Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go South, My Friends, Go South! Part 1: Historic Cooper Garrod Vineyards Preserves Santa Clara County's Agricultural Legacy

Shame on me for taking so many years to finally head to the South Bay and explore some wineries that have been on my "to visit list" for such a long time. But I was redeemed this Saturday, when, fortuitously, I escaped the wine country hordes ascending on Napa and Sonoma and instead headed South to Saratoga and Los Gatos, covering three wineries that make wines from organic vines in the span of one very easy, traffic free day.

My first stop was at Cooper Garrod Vineyards, a 2,200 case winery in tony Saratoga, housed on the 1893 ranch established by the Garrod family that later became the Cooper-Garrod Ranch and Cooper-Garrod Vineyards.

This charming old property, just off the road to Mt. Eden (Martin Ray's historic winery), is that great Silicon Valley rarity - a farm straight out of Santa Clara County's great fruit era when the area was filled with apricots and plum orchards. In those days, "cutting 'cots' (apricots) was the big activity. 

Today there are no more orchards, but the family has adapted to the changing economic times.
The Cooper-Garrod clan survived the demise of the region's fruit industry at first by becoming a horse ranch. Today, the 120 acre property is surrounded by some of Silicon Valley's most expensive homes (average price: $3-4 million, give or take), and borders, riders and riding students from the surrounding area flock here for equestrian pleasures.      

Today 28 acres are planted to vines and the boutique winery makes 2,000-2,200 cases of 10+ estate wines each year, including 100% varietal wines from French wine grapes (Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; Burgundy varietals - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; and Rhone varietals - Syrah and Viognier.) 
My favorite wine, by far, was the superb Cabernet made from George's Vineyard, from the Martin Ray cuttings, planted in the 1970's. Alas this wine was sold out; sold primarily to the wine club, it's more difficult to find.

Cooper Garrod Vineyards also makes four blended wines from its organic estate vines, which it brands under the Test Pilot label. The name refers to the illustrious flying career of winery founder George Cooper, who took up home winemaking when he retired from a career as a pilot and later a NASA researcher in 1973. 

In his lifetime, George Cooper flew more than 140 different aircraft, including many of the fastest planes of his day. The World War 2 pilot also flew on D-Day.

Bitten by the wine bug after he retired, he planted vines from cuttings he got from Martin Ray, whose famous estate vineyard was just up the road. George made wine for the family for 20 years before the family decided to go pro and became a commercial, bonded winery in 1994. George lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labors, passing away this spring - just one month short of his 100th birthday.

Today George's son Bill Cooper is the winemaker; his wife Doris Cooper is responsible for the winery's marketing. The two retired from careers in the Foreign Service before taking over the winery reins. The next generation - Bill Cooper's nephew and George Cooper's grandson, Ben Cooper - is now assuming more winery responsibilities.

The vines were certified organic, vineyard by vineyard, starting in 2009 to 2012 (and continue to be today). All are dry farmed.

The winery itself was also certified organic in 2012. Subsequent vintages are bottle labeled "Made with Organic Grapes."

The first Saturday of every month, the down home winery opens its doors and offer a free vineyard and winery walk and talk tour with the winemaker (at 11 am) which is what finally got me down there this fine weekend. They also offer quarterly eco-tours, highlighting their sustainability activities.

On Sundays, the winery offers free, live music from 1 to 4 pm. It's an opportunity to bring a picnic (the tasting room sells no food), buy a bottle of wine, and enjoy. (No outside beverages permitted).

You can also arrange to go for a trail ride (one hour, $65) for an additional fee. Wine tasting is $10. Wine prices range from $29-45.

Enjoy these photos.

Cooper Garrod vineyards and winery are located down the road from the old
Martin Ray Estate (today Mt. Eden Vineyards).

The 1922 vintage Fruit House today serves as the tasting room.
The Saturday "Walk with the Winemaker" Tour
The first vines were certified organic in 2009
Winemaker Bill Cooper leading the Saturday tour
Touring the barrel room
Wine samples
The tasting room
The tasting room was once a warehouse for fruit storage
George Cooper in his pilot days
Pilot memorabilia
All the aircraft George flew

The horse facilities; the Cooper Garrod ranch offers hourlong trail rides
(as well as boarding services and riding lessons)
The gorgeous views from one of the riding rings
The shaded picnic area

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