Finding wineries in this state is easy, no matter what California wine region you are visiting. For the most part, you head down a main artery and there are wineries on both sides of the road open for tasting.
But the key to an adventurous wine tasting experience is to find the hidden gems—the ones so removed from the beaten path that either have to know where you are going, get a good recommendation from a local resident or you stumble on them accidentally.
Such is the case with Clos LaChance Winery in San Martin on the CordeValle Resort property. It seems isolated from the outside world, particularly if you are not a resort guest (golf carts shuttle guests to the winery). It is worth taking the back roads out of San Martin guided by your GPS to make a visit.
It’s a family-run operation that reflects that feeling when you walk into the tasting room and are welcomed by the staff. Owners Bill and Brenda Murphy started, as many vintners have, with vines planted as landscaping in the backyard of their Saratoga home. They started making wine as a hobby that eventually grew into a full-fledged business that now produces about 80,000 cases per year.
When they had started to look for a winery site, Murphy connected with the developer of the CordeValle Resort. A condition of approval required that a percentage of the land be devoted to agriculture. They put together a deal so the Murphy’s have 150 acres of grapes planted around golf holes and on hillsides of the CordeValle resort.
“It was a win-win,” said Murphy. “They were looking for someone to put in vineyards and we were looking for land for a winery.”
The production center opened in 2001 followed by the hospitality and event center that is a popular spot for weddings. The winery sits on a hillside that overlooks the vineyards, golf course and resort.
“We are a family business,” Bill Murphy said. “We are the quintessential, multi-generational wine business.” Both daughters are involved in the winery and all hope there will be a third generation involved.
They are committed to being good stewards of their land. The winery was one of the first in the state to be certified as sustainable.
“We want it to be as beautiful and productive in 10, 20 or 30 years as it is right now,” Murphy said.
The Murphy’s, like the multitude of winery owners not operating in the Napa Valley, face the challenge of marketing wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their location is close enough to the ocean that they routinely get sea breezes during the growing season.
“We are not trying to emulate anyone—we are just trying to be the best we can be right where we are. The proof is in the pudding when you try the wine. When the consumer buys the wine, we want them to think they would have expected to pay more for this level of quality,” Bill said.
By Dennis Miller