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A Silicon Valley Treasure
By James Laube and MaryAnn Worobiec
Montallegro has defied the odds. In the Silicon Valley town of Saratoga, this tiny Cabernet vineyard is rooted in earth that's worth millions; it's surrounded by exclusive, fenced-in mansions, towering trees, manicured gardens, private tennis courts and custom swimming pools. It has survived the sprawl of suburbia and computer-industry wealth, preserving a small piece of the Santa Cruz Mountains' viticultural history.
Owner David Arata intends to keep it that way. His parents, David and Alma Arata, bought an 18-acre property in 1955 when Saratoga was little more than a sleepy suburb nestled in the sloping, forested Santa Cruz Mountains foothills, southwest of San Jose, which at that time was a small city with a population of less than 100,000.
Then the Aratas planted the land, first to apricot, prune and citrus trees. But after a frost destroyed the orchard in 1972, leaving them with a single tree, they planted a vineyard. For years, the grapes were sold to wineries in the area, and for a time, the elder Arata, a wine lover and collector, bought bulk wine from Mirassou, Mission Bell and Novitiate wineries and bottled it under the Arata label.
Today, all that remains of the original vineyard is 1.25 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Arata grows grapes on a 6.5-acre plot of land that surrounds his handsome brick home. "It's kind of an emotional deal for me," says Arata, a 51-year-old attorney. "My dad always dreamed of winemaking, [but] let's face it--the stuff he was making was jug wine."
Fourteen years ago, David Arata met Tom Leonardini, owner of Whitehall Lane in Napa Valley, and they started talking about grapes and wine. As time went on, they became friends, and finally, Leonardini offered to custom-crush Arata's grapes and make wine. "When we first shipped the grapes up there [to Napa Valley in 1995], I didn't know what I was going to produce," Arata admits.
The 1995 vintage produced only 380 pounds of grapes. But the 1997 vintage yielded 2.3 tons and turned out a smooth, rich and polished Cabernet (92 points, $60, 120 cases), convincing Arata of the vineyard's quality and potential. Though 1998 was an off year (this vintage's wine won't be sold as Montallegro), 1999 produced an excellent crop, and 2000 should also be solid in quality and quantity.
Whipping the vineyard into shape was no small chore for vineyard manager Rick Anzalone. It was planted rather haphazardly, with very tight spacing for the 1,800 vines, forcing them to be head-pruned instead of trellised. Due to the warm climate, reddish soil and southerly exposure, the grapes are picked early, well before most vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Dean Sylvester of Whitehall Lane makes the wine.
Another three-quarters of an acre is plantable, says Arata, and he plans to add more Cabernet and a little Cabernet Franc. Because of land values, there will always be pressure to sell, Arata admits, so his long-term goal is to buy vineyard land in Napa Valley and perhaps one day build a winery there. "It's fun to be a boutique [wine], but I need more wine to make it commercially viable," he says. He'd love to add a few acres of Cabernet in Saratoga, but allows, "nothing where I'm at is reasonable."
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