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Big Basin Vineyards: A Special Site in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Bradley Brown and Samantha Shakti-Brown founded Big Basin Vineyards in 1998 on a historic vineyard site in the Santa Cruz Mountains next to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The couple renovated this property where French immigrants farmed grapes nearly 100 years ago and planted their first vineyard (Rattlesnake Rock) ten years ago. They built a winery in 2003 using local redwood lumbar harvested from the estate. It stands where the original house, circa 1890, burned down in the 1970s. Over 90% of the estate has been preserved in its natural state. A tasting room, which also houses an impressive art gallery, was opened last month at 14598 Big Basin Way in Saratoga and receives wine enthusiasts daily.

Bradley Brown’s focus is on Syrah (one of Wine Spectator’s ten “Promising New Producers” making Syrah in California), but he crafts some highly respectable small production Pinot Noirs from exceptional sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I admire the restrained and balanced style of the wines.

2008 Big Basin Vineyards Alfaro Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 105 cases $48, release date spring 2011. Sourced from the Alfaro Family Vineyard in Corralitos, located less than five miles from Monterey Bay and exposed to frequent foggy mornings. Dijon clones. 20% whole cluster, whole berry indigenous yeast fermentation. Aged for 14 months in 60% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddishpurple hue in the glass. Persistent and penetrating aromas of strawberries, raspberries, mocha and toasted brioche. Flavorful core of vivid cherries and berries with layered hints of toast, raisin, spice and anise. The fruit is wrapped in gossamer tannins and the finishing fruit grabs hold and lingers. Beautifully crafted with admirable harmony and pinotosity. Will get even better with more time in the bottle. Actually tasted better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good (+).

2008 Big Basin Vineyards Woodruff Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 70 cases, $48, released fall 2010. This vineyard is located in the Corralitos area at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains chain and was planted in 1988. 30% whole cluster, whole berry, indigenous yeast fermentation. Aged for 14 months in 66% new French oak barrels. Unfined, unfiltered. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. The wine is young and tight, offering little fruit on the nose at present. There is some charming dark red berry fruit evident that is nicely framed by oak and persists on the soft finish. The mouth feel is smooth and seamless. I like this wine for its finesse and potential and would like to revisit this wine after a year in the cellar. The wine tasted a slight bit better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Good.

Big Basin Vineyards wines are available at the winery and through a mailing list ( The wines are also offered at many well-known California restaurants (see list on the winery’s website). Brian uses no foil or wax coverings on his bottles, believing they serve nothing more than a cosmetic purpose, may conceal problems with the cork, and are ecologically unfriendly. Samantha Brown offers regular weekly yoga classes at Shakti Yoga Shala in a room above the winery by appointment (408-318-2900).

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