By Julie Horner
It was an hour before sunrise and absolutely still outside. Not a breath of wind, not a sound. So quiet even the dog was spooked. Then a lone killdeer started its plaintive cry. Last year most of the lakes in Montana still had ice on them in April and the snow hung around well into the month. According to the local groundhog, Montana Murray, spring is coming early this year.
Vann Slatter and Christine Carter Slatter, winemakers at Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery, are selling the family estate and moving to Montana soon. Or at least that’s the plan. “We are selling everything, hopefully: Home, winery, vineyard and all the equipment for farming and winemaking. We are hoping for the best and a new adventure!”
In the meantime, they have their cabin in Gustine, CA where they spend winters duck hunting, and they plan to go back and forth to Soquel until they sell.
“When we first started the winery we didn’t have a business plan.” They thought, “We’re just growing grapes, making a little wine,” Christine said.
Located in the Santa Cruz mountains northeast of Soquel, Christine and Vann first started growing grapes on the family’s fruit ranch in 1990. Soon the self-taught winemakers were winning awards. “Little by little we’ve put in grapes where the apple farm was…it was supposed to be a hobby. My husband – I call him a visionary – said we were going to grow a few grapes and sell a little wine here and there…”
Now known best for their Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, Hunter Hill Winery makes rich red wines grown on lands formerly thick with redwood forest. “Clay, loam, redwood…wine is a product of the soil,” Christine told me.
Christine’s grandparents bought the acreage in 1906 for a $50 gold piece. The property was logged of its redwood trees, the stumps dynamited away, and the original house, still family occupied, was one of the first built on Glen Haven Road. Her grandfather would haul the harvest by horse and wagon to sell as far away as Boulder Creek. Married just a few years, Vann and Christine took over the property from Christine’s mother in 1968.
Vann grew up in Capitola, “a beach boy,” Christine says, and graduated from Soquel High. He served his country as a Navy Seal, completing three tours of duty. He started Slatter Construction in 1984. In that kind of business, she says, “You become involved in the community.”
Christine grew up in Pasatiempo and considers herself more of a “hill person.” “I’ve always loved the mountains, there are so many fun places you can go to: Forest Pool, the Trout Farm, Pasatiempo Pool, Hollins House…”
“Mountain folk usually stay to themselves. The winery has brought the neighborhood together.”
She tries to be at the tasting room every weekend when they open in spring, greeting everyone she can at the door with a hug. She likes to keep things small, preferring intimate pourings for wine club members and locals who stop in for a sip and a sit in the sun by the pond. The grounds teem serenely with life on a relaxing summer day – dogs, kids, a babbling water feature flitting with wild birds, and occasional live acoustic music.
Long a member of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, Hunter Hill has poured at area festivals such as The Scotts Valley Art Wine and Beer Festival, Boulder Creek’s Santa Cruz Mountain Art and Wine Festival, and Capitola Art and Wine Festival, to name a few. For many groups, including Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit’s Gourmet Grazing on the Green in Aptos; Valley Churches United Missions, Tasting Under the Redwoods; and Congregational Church of Soquel, Taste of Soquel, Hunter Hill has graciously donated their wine. “This is still one of the most important things that makes money for all these people – wine is the big sell, it’s all local”
Locally you’ll find Hunter Hill wines at Boulder Creek Pizza and Pub and Redwood Keg Liquor and Deli, and other shops around the valley.
As they prepare for the eventual sale of the land and winery and for leaving the rural California coastal mountain lifestyle they’ve known all their lives, Christine said her favorite moments have been those spent with visitors and friends “sharing this piece of property that we feel is fairly sacred – it’s family property.” And there is the resounding satisfaction of knowing that they’ve done something wonderful with the land.
Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery
7099 Glen Haven Road, Soquel, CA 95073
On the Web: http://www.hunterhillwines.com/
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org