Bottle Jack Winery Tasting Experience
Nestled in the hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains sits an unassuming little winery, named Bottle Jack. Before you go, check the events listings on their website for a full listing of dates, they are typically open for wine tasting on the third weekend of each month. Although they specialize in mostly red wines like Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah they are also dipping their toe into the world of whites with a Viognier.
To visit, drive past the beautiful homes on the hillside, and you will come to a small parking area, then make your way through the picnic tables situated in front of a corrugated metal warehouse with a large roll-up door. Step inside, and you can enjoy tasting at the aged wooden bar, staged among the wine barrels with a full view of their claim to fame along the right wall – the ribbons they’ve earned for their excellent wines. Or better yet, bring a few snacks and enjoy your wine tasting at one of the outside picnic tables or on the grass area overlooking the mountains – it may sound a little trite, but the view is truly stunning.
During our wine tasting adventure, we were able to talk with John Ritchey, the owner of Bottle Jack Winery. The land the winery sits on has been in the family for over 40 years. Currently, there are no grapes grown on the property, but John has hopes and dreams of one day growing some vines of his own. John was first introduced to winemaking while staying with a family in Moldova during his time in the Peace Corp. He developed such a passion for the industry that he started Bottle Jack Winery while earning his Enology degree from Fresno State. Both before and after attending school, John worked to gain over a decade of hands-on experience in various aspects of the winemaking industry, at other wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA as well as at wineries in Italy, France, and Switzerland.
Situated among the tables are a few pieces of equipment that give visitors a unique glimpse into the world of winemaking. John explained that they are not props – but the actual machines used to make their wines. He laughingly told us he just has no other place to store them. Seeing the equipment first hand showed us just how laborious the winemaking process is for a small winery. While Bottle Jack Winery has been around for many years, the first crush at this location was in 2013. First, the grapes go into the de-stemmer, then the press, then back to the field as fertilizer. John said he processed, by hand, twenty tons (that’s forty thousand pounds), for each step in the process. This year he hired his first employee to help with the press, John’s family and friends provide the rest of the help at the winery. You can feel the welcome as you walk through the door – these people truly enjoy what they are doing, and they want to be there.
What is a Bottle Jack?
So, we’ve been yammering on and on with all of this great information and yet, we still haven’t answered the one burning question – What is a Bottle Jack? Since we were dying to know, we asked. John joked that friends occasionally tease him that he named the winery after his father, “Jack”. He then showed us a picture of his first winemaking mentor from Moldova who used a Bottle Jack to press the grapes. According to Wikipedia, a Bottle Jack “is a jack which resembles a bottle in shape, having a cylindrical body and a neck.” Huh, that definition is not as helpful as we were hoping, it’s like defining a wine glass as a glass that holds wine. So, in search of knowledge, we went to Bottle Jack’s website and found this definition… ”a mechanical device used to lift heavy loads or apply great forces and occasionally to press wine.” Okay – that’s better. The website also provided a second definition…one that I believe might just be specific to Bottle Jack Winery – “wine dedicated to those who have inspired, supported and encouraged others to achieve their dreams.”
Bottle Jack Winery is a no-frills winery, and John hears this statement as a compliment. He wants the wines to speak for themselves, and based on the ribbons displayed, it’s apparent they do. We truly enjoyed our time at Bottle Jack Winery. The wines, the company, and the setting combine to offer a cozy escape for visitors to enjoy an afternoon.