The end of harvest came late for me this year. It wasn’t until December 26th when I pumped the late harvest Syrah to barrel. Fifteen tons of fruit, 45 barrels of wine, and one sore back later, it’s now time to move on to other winemaking tasks and fun adventures.
First up is a bike ride in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. Riding is how I got my introduction to the back country roads, steep rugged hillsides, counter-culture lifestyles (as compared to Silicon Valley), and, of course, the intimate vineyards and wineries tucked in various corners of these magical mountains.
The Almaden Cycle Touring Club (ACTC) ride starts at Lexington School on Old Santa Cruz Highway in Los Gatos. The route winds us up Old Santa Cruz Highway to Summit Road and then drops us down the Santa Cruz side into Soquel on San Jose-Soquel Road. The climb back up is via Granite Creek Road into Scotts Valley and then finally up the historic Mountain Charlie Road to the summit.
The first wineries we pass are on Summit Road. The newer Regale Winery and historic Burrell School Vineyards and Winery sit right next to each other. Burrell School has more charm with its old schoolhouse buildings.
|Burrell School Winery on Summit Road in Los Gatos|
These are the vines next to the old schoolhouse. This is a lot of growth and a lot of wood to remove during winter pruning.
|Burrell School vines|
After an 8-mile descent from the summit into Soquel, we make our first stop at this little market at the intersection of Laurel Glen Road. It’s a good opportunity to refill water bottles and shed a layer of clothing. The temperature at the start was in the low forties and we encountered a few patches of black ice, which had been sanded. In Soquel, the temperature is in the low fifties, warmed by the Pacific Ocean, only a few miles further south.
|Seh heading for a water refill|
While making our way down Mountain View Road to Branciforte Drive, Paul, a new ACTC member visiting from Tennessee, gets a flat tire. Paul didn’t have a spare tube with him, but I have an extra and Seh has a good pump, so it doesn’t take long to make the repair.
|Paul and Seh fixing the flat tire|
Heading down Branciforte Drive just before our turn onto Granite Creek Road, I notice a new vineyard called Hawks Hill, but with Paul and Seh out in front of me, I don’t stop. Just before Hawks Hill we had passed Dancing Creek Winery and just before Paul flatted, I saw a sign for Poetic Cellars Winery on Rodeo Gulch Road. Earlier in the ride while descending Soquel-San Jose Road, we passed the turn-off for Silver Mountain Winery. Small, family owned and operated wineries are scattered throughout the mountains and many are open on the weekends for wine tasting. I don’t taste on rides though, for obvious reasons.
I go back to Hawk Hill the next day to learn more and find these guys picking up pruning cuttings.
|Loading pruning cuttings at Hawk Hill|
I like these wrought iron sunflowers at the end-posts. They won’t do much for pollination or to attract bees, but they are low maintenance and a nice touch.
|Wrought iron sunflowers|
The vineyard is planted with Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc. The Monterey Bay side of the Santa Cruz Mountains is characterized by cool ocean breezes and fog during the summer growing season, which is ideal for Pinot Noir.
|Varietal marker at Hawk Hill|
After climbing Granite Creek Road, we make our second stop at Starbucks in Scotts Valley to fuel up before our final climb of the day up Mountain Charlie Road. Mountain Charlie road is one of my favorite climbs with eclectic homes, farms, and beautiful views. Seh pulls away right from the start up the narrow winding road that “Mountain Charlie” McKiernan built as a toll road in the mid 1800’s.
|Seh pulling away up Mtn. Charlie Road|
Everything is beautiful on Mountain Charlie with steep cliffs and large Redwoods defining the road.
About halfway up the climb is Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm, home to this silo and subterranean house. The grain silo from the old Falstaff Brewing Company in San Jose was moved to the farm in the early 1970’s and converted into a house. The farm is planted with lemons and avocados, although, I would prefer grapes.
|Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm|
From the open ridge-top of the farm, we ride the winding road back into dense forest.
|Mountain Charlie Road|
This is the only link to wine that I can find on Mountain Charlie Road. These barrels make a nice driveway entrance marker, but later, I couldn’t find a vineyard on Google Earth. These are high quality French barrels from Francois Freres and Tonnellerie O. They are empty.
|Driveway entrance marker|
Here is a nice view looking west from Mountain Charlie Road over numerous hilltops and mountain ridges. Often, I can pick out small mountain vineyards in these views, but none here.
|View looking west|
My final picture stop is at the Mountain Charlie Ranch where they sell Christmas trees. This sprawling homestead is quite a contrast to the eclectic Silo House.
|Mountain Charlie Ranch|
A little local history can be found on the plaque at the intersection of Mountain Charlie Road and Summit Road. Mountain Charlie was undoubtedly an interesting character and his legend is kept alive by an interesting society called E Clampus Vitus or “Clampers“. Mountain Charlie was a hunter, trapper, road builder, teamster, lumberman, and grizzly bear fighter, who lived with a silver patch on his skull. Wow! Although I have not read it, I’m also quite sure he drank whiskey, not wine.
|Mountain Charlie Monument|
From the monument, we make our final descent down Old Santa Cruz Highway back to the cars at Lexington School. Paul especially liked the fast downhills on Soquel-San Jose Road and Old Santa Cruz Highway, so this is a good way for him to finish the ride before heading back to Tennessee. The ride totaled 37 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing, which was a bit much for me, but it was good to be back on the bike after a long harvest navigating the narrow mountain roads once again.