Happy Trails

Mike Withrow, from Morgan Hill, sings and plays guitar as he enjoys wine at Ross Winery and Vineyards in Morgan Hill during the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail Celebration Weekend.

South County is a premier international wine region and has been for more than a century, and those behind the newly labeled Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail want everyone to know it.

The SCV Wine Trail celebrated a grand opening and ribbon cutting Aug. 22, followed by a full weekend of festivities commemorating the new guided path to more than 20 local wineries. 

The celebration included tastings, barrel samplings, live music, barbecues and special offers at more than a dozen wineries in Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy Aug. 23 and 24. Greg Richtarek, President of the Wineries of SCV Association and Director of Marketing for Guglielmo Winery, said more than 50 people purchased a $40 ticket for the two-day Wine Trail Celebration Weekend event. 

He was more impressed by the makeup of the crowd than the numbers.

“All but two people were brand new to the area,” Richtarek said. “And that’s exactly what we want to have happen.”

Earlier this year, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously supported the installation of 70 signs along the Wine Trail, directing wine tasting visitors and residents along the route that extends from north Morgan Hill through San Martin to south Gilroy. This summer, the county’s roads and airports department began installing the simply designed signs that feature the word “Winery” and an arrow with approximate mileage pointing to the nearest vineyard. 

Placards pointing to the 20-plus wineries in the WSCV Association also include the association’s logo. 

At an Aug. 22 press conference at Guglielmo Winery in east Morgan Hill, public officials from the county as well as the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, vintners and chamber of commerce representatives touted the new SCV Wine Trail as a victory for tourism, the business community as a whole and a lasting recognition of the region’s winemaking heritage. 

“The wineries here are internationally award-winning wineries,” said Mike Wasserman, president of the county Board of Supervisors and the representative for South County.

“Our wineries are one of the best kept secrets in the South Bay, but it won’t be a secret much longer,” Wasserman continued. “There is no need for anyone to go outside of Santa Clara County if you want to enjoy wine.”

Gilroy Mayor Don Gage quipped at the press conference, “If you aren’t living down in South County, you’re suffering.” 

The SCV Wine Trail is a “collaborative effort” by the public and private sector to install permanent signs on the shoulders of county roads directing motorists to the more than 20 wineries and vineyards in the WSCV association, Richtarek added. 

At the Friday morning press conference and an evening reception at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center, Richtarek specifically called out Morgan Hill resident Jon Hatakeyama and Morgan Hill Cellars winery owner Mike Sampognaro for coming up with the Wine Trail idea more than a year ago.

Sampognaro said at his tasting room on San Pedro Avenue, he saw a “steady flow” of Wine Trail revelers but not the crowds he sees during semi-annual Wine Passport weekends. 

He also gave credit to Hatakeyama and Morgan Hill resident Bruce Knopf for helping to create the Wine Trail, which will continue to grow with the local wine industry. 

“This is an ongoing and long-lasting kind of thing,” Sampognaro said. “People will start to recognize we do have wineries here, and this will help get them out here.”

While the Wine Trail Celebration Weekend ticket only included wineries in the WSCV Association, South County vintners who are not part of the organization expect to benefit from new signage as well. 

“This is a great first step in the right direction, but I think getting awareness out beyond the (Santa Clara Valley) area is the next step,” said Jason Goelz, winemaker at Jason Stephens Winery in Gilroy. 

Santa Clara Valley’s winemaking history dates back to the late 18th century, and the industry now occupies more than 300,000 acres of county territory, according to a county staff report.

Guglielmo Winery, which was founded in 1925, is the oldest continuously family owned and operated winery in the region. Guglielmo brothers Gene, George and Gary shared this history and offered tours at the Aug. 22 Wine Trail press conference. 

“Many other wine regions already enjoy the significant boost in tourism enhanced by a clear, attractive signage,” Richtarek said. “It’s gratifying to have long overdue and proper recognition for the Santa Clara Valley.”