REVIEW: Sones Cellars, Santa Cruz, CA

Good grief it’s taken me a long time to write this blog post! Well, since returning from California it’s been busy, busy back at the office and so blogging has been a little bit on the back burner. No matter! It’s now a bank holiday weekend so I have time to blow on writing crazy posts for you lovely people!

So I can reminisce about the lovely afternoon we spent at Sones Cellars tasting room on Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz. It was great to be back after we had such a great time at Bonny Doon’s tasting room last summer, just next door.

It was another clear and hot beautiful day in Santa Cruz and so it was delightful to begin our tasting with the light and sweet Cancion del Mar white wine blend. At $21 a bottle, this is a delicious easy drinking blended wine with both floral and citrus notes on the nose, in particularly I got tangy lemon. The pale straw colour reflected the light, sweet taste that was crisp without being sharp. It was absolutely perfect Summer drinking with a satisfying low level of acidity. We discussed how it could be paired nicely with shellfish or even spicey dishes like a Thai green curry. Perhaps reflecting Michael Sones’ British heritage, this wine is like a pleasant walk through an English country garden on a summer’s day. But without the pollen. Or the rain.

Award Winning!

One of the reasons that we had such a lovely time at Sones (besides the wines of course) was the easy going tasting room staff, who were really friendly. It was a fun environment with the reggae from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery wafting in over the light breeze. That whole area of town, the Westside is such a chilled out and fun place to hang out. Of course once we were done tasting we just had to nip to Mountain Brewery to say hi!

Back to the wine… Next we tasted a Zinfandel from the Santa Cruz mountains.  As with my Storr’s wine tasting, I was still getting to know Zins and this one was a real winner for me. Full of fruit, plummy flavours but slightly more acidic that the Storr’s this wine was very well balanced, great if you like your reds sweet! I didn’t get the hint of spice that was suggested in our tasting notes, but possibly a hint of red grape! Why is it so few red wines actually taste of red grape? Anyway, we thought in particular that this wine would be an incredible match with barbeque charred chicken. Delicious!


The next wine was the one I was really interested to taste – the Hedgehog Lot #12.This wine is really Sones’ USP and I daresay a real winner in an environmentally conscious town like Santa Cruz. The deal is that you pay a $5 fee on the bottle and then $12 each time you want the bottle refilled. The bottle is filled direct from the barrel (which of course you get to taste in advance). They use different blends of grapes in each barrel, so you get a different wine each time and each barrel apparently takes them about three months to get through.

The current blend, “A Prickly Pair” was 75% petite sirah and 25% zinfandel. For the first time in my life, I got a slight whiff of rabbit hutch on the nose. Don’t ask me what that was about, it was not unpleasant and there is of course the possibility that I went slightly mental momentarily. So, I found that the earthiness of the petite sirah was balanced and neatly lifted by the zinfandel, but overall the wine still had a nice heavy savouriness of the sort that I really favour in a red wine. It didn’t linger on the finish, nice and clean with no sticky, jammy aftertaste. It was a very smooth wine and a really nice one for the price. Apparently air can get in to the bottle because they are not as well sealed as a traditional bottle, hence why they recommend not storing this wine – also the bottle is clear so does not protect as well as a dark glass bottle.

The Boy in his element

Next up was the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah, which I was informed is characteristically different from its usual blend stereotypes. Only 55 cases were made and half of these go out to members – a good warning that if you love Sones, like many small wineries in California, you should join their wine club! Short runs of great wines. And as advertised, this syrah is slightly different to the stereotype – it’s a lot lighter than usual, low on tannins but still has a nice smoky nose, making it an easy drink for syrah beginners who aren’t ready for big oak and heavy tannins.

The 2009 petit syrah from the Central Coast was the penultimate wine we tried – a robust, powerful nose, which had flavours of almost creamy vanilla on the back, some strawberry and all in light, summery flavours, despite still having a robust, slightly tanniny taste. I thought it would pair well with a steak. We were able to compare this with the 2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Savaria Vineyard petit syrah, which was a really interesting peppery taste – with smells almost like rubber in the sunshine and a white pepper-dusty type smell – which again was not altogether unpleasant. It was a lot more full bodied and smoky than the Central Coast, but also had a light finish. It would be excellent with a sharp cheese to cut through the flavour. This one was the Boy’s favourite and most delicious it was too.

It was a pleasure to visit Sones and try all of these really good, reasonably priced wines. Excellent examples of locally grown grapes in small runs which would be well worth a membership to get the wines for a tasty 15% off. The three dollar tasting session also represented great value compared to the $7 for less attitude over at Storrs. Admittedly, Ingalls Street is a considerably more competitive area, but it really did feel clear to us how out of touch Storrs were out on a limb in the north of the city.

Thanks to Sones Cellars for welcoming us, I am sure the Hedgehog Red will continue to be a great local favourite!


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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