Hecker Pass is well known as a grape growing area, though for a long time the emphasis has been primarily on low costs and high yields, resulting in many unremarkable wines.
In 1978 Marilyn Clarke purchased a 10 acre property on Hecker Pass Road. She planted Chardonnay and named the vineyard after the previous owner. Over the next two decades she established a reputation for distinctive, ageable wines.
On Marilyn's retirement in 2001 the property was purchased by a former Silicon Valley engineer, Tim Slater. Tim has since invested heavily in the property; the old buildings are being renovated and extended, there's a brand new lab with state of the art analysis hardware, a compact bottling line and numerous other gleaming pieces of stainless steel. The landscaping is also being improved, with the addition of a picnic area with pizza oven and two regulation bocce courts. The tasting room is now open daily; its proximity to the Gilroy Gardens theme park no doubt helping to increase traffic.
In the vineyards some of the older Chardonnay vines have been replanted, while others have had the trellising replaced and the orientation changed, leading to some interesting looking twisted vines. In stark contrast to many of the sprawling vineyards nearby the vines are trained in neat rows using the 3 wire VSP trellis. Currently around 18 acres are under vine, mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There are 10 additional acres that will be planted in the coming year with rhone varietals, both read and white.
The tasting room is well back from the road. There's a $5 fee, which is waived with purchase. 5 wines are poured with two additional wines available to club members and polite bloggers.
The winery uses French oak almost exclusively. The flagship wines are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both Estate and Santa Cruz Mountains. There's also an unoaked Chardonnay called Steel Blue and some Central Coast blends. The winery also purchases fruit from the nearby Besson vineyard and occasionally from outside the area.
2007 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Clara Valley $30 A pleasant, fruity chardonnay that isn't too heavy on the oak. Good flavours of apples and tropical fruits, with a chalky mineral note on the finish.
2007 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains $30 Similar in style to the Estate, but with a little more acidity and more concentrated fruit. Very good.
2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Clara Valley $35 Nose of bright sweet, spicy fruit that follow through to the palate. Drink now.
2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains $35 Darker than the estate, with a nose of chocolate and cherries. Good structure; should continue to improve for at least 2-3 years. Excellent.
2004 Merlot, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley $20, or $144 a case. Besson is the closest vineyard to Sarah's and has some older, gnarly, sprawling vines. The Merlot is overripe and port-like with a 16% alcohol. Not really my thing.
2005 Syrah, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley $24. The Syrah is better than the Merlot and does at least show some Syrah character, but again it's overripe and high in alcohol, with a rather tannic finish.
2005 Zinfandel, Amador County $25. Ripe raspberry fruit backed by some white pepper and vanilla.