Expand Your NorCal Wine Horizons: Santa Clara Valley

Remember that time I "sort of" learned to meditate? I had to balance the weekend with an activity that would make my natural skills shine. I figured we'd be cruising into some sort of wine territory that weekend, so I had Yelp-ed a few wineries with 4+ stars and pretty views showcased in visitor pics. Enter the wines of Santa Clara Valley.

First stop: Kirigin Cellars. This family owned & operated winery was established in 1916 and changed ownership a few times before landing in the skilled, visionary hands of Dhruv Khanna. (This was also where we first realized our challenge for the day: embarking on Santa Clara Valley's Passport Weekend, during which customers pay a flat, nominal fee to taste at a variety of wineries in the region. Challenge accepted.)

Kirigin boasts 5 tasting spaces (with more in the works), as well as acres of vineyards, sprawling grass fields (2 of which were hosting soccer games while we were there) and a beautifully constructed club house that's rented out for both corporate and other events (they'll be hosting over 30 weddings this year).

While the winery is famous for its coffee- and chocolate-infused dessert wine, Vino de Mocca, I left with the Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc. Check out the appetizing wine list here.

Next up: Martin Family Ranch. This winery is only open to the public 2 weekends per month, which made us want to visit more. Fortunately, they partook in Passport, so we schlepped on over for an extended tasting with Lorrie, our gracious wine educator. The wines are the creation of Dan and Thérèse Martin, who individually master their respective labels. The grounds are beautiful and somehow feel very cozy, despite the expansive spread. The winery also boasts a beautiful lake (upper right, above) and an organic garden (bottom left, above). There is also a generous outdoor lounge area to which I'd love to return with a picnic in tow.

Rounding out our impressive itinerary were Hecker Pass Winery, Sarah's Vineyard, Solis Winery, Fortino Winery and Lion Ranch Vineyards. Lion Ranch held their tasting out of an outdoor space at Sarah's, as the newer winery's own tasting room is still in construction. This husband-and-wife team was a stand-out to us, boasting white after impressive white wine. We both left with 1 of each white wine in hand.

In general, we were impressed with each winery's distinct ambiance, as well as the region's collective relaxed feel. Santa Clara very much offers a casual, community-oriented environment where you can't NOT make friends out and about.

I'd be remiss not to mention how we kicked off the wine portion of our weekend: wine & cheese at Morgan Hill's Bubble Wine Bar, located right along the town's Main Street-equivalent. Across three total flights, our hearts were stolen by New Zealand winery The Crossings's Sauvignon Blanc. (I've actually been caving Sauv Blanc daily since then.) Bubbles is the ideal spot to sit at the bar, taste a variety of wines and catch up with a dear friend. It's no wonder we ended up staying 3x as long as originally intended.


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Stay. We researched housing options en route home while plotting our return with the broader crew. Truth is, the pickin's are-a-slim. The SV traveler's best choice is to snag an Airbnb in either Gilroy or Morgan Hill, preferably with a pool. Back-up options, all clustered in Morgan Hill: Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, or Courtyard Marriott.

Shop. If we had the extra time, I'd have spent a couple of hours along Morgan Hill's Monterey Street. My shopper's sense tells me there's an antique gem or two in the mix.

Savor. Since we were primarily relegated to the dinning commons at Mount Madonna Center for the weekend, our culinary exposure was limited to Bubbles Wine Bar and the treats served by Solis Winery as part of Passport. There does not, however, seem to be a shortage of good eats in the area. Topping my list are The Good Fork for farm-to-table, Odeum for Mediterranean fare, and Ladera Grill for steak.