Saratoga has become a great place to go wine tasting. Until just a few years ago, there were vineyards and wineries in and near to Saratoga, but no tasting rooms for many years, so oenophiles were out of luck if they wanted to wine taste in Saratoga. Luckily, a trend is underway and tasting venues have been on the rise. Today I’ll review for you five of the places I’ve visited and enjoyed. Three of them are right in Saratoga Village and a few more are not too far away. All have seating of some kind, either outside or in, and all of them have friendly, knowledgeable staff in my experience.
In Saratoga’s downtown Village you’ll find Cinnabar, Big Basin Vineyards and also Uncorked!, a wine bar (showcasing many wines from many vintners). A little further out you can taste at Savannah-Chanelle and Cooper-Garrod. I’ll discuss each of them in this post.
Cinnabar opened a tasting room in Saratoga Village about 3 years ago and we finally paid it a visit yesterday (Labor Day). Cinnabar’s chardonnay has long been one of my very favorites, so I was looking forward to sampling that and several other offerings.
The tasting room was positively hopping when Jim and I stopped in. Malcolm poured for us and educated us on the wines. Luckily he wasn’t working alone so had plenty of time to tell us about what we were trying, about the wine club, events and more. Cinnabar has two “flight” options, one at $5 (four wines) and one at $10 (5 wines) per person – please see their website for info on those. Also, Cinnabar has a nicely done Saratoga visitors guide on their website – check it out!
The setting is very inviting, with a unique gift shop and tables outside too – you can purchase “wine by the glass” and sip it outdoors, watching the activity on Big Basin Way. This month (Sept 2010) Cinnabar also has Friday Evening Music on the Patio from 5:30 – 7:00pm. Make it a first stop on your way to dinner in town!
Cinnabar Winery Tasting Room
14612 Big Basin Way
Tel. 408 867-1012
Directly next door to Cinnabar’s tasting room is the just opened Big Basin Vineyards tasting room. Talk about lining up a Saratoga wine trail!
The tasting room for Big Basin Vineyards was smaller and quieter but very pleasant and still had a nice crowd for a holiday.
I don’t think that they could have chosen a better location for their new shop, and they seem to be off to a great start.
Michele and Andy were pouring for the patrons and explaining to us about the wines, their recent opening, events and the art sporting the walls of the shop. There was a little seating area for visitors who may want to savor the tasty goods off their feet.
Big Basin Vineyards makes red wine exclusively (no white wines) and appears to be targeting the more expensive niche of the wine market. Tasting there is $10 per person.
Big Basin Vineyards Tasting Room
14598 Big Basin Way, Suite B
Also in Saratoga’s downtown village is a wine bar, Uncorked!, which offers tastings of a number of different vintners. I had the pleasure of visiting there for a Sereno Group event a few months back (our Saratoga office is next door). Uncorked is spacious with plenty of seating for those who want to linger over a favorite glass of wine rather than stand and try small tastings of several.
145000 Big Basin Way
Tel. 408 741-9000
Up the road from the village, 4 miles into the Santa Cruz Mountains is the Savannah-Chanelle vineyard and tasting room. It’s in a lovely, scenic clearing among the woods and “feels” much further than 4 miles away from the rest of civilization!
There’s plenty of parking outside (not always the case in downtown Saratoga) and a roomy barn-like building houses the tasting bar area. Additionally, there are several outside tables for those who wish to picnic. Indoors there’s a space for kids too, with a large table and some books to keep them happy so mom & dad can enjoy sips of wine. (Only thing missing: restrooms. They are on site but require a trek up the hill to a separate building. That part is not so kid-friendly.)
Although Savannah-Chanelle was busy, the acoustics were great and it didn’t get the noisy din that can happen in some crowded wine tasting venues. Brook and Mike were pouring and both were actively working the room to make sure that everyone was taken care of quickly. Tasting is $10 or $15 per person (two flight choices).
Long-time locals and Silicon Valley natives: Savannah-Chanelle is the site of the old Congress Springs Winery, which the current owners bought and renamed in 1996. Some of their vines go back to the late 1800s – remarkable that they survived prohibition!
Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards & Tasting
23600 Congress Springs Road
I believe the first winery in Saratoga to open a tasting room in recent decades was Cooper-Garrod, which is located in the gorgeous foothills off of Pierce Road (toward Cupertin0, not in the coastal range of hills). You could actually make a day of it if you pack a picnic ahead of time. First take some time exploring the scenery on horseback at Garrod Stables, then head next door and taste some wine. Finally pull out your picnic and relax at the tables nearby, perhaps with a bottle of something you enjoyed and purchased while tasting. (Alternatively, let the kids ride for an hour while you sample some vino.)
Cooper-Garrod is the only Saratoga wine tasting room with some free tasting (2 samples), but even their paid tasting is extremely affordable with the $5 tasting providing 6 or 7 types of wine and the $10 tasting giving you the wine glass to keep!
It has been a couple of years since I’ve visited Cooper-Garrod, but as with the others showcased here today, I can recommend it as a worthwhile place to visit. The tasting room was in an old “fruit house” (so interesting setting, ) as the hills have some orchards as well as vineyards and that it was quite scenic. One caveat to the picnic setting: at times the breeze blows such that the smell of the horses may be strong. That happened the day we went wine tasting and ate lunch there, but it may have been a rare occurrence.
The Cooper-Garrod setting is very reminiscent to me of rural Saratoga as I knew it growing up: uncrowded, country-esque, rolling hills, beautiful scenery.
22645 Mount Eden Road
Tel. 408 867-7116
All five of these spots are worth the visit. Although I would not suggest visiting them all in one day (unless you have a driver who’s not imbibing and you have a full meal under your belt to start with), if you begin at either or both of the further out wineries you could then park in town and see any of the others in the village on foot, perhaps finishing with a meal and a stroll in town, taking in some gelato or dessert or a little time in Wildwood Park before heading back to your vehicle.
Other notes about Saratoga wine tasting:
- Paul Masson – no longer tasting in Saratoga. Paul Masson used to have both the winery (now a place for concerts) and a champagne tasting room (now a subdivision of homes) in Saratoga. These venues have been gone a long time.
- There are a few more vineyards and wineries in Saratoga, but they are not open to the public (if I have missed any with tasting rooms, please let me know!)
- In addition to the five fabulous tasting rooms listed here, there are more in nearby Cupertino, San Jose, Los Gatos, and scattered throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. A wonderful resource is the website for the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers. Their list includes about 75 local wineries (not all of which are open to the public) and is really the most comprehensive site for locally grown wines, wineries, and events.
- Most or all of these wineries have “clubs” which provide discounts, invitations to special events and the opportunity to buy wines that may be difficult to purchase elsewhere. Most or all also have newsletters, a presence on Facebook and Twitter, etc. The one exception appears to be Savannah-Chanelle, which has a website under construction as of this writing. If you have a favorite and are active on the social media sites, look for the winery there: you’ll probably find it!