where locally-grown foods are paired with the winery’s organic offerings.

Nearby, Marin Artukovich is having more fun than a vintner should have. The coffee-grower-turned-winemaker owns MJA Vineyards, where soft Hawaiian music plays as he pours tastings of several of his “girls” —


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