SANTA CRUZ — More than 30 wineries spanning the Santa Cruz Mountains will welcome people this weekend as part of the 25th annual Vintners’ Festival.
The festival, which was put on hold for four years, will look a little different this year than it did in the past. Event-goers will use a wine passport to explore the region, and book wine flights at wineries they wish to visit, in advance.
That’s in part because the distance between winery-hot spots can be a long way to drive.
“Our American Viticultural Area encompasses three counties,” explained Keikilani McKay executive director of Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association. “We’re the only appellation that’s demarcated by geographic and geologic lines.”
Association winemakers grow grapes to the east in Woodside and Gilroy, to the west on pacific coast marine terraces in Santa Cruz County, and north in Half Moon Bay and beyond.
“The Santa Cruz Mountains are really well known for their pinot noir, but it’s one of the few AVA’s where chardonnay, pinot, and cabernet grow really well,” McKay said. “We do all three amazingly.”
The festival changes are also fueled by COVID-19 safety regulations and #SipSafely guidelines.
“We were trying to think, how can we hold a wine fest that adhered to our new state of doing things, be safe and follow COVID protocols? So we readopted the Vintners’ Fest and we’re doing it over two days,” McKay said.
Festival attendees will book time-slots at the wineries of their choosing.
Vineyards that are often not open to the public, as well as new winemakers, are featured in the line up, according to McKay.
That includes Neely Wines in Portola Valley, and just-opened Ferrari Ranch Wines in Corralitos.
“I’m really excited for people to have a chance to discover those as well as a lot of their old favorites,” McKay said.
Santa Cruz wine enthusiasts will recognize long-standing cultivators participating this coming weekend, such as Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards, Big Basin Vineyards, Muns Vineyard and Kissed by an Angel Wines.
The event comes after what was a challenging year for many winemakers.
Most wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, see the bulk of their income from tastings and wine sales on site, McKay said. Foot traffic decreased off and on throughout the pandemic, but winemakers stayed nimble, offering outdoor tastings for most of the year.
A bigger impact on the local businesses were the four major fires that erupted across the Santa Cruz Mountain and Monterey Bay area regions, including August’s CZU Lightning Complex.
“The fires really impacted us last August, that doubled the COVID catastrophe,” McKay said.
As COVID-19 cases continue to decline, residents get vaccinated and businesses face less-restrictive guidelines, McKay said wine makers are hoping this spring brings people out to enjoy.
“We’re here we’re accessible, we’re safe and a really good way to get out an destress,” McKay said.
IF YOU GO
• What: 25th Annual Santa Cruz Mountains Vintners Festival
• When: Saturday and Sunday
• Where: Wineries across the Santa Cruz Mountains
• Participate: winesofthesantacruzmountains.com/events/vintners-festival/