Pietra Santa Winery: The Secrets of San Benito

Spectactular? Why yes! Yes, it is.

Just a short drive down the road from De Rose, Pietra Santa Winery came into view. And what a view! The winery, which looks like a historic mission but was actually built in 2005, is surrounded by steep hills that were lush and green due to California’s unusually rainy spring.

The eyes get to enjoy some tastings of their own out here.

A road between the rows of grapevines led to the massive front door, which is bracketed by two tall palm trees.

Jimmy Stewart would have freaked out if he saw this.

To our surprise, the parking lot was packed. Wine drinkers sat at all the tables by the entrance, enjoying a picnic.

Rarity and intrigue aren't limited to the barrel...


...although we're pretty sure not all of the cars we saw are daily drivers.

As we walked in, we discovered the reasons for the throngs; it was wine club pick-up day, and members filled the downstairs area. The clink of glasses echoed around the large room. As non-club members, we were sent upstairs to enjoy our tasting.

While the downstairs area is stripped down and geared toward wine storage and production, a long wooden stairway leads up to a lushly paneled room that looks like a men’s smoking room from the Victorian era. Beautiful stained glass fills the windows; doors on either side of the window lead to lovely balconies where tasters can bring their glasses in order to enjoy the wine and the view simultaneously.

We can't show all the woodwork - some of it is NSFW.

The view was great, but we wanted wine. The tasting room associates made sure we felt welcome as soon as we stepped in. Though the tasting bar was very crowded, we did manage to carve out a spot for ourselves. “It’s not normally this busy,” tasting room associate John told us as he poured our first selection.

The Wines

2009 Rosato (Cienega Valley): Pietra Santa’s Rosato is made from 100% Dolcetto grapes. The scent was tart, and the flavor was lightly tannic with a strong hit of tart unripe strawberries. Mike found that the flavor, while tart, stopped short of sour and was mediated by a richness.

2009 Signature Collection Amore Pinot Grigio (Cienega Valley): This was crisp and tart, with flavors of grapefruit and lightly sugared lemon rind. Mike tasted a hint of pear, and thought the flavor had hints of bubble gum.

2008 Signature Collection Chardonnay (Cienega Valley): Good luck getting this one – according to the website, it’s all sold out. I detected two distinct scents, grapefruit and sugar; the two were very separate. On the palate, the oak provided some backbone to the wine, and there was enough butter to it to take the edge off the tartness. Mike tasted hints of vanilla as well, and described it as “round.”

2008 Gewürtztraminer (Cienega Valley): John’s pouring partner magically made this off-the-list wine appear in our glass, and for that I will be forever thankful. As soon as Mike smelled this, he said, “It smells like happiness.” The smell reminded me of orange soda, but the taste was much drier than I expected, with flavors of orange blossom and lemon zest. Mike tasted a hint of vanilla and noted there was something almost effervescent about it. He also tasted a hoppy, yeasty flavor like an apricot ale.

2009 Pinot Noir (Cienega Valley): The smell reminded me of moist clay. The flavor was rich and hard to define. I wrote, “I could drink a bottle of this (and enjoy it) trying to name all the flavors.” Mike said the flavor was “big, warm, brandied cherries and vanilla with a perfect amount of tannins to wrap it up.”

2009 Sangiovese (Cienega Valley): We don’t see a lot of Sangiovese in Monterey County; in fact, I’m not sure we’ve seen any. It’s Mike’s favorite varietal, so we were delighted to get a chance to taste this. To me, it smelled like sweet cherries and leather. I tasted tannins, cranberries and a hint of cherry. Mike tasted lemon as well, and called it “fruity but not jammy.”

2007 Zinfandel (Central Coast): This blends Zinfandel from Pietra Santa vines that date back to 1905 with fruit from other Zinfandel vines in the area. It smelled of sweet raisins, and tasted like raisins and unripe berries with a hint of A-1 sauce. Mike tasted grape with a hint of cherry.

2004 Veche (Cienega Valley): The Veche is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. I smelled the french oak immediately. It tasted like currants and tart blackberries and had a nice oaky backbone. Mike noted the tannins as well but pronounced it “balanced” with a “sophisticated flavor.” He continued “This doesn’t taste like other blends, which are usually big, ‘accessible’ and don’t need food. This is a bit more austere and doesn’t lose its structure like other blends.”

2005 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon (Cienega Valley): I found this to be very tart and a little astringent. Mike agreed, but said “the fruit emerges victorious.” It’s still quite tannic, and Mike noted that it may get even better as it ages.