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How to Drink Like a Wine Pro in Santa Cruz

Ian White | July 31, 2014 | Story Wine and Spirits

Despite being known more for surfboards and scruff, Santa Cruz has all the winemaking materials you need: sunshine, down-to-earth vintners, and long, leisurely roads. To prove it, we enlisted Megan Metz, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, to guide us on a wine-soaked weekend in Santa Cruz. Here, her picks.

What to Sip

Burrell School Winery is a schoolhouse built in the 1850s that the Moulton family converted to a winery in 1973. Now, this charming red building is surrounded by vines, and many of the wines have education-inspired names like Spring Break. While the varietals are as varied as a high school curriculum, you can expect earthy, juicy flavors and silky textures.

Regale Winey and Vineyards looks like a modern Tuscan villa with artwork reminiscent of Medieval times. The patio, bocce courts, manicured gardens, and treats from the wood-fired oven make this winery a perfect place to chill out. Try the crisp sparkling wines, pinots, and cabernets.

Silver Mountain has a certified organic estate vineyard and views of the redwoods, mountains, and Monterey Bay. They’re known for their Estate Chardonnay, which has flavors of melon, lemon, almond and vanilla, as well as their bright, award-winning pinots.

Loma Prieta Winery makes fewer than 3,000 cases each year, and at 2,600 feet above sea level, it has an epic view of the Monterey Peninsula. It makes a series of wines ranging from chardonnay to petite syrah, but it focuses on the rare “pinotage” grape, a hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault. Expect bursting flavors like "red currant-filled jelly donuts," along with dark berries and chocolate, and a nose of strawberry jam.

Where to Eat

For a farm-fresh weekend brunch, head to Gabriella, a famed bistro that serves up artistically prepared treats like brioche French toast with warm berries, Cointreau, and crème fraîche.

Grab a taco or burrito at local favorite Tacos Moreno. If waiting in line at the best Mexican spot in town isn’t your thing, skip ahead to the wineries and stop at Summit Store for tasty, local, organic deli grub.

La Posta is a local favorite for its seasonal Italian cuisine. While reservations are recommended, they welcome walk-ins and serve the full menu at the bar. Just about everything here is locally grown or made in-house, and the atmosphere is lively and fun. They also have an eclectic Italian wine list to balance your Santa Cruz picks.

If you’re staying a second night or aren’t in the mood for Italian, head to Soif, which has an inspired list of small-production wines and a menu of rich yet delicate dishes that change almost nightly based on local offerings.

Where to Stay

Hotel Paradox is located downtown near the Beach Boardwalk and has a sharp, modern style. The rates are reasonable, and the simplicity of the design is balanced by touches of vibrant color and rustic flair.

The Dream Inn is the quintessential surf hotel, but with upscale touches. The building may appear a bit drab, but it’s right on the beach and everything here is full of color. Choose from elegant, high-ceilinged bungalows and bright, funky surfer pads.

Chaminade Resort is a historic, mission-style retreat atop a mountain and surrounded by forest. It's known for its mountainside spa and outdoor garden treatments, so book ahead, then relax.

The Return Trip

On the way home, take Highway 9 toward Saratoga for bonus stops at Big Basin, Savannah Chanelle, Mountain Winery (also a great place to see music), Cooper-Garrod, House Family Vineyards, and the celebrated Ridge Vineyards.

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