Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 27th
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Richard Alfaro’s Exotic Expansion

dn alfaroHow white wines are getting him through a mid-life crisis

Driving with Richard Alfaro through his extensive vineyards in full spring green, I get a quick snapshot of what his ever-expanding winery is up to.

I’m following up on the visit I made to the site five years ago when he first planted Grüner Veltliner vines on his Corralitos property. The leading grape of Austria and the Czech Republic, GV is potentially perfect for growing in the warm days and cool evenings of Alfaro’s Corralitos vineyards. Last year, he bottled 70 cases of the initial vintage.

“I’ll do 200 cases this year—the 2013s will be released in June or July,” he roars as we bounce over what can barely be called a road. In addition to an experimental acre of GV, Alfaro admits he’s recently planted an acre each of grenache blanc and albariño. “I think the whites are a mid-life crisis for me,” he laughs. “Instead of buying a sports car.”

The sweeping vineyards sloping toward the horizon on either side of the dirt road indicate that Alfaro is still plenty interested in making Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay—much of it on certified organic vines, among only 40 CCOF acres in Santa Cruz County. The new experimental plantings mark a turn in his intense, yet playful approach to viticulture. And so does his new bottling of estate Grüner Veltliner, an innovation in California winemaking. Now in its second vintage, the GV is showing so well that last year’s bottling sold out before leaving the tasting room.

Alfaro admits that he found his first Grüner “a bit too acidic.” Nonetheless, “it flew out the tasting room doors.” Sampling the as-yet-unreleased 2013 GV, I admire its bright acidity and very low alcohol. A half hour later, the pale yellow wine opens to reveal a lychee nose and a salt finish. Much of Alfaro’s increasing success comes from the grapes themselves. “I farm 56 acres, and I’m selling a lot of grapes to other winemakers,” he says. He also makes “lots of Pinot Noir—we’re doing great with Pinot,” he points out, “5,000 cases in 2012.”

The cellar yard at Alfaro Family Vineyards bulges with computer-controlled cooling tanks and state-of-the-art presses. With his masses of long hair, huge tan legs barely contained by surfer shorts, Alfaro is still every inch the wild man winemaker and barbecue host. He claims he is slowing down a bit, but still having fun. “In 2013 we made 26 wines,” he informs me. “Twelve Pinots, five Chards, a Carignon, Grüner, two Zins, a Merlot, two Syrahs, a Sangiovese— yeah I’m having a good time.” Many wines and lots to enjoy.

Outstanding Availability: Yes there are a few Outstanding in the Field al fresco dinners in the Santa Cruz area still open for reservations. Can you believe it’s been 15 years since chef Jim Deneven started up this phenomenon? If you’d like to savor the experience of field-prepared dinners in enchanting farm settings, complete with wines, winemakers, and chefs, pencil in these dates. May 18 at Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport. June 11 at the Bonny Doon estate vineyard in San Juan Bautista, and June 15 at Soquel’s Everett Family Farm. For details, pricing, and reservations, go immediately to the website.

Product of the Week:  Friend in Cheeses Fig & Fennel jam! At the top of the OMG category, bright with the earthy bite of fennel, sensuous figs and top notes of orange, vanilla and Chardonnay. Almost like enlightened fig butter. Locally created and my idea of a great souvenir gift for somebody special ($8). A visiting relative, your girlfriend on the east coast, a hostess gift when you sleep over in the city. Yes. Think ahead! Who doesn’t adore artisanal confiture? You know where to look.

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