A historic winery, a new project: John Bargetto’s Santa Cruz Mountains journey

   My first wine-writing assignment for the San Jose Mercury News was to cover the launch of Bargetto Winery’s Regan Estate Vineyards, in the Corralitos area of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.

   That was 30 years ago, when there were just 10 acres of chardonnay planted at the site. Today, as Bargetto Winery celebrates its 90th anniversary, Regan – which is set up as a separate business from Bargetto – is planted with nearly 40 acres of a diverse collection of grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, pinot grigio, nebbiolo, dolcetto and refosco. Bargetto Winery is the vineyard’s largest customer, although grapes are sold to other wineries, too. And John Bargetto is using the grapes in a small, impressive project, Regan Vineyards Winery, that’s separate from his family’s winery. (More on that later.)

John Bargetto pours wine at the gazebo in Regan Estate Vineyards.

   Regan Estate, named for John Bargetto’s mother, Beverly Regan Bargetto, began with a bit of serendipity. “My dad had dreamed about a big vineyard for years,” John says. Bargetto Winery – founded in 1933, at the end of Prohibition – had always bought its grapes. John’s father, Lawrence, found a parcel in the early 1970s, but the sale fell through. Lawrence died in 1982, but John continued the search and found a 50-acre parcel in 1991. While the property was in escrow, he found out that it was the same property his father had tried to buy years earlier.

   Although the vineyard is about three decades old, the Bargettos’ roots in Santa Cruz County go back much further. The winery’s founders, brothers Phillip and John Bargetto, were from the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. They operated a winery, South Montebello Vineyard and Wine Co., in San Francisco from 1910 to 1917. But Prohibition was looming, so they closed the winery and moved to Soquel in Santa Cruz County. They made a little wine for family and friends, grew apples and sold produce. And when Prohibition ended in 1933, they began to produce wine. Bargetto’s Santa Cruz Winery, as it was called then, was born.

   John’s sons, Lawrence and Ralph, took over in the 1960s. Lawrence went on to modernize the winemaking, with technology like stainless-steel fermentation. The winery didn’t have its own vineyards, but Lawrence bought grapes from a number of Santa Cruz Mountains locations and elsewhere as he searched for a suitable plot of land.

   The winery, which produces about 30,000 cases a year, is now run by Lawrence’s children, the third generation. Loretta Bargetto Mujal is the winery’s president; John is director of winemaking and oversees the vineyard; and Martin is the marketing director. Keegan Mayo is the winemaker.

   I’ve tasted Bargetto wines off and on over the years, and the current vintages are some of the best I can remember. In the reasonably priced “retro” line, named for the old-fashioned label, the 2021 Monterey County Pinot Grigio ($17) is particularly good: crisp and fragrant, with green apple and a touch of almond paste, and a persistent, slightly drying finish.

   Other standouts include the 2021 Reserve Chardonnay ($40) from Regan Estate, which is lemony, vibrant and a little creamy, with a great backbone of acidity and good balance, and the 2019 Dolcetto ($35), also from Regan, which is slightly earthy, with ample bright cherry and firm but approachable tannins. There’s a splash of Nebbiolo in the blend. Also excellent are a pair of pinot noirs from the estate: the 2020 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir ($36), which is plump and structured, with spicy raspberry, a hint of forest floor and a supple texture, and the 2021 Reserve Pinot Noir ($46), which is juicy and structured, with lively, pure raspberry fruit, a hint of leafiness, and a long, supple finish.

   The estate wines all have a wonderful freshness. “We’re not picking the grapes so ripe anymore,” John Bargetto says.

   La Vita, a red blend of Italian grape varieties, is something of a signature wine. The wine, introduced with the 1997 vintage, is a tribute to the founders’ Piedmont roots, but with a slight twist. The blend contains nebbiolo and dolcetto, which are from Piedmont, but the third grape is refosco, which is associated with northeastern Italy. Why not, say, barbera? John says he was concerned that barbera’s naturally high acidity would accentuate the tannins too much. Refosco also brings good color to the wine. Part of the proceeds from each vintage benefits a Santa Cruz County non-profit.

   The 2019 La Vita ($65) shows some obvious oak on the nose. On the palate, red cherries and berries dominate, with some spicy notes. It’s structured but approachable, with a persistent, drying finish, and could use a couple of years for the oak to integrate.

   Before the vineyard purchase, the Bargettos revived a Santa Cruz Mountains tier of wines made from purchased grapes under the Lawrence J. Bargetto label. I happened to have in my cellar one of the early efforts, a 1985 Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. “That was the first Santa Cruz Mountains wine that I made,” John says, adding that it was a “tannic beast.” Maybe, but it has held up well. It’s savory and still quite lively, with red fruit, notes of olive and anise and a hint of soy sauce. It finishes with just a wisp of that drying tannin.

   In 2020, John Bargetto launched a small project of his own, Regan Vineyards Winery, to further highlight the quality of the vineyard. The first wines were released in fall of 2021, and there are now three bottlings in the lineup (chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot), with a fourth (a nebbiolo called “The Great Fog”) to follow in September and a sparkling wine in November. He produces roughly 70 cases of each wine, and Bargetto’s Mayo is the winemaker.

The gazebo at Regan Estate Vineyards.

   John clearly enjoys showing off the rolling property, which is certified sustainable, and offers tastings and vineyard tours by appointment on Sundays. Tastings are held in a pretty gazebo in the vineyard. “We’re trying to give people a vineyard experience,” he says.

   And the wines are excellent. The 2021 Regan Vineyards Chardonnay ($40) is creamy and a little toasty, with racy lemon and pear and a long finish. It’s rich but very well balanced. The 2020 Merlot ($45) is full-bodied yet easy to drink, with black cherry, spice and plump tannins.

   Pinot noir is the highlight. The 2021 Pinot Noir ($60) is silky and bright, with raspberry and strawberry fruit, a hint of baking spice and good energy. (The 2020 Pinot Noir, which is sold out, is exceptional, with dark raspberry, a hint of rhubarb, a slight leafy note and a long finish. “I tell people I think this is the best pinot noir I’ve been a part of in my professional career,” John says.)

   “The quality of the wine (from Regan) lived up to my expectations,” John says. “Regan has been the great tectonic shift,” resulting in the “blossoming” of Bargetto’s Santa Cruz Mountains wine program, as well as the Regan Winery wines.

   Tastings of Bargetto wines are available daily by appointment at the historic tasting room in Soquel as well as a location on Monterey’s Cannery Row. Bargetto.com

   Regan Vineyards Winery offers tastings and vineyard tours on Sundays by appointment. Reganwinery.com

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