Alfaro Family Vineyards

If you read our December newsletter, you know that the farmers of the Santa Lucia Highlands produce some of California’s finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. One of their customers is Richard Alfaro of Corralitos, known locally as the founder of Alfaro’s Micro-bakery. After he sold the bread business, Richard decided to “do something different with yeast.” He and his wife Mary Kay bought 70 acres of land, started growing grapes, and embarked on a journey to create two new wineries.

Alfaro Family Vineyards makes wine using estate grown fruit. Meanwhile, Richard enlisted his childhood friend Joe Martin, a graduate of the highly regarded UC Davis viticulture school, to join him in the creation of Martin Alfaro, where they would make wine from purchased grapes. Two of my favorite Martin Alfaro wines are the Sleepy Hollow and Garys’ Pinots. The top Alfaro Family estate wines, the Lindsay Paige Pinot and Chardonnay, are among the best of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Richard also bent the rules a little by planting a block of Merlot. This is uncommon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but Merlot was a favorite of Mary Kay’s dad, “Billy K” Kempker. The effort paid off with a silver medal in the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Hemmingway-esque photo of Billy sport fishing in the Gulf of Mexico makes this one of my favorite label designs.

Alfaro Family Vineyards

The Alfaros produce about 4000 cases per year, so you can find their wine in many local restaurants and markets. But the operation is small enough that if you stop by the tasting room on a Saturday, there’s a good chance you’ll meet Richard and Mary Kay, as I did this past weekend.

There are many more great wineries right here in the Monterey Bay area, but first we’ll be taking a brief detour to the Napa Valley, which you can read about in April.

Santa Lucia Highlands

If you read my last column you know that the Santa Cruz Mountains provide a nearly perfect climate for cultivating Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Outside of Burgundy, France, there’s just one place better: the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Highlands lie near the southern end of the Monterey Bay and separate the posh coastal communities of Monterey, Carmel and Pebble Beach from the Salinas Valley.

Several of the best growers, including Rosella’s, Sleepy Hollow, and Garys’, focus on farming and sell most of their fruit to other winemakers. You can find these names on many excellent labels. The apostrophe at the end of Garys’ is not a typo; the vineyard is owned by Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, hence the plural possessive. Oh boy, wine and grammar!

The roads up to the Santa Lucia Highlands are treacherous, so a half dozen of the wineries have tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village. You can park the car and walk to all of them. Parsonage and Bernardus are two of my favorites, with excellent wines and friendly staffs. If you’re in the area, you can take a day trip to Carmel Valley and check them out. The photo above is taken in the tasting room at Joullian, on the way into the village from the coast. Joullian makes a number of tasty Chardonnay’s, including a Sleepy Hollow.

They also make an inexpensive blend called “Retro Rouge” that’s a great deal by the case. The tasting notes state that it pairs well with “fish tacos, osso bucco, or anything hot off the barby.” That works for me.

So where do we go next? Cabo San Lucas for some fish tacos, or should we explore more Santa Lucia Highlands winemakers? Join us in February to find out.

The Monterey Bay (Pilot)

I’ve spent most of my life living on California’s Monterey Bay, where recreation can mean hunting down a good wave, a special Pinot Noir, or some tasty seafood to put on the grill.

King salmon is a local favorite, and it’s hard to beat grilled salmon steaks with a little dill and lemon butter, especially if you pair it with a good local wine. The Monterey Bay is surrounded by top quality vineyards and winemakers. Corralitos, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, boasts warm, sunny days followed by frequent afternoon fog off the bay. It’s a perfect microclimate for Pinot and Chardonnay. The wine pictured at the top of the article is one of my favorites: Dylan David Pinot Noir, a Dijon 115 clone, estate grown and bottled by my friends Craig and Cathy Handley of PV Vines. Try a bottle if you can get it in your area. If not, salmon also pairs nicely with Chardonnay. La Crema, located in Sonoma County, is widely distributed and consistently one of my favorite labels.