Time to capitalize on our wonderful wineries

ongratulations to the local wineries that medalled at the San
Francisco Chronicle wine competition. A month or so ago, I finally
noticed that there was a critical mass of wineries in the area and

Hey, they should position themselves like Napa.

Congratulations to the local wineries that medalled at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. A month or so ago, I finally noticed that there was a critical mass of wineries in the area and thought, “Hey, they should position themselves like Napa.” I was all set to write a column about how there should be a wine map, like the ones ubiquitously floating around up there … only to learn that there is one already.

And it’s very nice. Created by the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, the full-color foldout lists two dozen wineries and has a map showing their locations.

I’m wondering why the local wineries aren’t more visible, and why they aren’t pulling more visitors into town. The way I see it, Gilroy’s got four distinctive things going for it: the Garlic Festival, Gilroy Gardens, the outlets, and the wineries. Pretty good for a city that was just a town not so long ago.

In a way, it’s nice that the wineries are quiet. I’ve sat in stopped traffic on that darned Silverado Trail before, yet here nothing stops you from zipping around Watsonville Road and environs. You can easily park, and there’s elbow room at the tasting bar. Best of all, the person pouring may be the vintner him or herself. It’s slower here, kinder maybe.

But I believe that the wineries could be increasing business for themselves and the city as a whole. We should better promote them.

Recently, I visited Martin Ranch, which sits at the far end of Redwood Retreat Road. You think you’re headed into someone’s grandfather’s farm as you go up the steep driveway past abandoned wine-making equipment and rusted barrel staves (maybe I imagined that last part). But the tasting room is modern and glass-filled and the porch has great views of untouched hillsides. I bought a few bottles for my Book Club and that fueled the best discussion we’ve had yet.

I also lucked into an unexpected tasting at Kirigin Cellars. You enter the tasting room through an old oak barrel, which has a sort of Hobbit feel to it. Impressed by the 2009 Malvasia Bianca, I brought a bottle home, only to learn later it won a gold medal at the Chronicle competition. Sometimes wine triumphs over uneducated palates to make an impression!

Next stop will be Solis, and then who knows?

I wandered by the Gilroy Visitors Bureau to track down a print copy of the wine map (it’s available online, where I first found it, at www.santaclarawines.com by clicking on “about”). There I spoke briefly with office manager Pam Gimenez. She noted that Passport Weekend is coming up next month, where for $30 you can enjoy barrel tastings, new releases, food and music for two separate weekends (the second one is in October).

She said when visitors come in and are interested in wine, she goes through the map with them, discussing each winery’s specialty. She’s a member at Solis, so clearly she has a preference. “Our wineries are the oldest in the state of California,” she said. That’s right: Gold Rushers planted vines here predating Napa’s rise as America’s premier winegrowing region.

“Most people think Napa is ‘it’ but ours are small, boutique-type wineries,” she added. She pointed out that you can purchase a high-end bottle here for $35 to $40, where in Napa that might cost $70 to $80.

I also spoke with Jane Howard, executive director of the Bureau, who recently shared a booth at the Bay Area Travel Show to give out copies of the wine maps. She said there’s buzz around the wineries now that they’ve organized into the Santa Clara group … and the wine itself is improving. “The wineries are doing a good job of continuing outreach,” she said.

I have a few suggestions for increasing visibility for Gilroy’s wineries:

1. Next time the brochure gets printed, change the title from “Wine Tasting” to “Wine Map.” Otherwise, it’s possible to dismiss it as a generic pamphlet about the pleasures of wine – you don’t see the map until you unfold it.

2. Purchase a gross of those cardboard pamphlet holders so every local business can display the map on their front counter. They’re 38 cents each, according to a quick web search, so that’s less than $60 to make sure each restaurant or store on Monterey (and further flung places, like the outlets or the 10th Street businesses) supports the wineries.

3. Give a copy of the wine map to every attendee at the Garlic Festival. That’s the target audience: anyone who will travel miles to be surrounded by garlic in all its forms is likely also attracted to the idea of wine tasting.

4. Sell t-shirts that say “We beat Napa to the punch.” Competition is healthy!

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