Farewell to Sacred Soil – Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery

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
(831) 465-9294

On the Web: http://www.hunterhillwines.com/

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: leap2three@gmail.com

Abundance Santa Cruz Mountains – Bargetto Winery

Showcasing Santa Cruz Mountains Wineries and Vineyards

By Julie Horner

Summertime’s simple pleasures are in abundance in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Time stretches long and luxurious, sun drenched days followed by clear starry nights which seem to last forever; shafts of light part morning mists with welcome warmth and the gentle urgency of things to do. Sumptuous tastes appeal: Small plates, fresh bounty from the garden, and hand-crafted wines from local slopes.

Small vineyards tucked into quiet hillsides coax fruit from the vines, most notably Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. More than fifty wineries work their art in the Santa Cruz Mountains and invite the curious to sample. A Sunday drive along any of our sun-dappled mountain byways will take you to the doorstep of earthly sensation and connection to the mountains themselves.

At a recent winemaker’s dinner at Casa Nostra, Ben Lomond’s piping hot spot for well coddled Italian fare, assistant winemaker at Bargetto Winery, Bobby Graviano, spent his 28th birthday introducing enthusiasts to sensational pairings featuring some of the winery’s most popular pours. The 2014 Pinot Grigio, “with hints of bright grapefruit, sweet pear, and apple,” paired with bruschetta verde and crostini rock shrimp with pesto. A 2014 Pinot Noir, “bright and fruit forward with rich cherry, currant, rosemary, and cedar” paired with penne Contadina, onion, mushroom, rosemary, chicken, and tomato in a light cream sauce. Bargetto’s 2012 Merlot reserve, grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, complimented the filet mignon, potatoes, and green beans “with the aromas of black licorice, cherry, and black currants with a lingering hint of vanilla spice and oak.” And the dark chocolate mousse danced on the tongue with the 2012 Lodi old vine Zin while the birthday song was sung.

Bargetto Winery, located in Soquel, began producing wine in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1933. Known for estate grown varietals, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay, the flavors rich and intense, the third-generation Bargetto family still lives on the property to carry on the tradition. The oldest winery in Santa Cruz County, the craft itself has been handed down to upcoming young artists, Santa Cruz winemaker Olivia Teutschel, and assistant winemaker, Bobby Graviano, imparting a youthful freshness of spirit to the making.

The tasting room is easy to find on North Main Street nearer to town than expected. Bobby took me on a tour of the cellars where the wine is aged, depending on variety and point in the process, in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and 60 gallon barrels made from French, American, and Hungarian oak.

Bobby graduated from the Cal Poly wine and viticulture program and told me that wine making “sounded like a cool major.” His favorite moments in wine making are spent in the cellars and the lab attending to the finer art of the science of it, monitoring the fermentation process, pH, and sugars. He is proud of Bargetto’s four tiers of Pinot, the lightest of all the reds, which grow best in Santa Cruz Mountains cooler climate and “won’t leave you puckered.” He also noted Bargetto’s unique flagship wine, La Vita (“the life” in Italian), which blends three estate grown northern Italian red varietals, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco. The bottle label features a different local artist each year with proceeds going to a new charity annually. He says Bargetto is a smaller winery, producing less than 50,000 cases a year, and they bottle on-premises, a unique distinction.

He loves “the great atmosphere and great people” at the winery with live music nights and special events in the tasting room and on the patio overlooking Soquel creek. Locals have been going there for decades. “It’s been around forever. I talk to people my parent’s age and they say, ‘I used to go to that place back in the 70s!’” Some wines are sold only in the tasting rooms, like the Petite Sirah and the blends, which are made in limited quantity. Other specialties, like Chaucer’s fruit wines and honey mead, a traditionally sweet sip that harkens to Medieval England, are available in local markets and nationwide.

Look for Bargetto Winery at The Scotts Valley Art, Wine and Beer Festival at Sky Park on Saturday August 15, 2015.

Santa Cruz Tasting Room
3535 North Main Street
Soquel, CA 95073
(831) 475-2258 ext. 14
Hours: Open Daily 12:00 – 5:00
www. bargetto.com

Monterey Tasting Room
700-G Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 373-4053
Hours: Sun – Thurs. 11:00 – 6:30
Fri – Sat 11:00 – 7:00

(c) 2015 Julie Horner
Originally written for and published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin: http://mountainbulletin.com/article/bargetto-winery/

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California.
Email: leap2three@gmail.com
On the Web: http://www.santacruzmountainslocal.com

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