REVIEW UPDATE: Sones Cellars, Santa Cruz, CA

We had the great pleasure of returning to Santa Cruz this summer and bumped in to Michael Sones, owner, at the Capitola Art and Wine Festival (more on that in a future post). It was a happy coincidence, because last year when I reviewed Sones Cellars, we sadly missed the opportunity to meet Michael or his good lady wife, Lois. I asked Michael if it would be possible for us to pop by the tasting room on Ingalls Street and try the latest batch of Hedgehog Red, Sones’ unique creation of a refillable bottle taken from a blended barrel at the winery, just for comparison to last time. He was completely welcoming and so, having popped in for a tasting at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard (also more on that in a future post) and before meeting friends at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery (we would like to think we’re practically locals now) we swang by Sones unannounced to see if we could pilfer a snifter of the latest Hedgehog Red blend.

The last blend we tried was #12. It was 75% Petite Syrah and 25% Zin and I was all over it at the time, most enjoyable. I don’t know exactly what number they are on now, but I was particularly interested that the blend had been developed by Sones wine club members at a special event. Their palettes had settled on a blend that was half Petite Syrah, 25% Zinfandel and 25% Merlot.

I was a big fan. The wine had a deep colour. It was light on the nose, but had a full, yet medium bodied flavour on the palette. It was medium on tannins but heavy on the finish, with overriding fruit flavours, possibly of blackcurrant, definitely black fruits but also a hint of plum too. Delicious and apparently, more popular than ever. I wait patiently for the time when there are enough wineries in the UK for me to become a wine club member with a local business where beautiful, local wine like this is made available at such a reasonable price, but in the meantime I am so pleased that Sones have pioneered such an excellent, sustainable and delicious concept in the Hedgehog Red.

We were also fortunate to be offered a taste of a couple more of Sones’ offerings. I must confess I had worked my way through the bulk of their current offer in Capitola, but I was pleased to try their Fashionably Late Zinfandel from 2011, which had a huge smell of booze fruit, and then a super sweet punch on the mouth. It was, as a guide at one Santa Cruz tasting room once said to us in her characteristic local drawl ‘totally jammy’ – but still totally light on the palette with a veritable dance of blackburrant flavours. Delicious and something I will hope to try again.

And finally, there was the Sones’ interpretation of Sack. This wine could not have more of an influence from Michael’s British heritage – an attempt, in partnership with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, to recreate Sack – the white wine of the traditional Elizabethan table, and the drink of choice of numerous Shakespearean characters, most memorably Falstaff. Now given my recent brush with Shakespeare, albeit a slightly obtuse one, I was extremely happy to try this as medieval history still looms large in my professional life. A fortified wine from the Canaries, this was something like tea with brandy – sweet, and sort of dry – an excellent drink. And with my long pedigree of trying concoctions made by experimental archaeologists, I was surprised how nice this was. A great bit of fun and a wonderful way to round off our return to Sones. I sincerely hope it is not the last time we get to stop by and pass the time of day, this is a truly wonderful example of a small winery making truly excellent wine.

A good sherris-sack hath a two-fold
operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there
the foolish and dull and crudy vapours which environ it;
apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and
delectable shapes; which delivered o’er to the voice, the 2695
which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second
your excellent sherris is the warming of the blood; which
cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the
badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms
and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extremes. 2700
illumineth the face, which, as a beacon, gives warning to all
rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital
commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their
captain, the heart, who, great and puff’d up with this
doth any deed of courage—and this valour comes of sherris.


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

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