September is California Wine Month and there’s no better way to celebrate it than spending a day or weekend visiting wineries. Santa Clara Valley — in southern Silicon Valley — is one of California’s oldest and most historic wine regions. Home to 31 wineries, the appellation is a mix of long established labels and new kids on the block.
The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley hosts a month-long Fall Passport event Sept. 7-30, when wineries open their doors to visitors traveling along the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail. You’ll meet the winemakers, who will be pouring current releases and a few surprises just for Passport.
With nearly three dozen wineries to check out, where should you go? I created an itinerary that starts in Morgan Hill and ends in Gilroy, covering a range of wineries who specialize in everything from Italian to Bordeaux to Rhone varieties. Take this cheat sheet along with your Passport booklet (which tells you specials offered at each stop) and get to know some of the best wines and fantastic values in the state.
Guglielmo Winery, Morgan Hill Make this your first stop to pick up your Passport and glasses and soak up la dolce vita at the slice of Italy in Silicon Valley. The Guglielmo family has been making wine here since 1925, and today, third generation winemaker George Guglielmo works with Italian grape varieties such as Dolcetto, Grinolino and Barbera, as well as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Don’t miss the floral, expressive and dripping with stone fruit 2017 Private Reserve Pinot Blanc, which won Best of Class in this year’s Central Coast Wine Competition, or the 2016 Private Reserve Dolcetto, an easy drinking, fruity red. Say yes when they offer a splash of peachy Bellini for your Emile’s California Champagne.
Grape growers and winemakers Kim and Todd Englehardt craft some of the best Rhone varietals around at their San Martin winery. The open air pavilion tasting room offers vineyard views, picnic tables, bocce ball and live music. Be sure to try the rich and vibrant Viognier and lush and earthy 2016 Two Lions Grenache and Syrah blend.
John Aver is a Rhone wine specialist who also makes Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, living with his wife Carolyn (a talented cook who creates recipes to pair with their wines) among the vines. Come here to taste and you’ll be sipping on the Aver’s shady home back patio. Try the 2017 “Family Album” Grenache Blanc, with stone fruit, white floral and crisp apple notes and the lusty 2014 Faith, a Petite Sirah and Syrah blend.
Tucked away under the redwoods at the end of Redwood Retreat Road, Fernwood’s new tasting room may be the most charming in the valley. Situated in a former pump house, you can taste at the bar or play a round or two of bocce ball — a glass of wine in one hand is mandatory.
Sip the lemony, creamy 2016 Vanumanutagi Estate Chardonnay, grown in the vineyard across the street. Or, go for the bolder rich and spicy 2012 Round Rocks GSM blend, a Rhone variety Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and Syrah blend that is an homage to the vineyards in France’s southern Rhone Valley, namely the Chateauneuf du Pape area, known for the big smooth and flat rocks that cover the vineyards.
Make this gorgeous estate your lunch stop. The alfresco tasting room is surrounded by Cabernet Sauvignon vines that go into winemakers Therese and Dan Martin’s own labels — Therese Vineyards, J.D. Hurley and their collaborative Soulmate wines.
Take a picnic or pick up some noshes on site, and enjoy with wine at any number of shaded patio areas scattered amid the lush and verdant grounds. You can even shop here in Therese’s adorable Airstream trailer boutique and pick up some gardening implements (Therese is an avid gardener), wine accessories and apparel.
Pick the zesty and refreshing 2016 J. D. Hurley Sauvignon Blanc or complex 2015 Therese Vineyards Syrah, full of black fruit, black pepper and chocolate notes to go with your picnic.
A short drive away from you lunch stop, Dorcich is one of the Valley’s newest wineries. From earth to the bottle is the motto here. Stop in to taste big bold wines, including the smooth 2015 Claret “Dad’s Blend,” or the powerful, full-bodied 2014 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. This is also another picnic stop option.
This Santa Clara Valley winery is celebrating its 40th anniversary of making top notch Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rhone varieties. Do not miss the 40th anniversary edition of the 2016 Estate Chardonnay, a beautiful, creamy wine laced with lemon citrus, stone fruit and toasty oak. Follow that with the 2015 Estate Pinot Noir, with bright red and black berry fruits, spice and a smooth, long finish.
Head to Santa Clara Valley’s east side, across the 101 Freeway to arrive at The Stomping Ground. This is a four-in-one wine destination, where the wineries call a former tile manufacturer home. The Stomping Ground folks left the old kilns and converted them into tasting rooms for these small production boutique wineries.It’s a congenial winery collective, where you can mix and mingle as you taste. Jason-Stephens is the anchor winery, a worthy stop for full-bodied Bordeaux varieties that you can sip on one of two patios. Head inside the former factory to find Alara Cellars, with an eclectic mix of wine varieties and gorgeous original fashion designs gracing each label. Alara’s 2017 Grenache Blanc recently won the top honor Best of Show at the 2018 Central Coast Wine Competition. From there walk on over to Calerrain Wines, one of the newbies on the block, for a killer Rosé of Grenache and intense Cabernet Sauvignon. Just across the way, you’ll J. Winston Winery, purveyors of lovely Chardonnay, Syrah and more.
You get a three-for-one stop at this winery collective, completely different in its laid back, alfresco vibe. But the wines here are super serious. Blended is the brainchild of La Vie Dansante Wines winemaker Jeff Fadness, and the fresh air tasting room sits in the middle of his vineyards. Fadness focuses on Rhone varietals, while the folks at Medeiros Family Vineyards produce amazing Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet. Newcomer to the group Tass Vineyards & Winery is home to grape grower Ron Mosley, who manages many of the Valley’s vineyards. His motto is tradition, art, style and science.
Make Santa Clara Valley’s newest winery tasting room your last stop along the wine trail. Carl and Diane Borsody welcome visitors to their tasting room outside the winery that boasts a large, shaded seating area. Settle in with the easy drinking, soft, plush 2014 Merlot, or the fantastic fruity, herbal and earthy 2013 Malbec, take in the vineyard views and call it a day.
For information on the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley’s Passport month, where to buy ($45-$60) and opening days and hours for participating wineries, click here.