My friend Tom Hepner, whom I met during The Foreigner at The Western Stage, had spoken glowingly about the great wineries in his neighborhood in Gilroy. If Gilroy sounds familiar, perhaps you know it as Garlic City.
Gilroy is the nation’s top grower of garlic; for much of the year you can tell when you’re nearing Gilroy on the 101 by the smell. It also hosts one of the nation’s largest food festivals, the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It’s known by those driving up and down the 101 as either the home to the Gilroy Premium Outlet Mall or the location of the only In ‘n Out between Salinas and San Jose.
The town is named after early settler John Gilroy. He was a scurvy-ridden Scottish sailor who converted to Catholicism, journeyed from Monterey to the area and was the first non-Spanish settler legally recognized by the Spanish crown.
Before Tom mentioned it, it had never occurred to me that there might be grapes in them thar hills. I know, I should expect winemaking to be happening everywhere. Haven’t I learned anything while living in California?!?
We made a date to visit Tom and his wife Anne and visit some of Tom’s favorite vintners in the gorgeous, verdant rolling hills where they live.
The wineries in Tom and Anne’s neighborhood (seriously, there’s a vineyard right across the street from their property!) sit right on the border between the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation and the Santa Clara appellation. Winemaker Dan Martin of Martin Ranch Winery told us that the placement of the boundary between the appellations on and adjacent to his vineyards is due to the change in elevation.
All Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards must be at a minimum altitude of 800 feet on the east side of the mountains and 400 feet on the west side of the mountains, according to documents on the Viticultural Association of Santa Cruz Mountains website. The VASCM says these borders were established to follow the fog line and that the appellation was one of the first to be defined by its topography.
First to cover some non-wine issues: The countryside surrounding Gilroy is really beautiful! The vistas are stunning, and the drive up the gently winding, narrow road to the places we went is filled with beautiful scenery. We drove through a stretch that looked like a cathedral of oak trees, their trunks arcing gracefully over the road (by the time I thought to take a picture the light wasn’t good, but check out the background image at Fernwood Cellars’ website). The area is lush and green, with the occasional stand of palm trees reminding one that this is in fact California.
It was great to spend the afternoon with Tom and Anne, and we were reminded again that while tasting wonderful, small-lot artisan wines is a pleasure all of its own, the real treasure of this activity — and of our Appellation Trail project — is social. Spending time relaxing with friends in beautiful settings and making new friends is really the point of the whole endeavor. We couldn’t be happier with how that’s working out.
There are a lot of wineries we didn’t get to on this trip, but we’ll gladly visit Gilroy again.