Wonders of the Aptos Wine Wander

March 4, 2022 – From the Ser Tasting Room and Cat and Cloud’s terrace, the view of the ocean was magnificent, as stray slivers of sunlight made their way to the water through a thin veil of overcast sky. A perfect day for wine tasting in the charming town of Aptos offered 14 stops with 18 wineries that showed the region’s depth and breadth in Burgundy varietals, with a few surprises.

It also proved that you can very quickly spend an entire afternoon exploring all the nifty shops and tasting rooms in this very compact but diverse city. Who among us hasn’t bought something from Magnolia or Warmth? Or Caroline’s thrift store? It had been so long since I had shopped in person, I had forgotten the thrill of touching an exotic fabric, instead of trusting a questionably generated online review with suspicious spelling. Add a few ounces of alcohol and the urge to make an acquisition is irresistible.

My friend Connie could have opted for the indigo cashmere scarf, but the matching hat perched above on the mannequin was more practical. With a splash of Twelve Stones Pinot Noir in the glasses of the crowd gathered at Magnolia, she modeled several others, but the vote was the blue and white boater. Group shopping may be a bit too much of an incentive to spend money, but it’s a bit like walking the runway at a fashion show.

Magnolia Gifts & Gallery has such a compelling collection of candles that we couldn’t help but get sucked into that olfactory rat hole, though the hash, leather and black currant scented numbers may have left too much of a lasting impression. Warmth & Co is no less inviting, where irresistibly soft bathrobes, socks, linens and sleepwear encourage blissful sleep. There is something about the caterpillar.

Charming Vineyards pouring its local wines in Aptos last weekend (Photo: Laura J. Ness)

But back to wine. We started at the Sante Arcangeli Tasting Room, where Alex Baker and his father, Chris, prepared the Aptos Vineyard range. The 2020 DaLarDi Pinot Noir rosé was well received and the 2018 DaLarDi Pinot Noir and Lester Vineyard Syrah, all made by John Benedetti, were highly appreciated.

On the lighter and brighter side, the 2019 Integrato Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from John Benedetti of Sante Arcangeli, delivered skill and articulation. They positively soared. The Chardonnay is all wildflowers, with a touch of honey, Meyer lemon, nectarine and quince. Pinot’s delicious strawberry and rhubarb flavors are downright cheerful. Benedetti shared that he finds Chardonnay difficult to make sometimes — a few hits, a few misses — but really likes this one.

Next, we drove to Ser, where we feasted on Arroyo Seco’s magnificent 2019 Vermentino, while admiring the brilliant metallic foil-accented paintings by local artist Hannah Baldrige. Primarily ocean scenes, with skies ranging from soothing to eerie, these come to life as light hits the fine lines of silver, gold and copper, creating bursts of drama.

Without a doubt, Pinot Noir was the star of this wine walk, and I could easily name a dozen that were stellar or approaching that designation.

Top of the list would be the 2018 Twelve Stones Pinot Noir, made by Peter Kirchner (Coastal Range Vineyards) from fruit grown in Affie and Karen Munshi’s Scotts Valley estate, a wine that’s seriously eye-catching, d especially since it was made of 100% new French oak (François Frères). The Pommard and the 777 on this site make a strong impression. The 2019, made from 75% new barrels, was extremely spicy and a little more racy, but the wood was much more important. It takes time. This is a label to watch out for.

Karen and Affie Munshi of Twelve Stones Winery (Photo: Laura J. Ness)

The 2018 Domaine La Vida Bella Pinot Noir was an all-time favorite in my group, for its finesse, fine aging and perfect balance, a deliciously seductive wine that invites contemplation. The same goes for the 2018 Charmant Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, named by Connie as a wine you want to spend the last half of the evening with, rather than something you gloat over while cooking dinner. We place Lester’s Domingo Pinot Noir 2018 in the latter category, with its accessible, expansive dark fruit and just-right acidity.

Winemaker Brandon Armitage knows how to capture the essential energy of Pinot Noir in a way that delivers a wild, raw taste. Although served a little too hot, a crime against this varietal, the 2019 Meadowridge Vineyard Pinot Noir was impressive, with its core of sweet red plum jam woven with pomegranate, red cherry and a decided touch of cinnamon, nutmeg and five Asian spices.

Served at the right temperature, the Big Basin Vineyards 2019 Coastview Vineyard Pinot Noir was like a hawk soaring from the glass and hovering over your tongue, landing gracefully and coating it with delicious bursts of red currant and cranberry- raspberry. Its energy is unmistakable: it is the Pinot Noir that catches your attention. The racy acid sends it flying high long after the satisfying finale is no longer a memory. A masterfully orchestrated wine.

The chardonnay is understated in this AVA, as the pinot noir often overshadows its more subtle nuances. Although there were few, those we tried were beautiful, delicate and charming, including the 2019 Charmant from Tondré Grapefields (SLH), the aforementioned 2019 Integrato from Benedetti (all SLH fruits) and the Stellar Big Basin Howard Family Chardonnay 2019. Vineyard, close to perfection in its weight, juiciness and exceptional balance of fruit and oak.

For those with a preference for weight and weight, there were a few fair Syrahs: looking at you, Lester Vineyards. And Big Basin Vineyards’ 2018 Wirz Vineyard Carignane which is such a fun blend of sweet fruit and vegetal undertones, creating a cooking wine that’s broadly appealing to vegetable stews and bean dishes. My group universally adored the striking 2018 Left Bend Cabernet Franc from Camel Hill Vineyard on Bear Creek Road, with its essence of red fruits, cedar and satiny tannins.

Although it was impossible to get to all of the stops unless you did a hard march and didn’t linger to chat with the people at the winery or the winemaking legend, Tom Stutz, or s’ stopping to listen to the music of guitarist Ed Lane, who was playing in front of Cantine, the overall impression was of excellent, high quality wines with an appealing breadth of expression.

The Santa Cruz Mountains have it all, and Aptos is definitely a worthy destination for tourist money. But where do you stay if you are visiting and want to spend the night here?

Which brings us to that all-important question: why hasn’t anyone restored the Bayview Hotel yet?

Guitarist Ed Lane at Aptos Wine Wander (Photo: Laura J. Ness)

About the Author

Mark C. Anderson is a writer, photographer, editor, and explorer based in Seaside, California. Join @MontereyMCA via Instagram and Twitter.

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