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Highland Wine Country

Toasting stunning views in highland wine country

Daniel Sogg
Posted: July 23, 2002

Mount Eden Vineyards
  Wine Country Drives
Day-trippers get a warm welcome at wineries just outside of town
  Napa Carneros
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Easy driving in a lovely region that's chockablock with vineyards
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  Inside San Francisco
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  Napa Valley Wine Country Travel  

Expect at least a moment of self-recrimination. Who knew about these views, 2,000 feet up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the expanse of Silicon Valley? Why, you'll wonder, haven't I been here before?

Don't beat yourself up. Even die-hard California wine lovers who wouldn't think twice about repeat visits to Napa or Sonoma often shortchange this area. That's their loss, because this is one of California's most spectacular wine regions.

Getting there is part of the experience. Rather than going south on Interstate 280, take Highway 1 (a section of which is justifiably known as the Devil's Slide), which twists along the rugged, rocky cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean.

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Hotel is an ideal stop for breakfast or lunch. About 50 minutes from downtown San Francisco, the property sits along the ocean just off Highway 1. The restaurant, Navio, designed to evoke a spacious ocean liner, offers an especially sumptuous spread for Sunday brunch (though you must plan ahead -- many people reserve a month in advance). While dessert lovers might never get beyond the buttery palmiers and other house-made sweets, there's plenty more substantive bounty -- everything from sushi to Dungeness crab claws to roast beef.

From the Ritz, it's about 15 minutes' drive to the aptly named Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), which winds south into the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is another challenging road, snaking through intermittent stretches of dense old redwood forest then breaking into the open with soaring vistas of the neighboring ridges.

To preserve a leisurely (and hazard-free) pace, plan on just two or possibly three winery visits per day. Distances in the mountains, as represented on a map, are deceptive; driving between properties a few miles apart (as the crow flies) might require 45 minutes.

The first recommended visit is Thomas Fogarty Winery, on the left off of Skyline Boulevard. A large and occasionally irritable swan patrols the pond alongside the entrance. The winery, which makes about 15,000 cases per year, mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer, is understandably popular for weddings -- on a clear day you can see the Bay Bridge and Mount Tamalpais in Marin County from this 2,000-foot elevation.

From Thomas Fogarty it's also possible to see the most famous vineyard in Santa Cruz, Ridge Vineyards' Monte Bello. Ridge first released the legendary Monte Bello Cabernet from the 1964 vintage, and subsequent years have proven it to be a remarkably age-worthy wine.

Despite the unimpeded sight line, it can take almost an hour to drive from Fogarty to Ridge. The quickest route is to drive east to Interstate 280, head south, then exit at Foothill Boulevard, which leads directly to serpentine Montebello Road.

The Ridge tasting room is open on weekends only. It pours a variety of wines, including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and although they don't open the Monte Bello, there's a broad selection of others, including a couple of older bottlings such as the 1987 and 1992 Petite Sirah York Creek.

This winery is at 2,200 feet. For a panoramic view, take a glass up to the picnic tables or wander through the small plot of Cabernet vines planted on the hill. Keep an open eye, though, because rattlesnakes apparently like the Monte Bello Vineyard as much as collectors do.

From the bottom of Montebello Road it's a 10-minute drive to the mailbox that marks the entrance to Mount Eden Vineyards, then 2 miles up a circuitous dirt road to the winery (be careful as you pull in, because Skye, the resident Shetland sheepdog, herds cars).

Open by appointment, this beautiful property was once owned by controversial California trailblazer Martin Ray, who made single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here in the '40s. Mount Eden winemaker Jeffrey Patterson tries to tailor the tour to each guest, sometimes including a barrel tasting in the cellar that was built by Ray in 1951.

Depending on traffic, it's about an hour via I-280 back to San Francisco. So consider a relaxing overnight stay at the Lodge at Skylonda, 10 minutes north of Thomas Fogarty on Skyline Boulevard. This 16-room inn, which was built in 1990, is ideal for decompressing (there are no TVs, and cell phones don't work there). Surrounded by redwood forests, this upscale property has extensive workout facilities, a spa and a heated indoor pool.

If you are driving back into town, stop for dinner at the Village Pub in Woodside, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Don't let the unpretentious name of this restaurant dampen expectations -- the dining room has a jazzy, relaxed sophistication, as does the food, mostly modern interpretations of French classics. Don't miss the superb plate of assorted house-made charcuterie, which hits the bull's-eye with the country pork paté and Port-soaked cherries. Also on target is the plate of juicy, seared diver scallops, served over Italian butter beans with a vegetable and herb velouté. On weekends, traffic back to the city along I-280 shouldn't be bad, so there's plenty of time to linger over a glass of Taylor Fladgate 30-year-old tawny and the Valrhona chocolate pot de crème.

The Lodge at Skylonda
16350 Skyline Blvd., Woodside
Telephone (650) 851-6625
Fax (650) 851-5504
Web site www.skylondalodge.com
Rooms 16
Rates $315 to $625

Mount Eden Vineyards
22020 Mount Eden Road, Saratoga
Telephone (408) 867-5832
Fax (408) 867-4329
Web site www.mounteden.com
Open By appointment only

Ridge Vineyards
17100 Montebello Road, Cupertino
Telephone (408) 867-3233
Fax (408) 868-1350
Web site www.ridgewine.com
Open Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay
Telephone (650) 712-7000
Fax (650) 712-7070
Web site www.ritzcarlton.com
Rooms 239
Suites 21
Rates $245 to $2,500
Open Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily; brunch, Sunday

Thomas Fogarty Winery
19501 Skyline Blvd., Woodside
Telephone (650) 851-6777
Fax (650) 851-5840
Web site www.fogartywinery.com
Open Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Village Pub
2967 Woodside Road, Woodside
Telephone (650) 851-9888
Fax (650) 851-6827
Open Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $25 to $32

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