Nicole Ruiz Hudson

Nicole Ruiz Hudson

About Nicole Ruiz Hudson

Nicole Ruiz Hudson is a food and drink writer and educator based in the Bay Area. A culinary school graduate and a full blown wine geek, she’s a certified sommelier and holds a WSET Diploma. Above all, she loves how wine makes friends. You can find her recipes with wine pairings regularly on WineSpectator, plus more food and travel adventures on her own blog,, as well as on her latest project, Follow on Instagram @NibblingGypsy and @theSommsTable.

Windy Oaks Estates Wine Review

On our recent trip to Windy Oaks Estates tasting room in Corralitos, my husband and I shared two of their flights, plus some bonus pours. Altogether we got to taste a substantial range of their wines.  We were really impressed by the elegance of the wines overall which tend towards a lighter, graceful style.

2015 Rosé Bastide la Combe Arroyo Seco, Monterey County – 100% Grenache. Inspired by the rosés of Provence, grown intentionally to make rosé, and made by the direct press method. Elegant and floral, with strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and a light hint of creaminess and  lots of freshness. I’d happily drink this all summer. $21

2014 Pinot Gris, Monterey – Peaches and melons in cream, creamy apple, pear and a light hints of floral notes, and pleasantly brightness. Aged in stainless steel. $18

2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Cruz Mountains – Grapefruit, kiwi, gooseberry, lime skin, green peppers, grass, and flowers. Aged in stainless steel. $18

2014 Monterey Chardonnay, Monterey County – Bright and fresh with apples and lemons. Ripe with a light creaminess to the texture, and stony note. Aged in stainless steel. $18.  

2014 One-Acre Estate Chardonnay – Savory herbs, caramel apple, with a chalky finish. Vanilla comes in on the mid-palate with spices throughout, but all nicely integrated. A touch reductive when first opened, but then it opened up nicely. They recommended Dungeness crab with this one and I can absolutely see it being delicious. Aged 18 months in 25% new French Oak, unfined and unfiltered. $45

2015 Estate Pinot Noir Cuvée , Santa Cruz Mountains – Cola, bramble, black tea, with light hint of orange peel, lightly spiced with clove and white pepper, and a little herb finish. Aged for 17 months,  30% new French Oak. $39

2015 Estate Pinot Noir Terra Narro – Cranberry flavored with orange skins and cloves.Hints of floral notes. Aged 18 months, 35% new French oak. (At the tasting room I was told 25% new French Oak, aged for  17 months, but website says the former.) $29

2015 Estate Pinot Noir Diane’s Block, Santa Cruz Mountains – Light spice and cola, with warm cranberry and raspberries. This Pinot come from a slightly warmer area and shows the ripeness to match. Aged 17 months in 1st and 2nd-use French Oak barrels. $49.

2015 Estate Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains – Thyme scented perfume wafts up. Spices and black pepper, with black tea, licorice and berries. Aged 22 months, 55% new French oak. $58

2015 Estate Wild Yeast Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains – Pink flowers, dark cherries and raspberries, tangerine skin, a touch savory, and spiced with clove. Aged 18 months, 40% new French oak. $58

2014 Estate Pinot Noir, Proprietor’s Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains – Black tea and clove, heady with pink flowers. Exotic and seductive notes of potpuri, thyme, and sweet baking spices and white pepper. Red berries, red plums, and a little orange peel are layered throughout. Aged 24 months, 65% new French oak. $65

2014 Estate Syrah Vaccaro Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains – A elegant, cool climate  Syrah with notes of lilacs, rose, and light whiff of pine over dark berries. An ethereal version of Syrah.  Aged 21 months in 1st and 2nd-use French Oak barrels. $35

2013 Night Owl (Rhone Blend) – Very floral with red berries and cherries. $28

Windy Oaks Estates Winery Review

My husband and I recently spent a weekend touring wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Windy Oaks was probably our favorite find of the weekend–and there were several very lovely stops. It was a tip from another friend in the wine industry and I don’t think we would have found it any other way since their Corralitos tasting room is tucked up on a mountain road.

The little tasting room and winery are the work of Jim and Judy Schultze. They left jobs as management consultants to work on their winery–there was actually overlap for quite some time. They now continue to work their land and make wine with their two sons.

Located over 1,000 feet above sea level, their vineyards are well suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although they also make a few other things from both estate and purchased fruit. Vineyards are sustainably farmed (mostly organic) and they try to intervene as little as possible in the winery. They use native yeasts and the wines are unfined and unfiltered.

Judy Schultze was in the tasting room the day we stopped in and she kindly walked us through the tasting and chatted with us about their winery. The wines tended towards a lighter style with graceful elegance. We really loved their Pinots, as well as a beautiful rosé that screamed summertime, and an extremely lithe Syrah.

The tasting room is small, but there’s also a patio where you can sit outside on a nice day. (It happened to be raining when we stopped in, so all the guests that had made their way up the mountain that day, were gathered inside.) Once the rain stopped, we took a short stroll in the vineyards up a hill that opened up to an expansive view of the ocean. It’s well worth the short hike.  

Prices: They have several tasting flight options available at between $15-$20

Tasting Rooms Hours: Saturdays, 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. They will also be open Sundays beginning the weekend of June 9 through mid-October.

Additional Info: They also have a tasting room in downtown Carmel which is open 11:30 am to  5:30 pm daily.

Note: My tasting was comped as member of the wine industry. No other monetary compensation was received.

Winding up to Ridge Monte Bello

After making your way up a winding road in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge Vineyard’s Monte Bello location feels a world away even as you look over expansive views of Silicon Valley just bellow. The wooden tasting room structure looks and feels a lot like an elegant mountain cabin with warm vibes that make you want to relax with your wine(s).

That said, this is a very popular spot and it gets pretty busy. If you’re planning on going on a weekend, it’s definitely a good idea to aim to get there early as parking fills up fast and the mountain road sometimes funnels into one lane. It can also get chilly and windy up there–it’s 2,300 feet up–so do bring a jacket. The wines and the views are completely worth it though! Both are gorgeous.

Ridge refers to its winemaking style as “pre-industrial” and aims to be as non-intrusive as possible during the winemaking process, while still making use of modern technology. They use all native yeasts for their fermentations and use minimal SO2. Their estate vineyards (they do also source fruit) are farmed sustainably and will soon be certified organic. They use primarily American oak to mature their wines, however, it is kept very much in balance. If you’ve ever wondered about what goes into your wine, Ridge happily helps you out by listing it all on the label. Their labels are amongst the most detailed I’ve ever seen.

They’re well known for their Zinfandels and their Monte Bello Cab is a cult classic, but you’ll find also find a selection of other varieties, particularly from Rhône grapes, as well as Chardonnay and Merlot. In my experience, their wines tend to be beautifully balanced, displaying ripe California fruit in an elegant style. Despite being really well known with high quality standards, many bottles are quite reasonably priced.

Click here for one recipe and pairing:

(Please note that my tasting fee was comped as a member of the wine industry. I received no other compensation and all opinions are my own.)

The Basics

Hours: Saturdays and Sundays: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, and Weekdays by Reservation.

Experiences and Prices:

Tasting Room: Ridge offers three tasting flights, each with a different focus and at different price points: “Single-Vineyard” ($10), “Estate Single-Vineyard” ($15), and “Estate Single-Vineyard + Monte Bello” ($25, and includes our flagship Monte Bello). No reservation required for groups of 8 or less on weekends. Contact the winery for reservations M-F.

Estate Tastings: Semi-private tastings of their single vineyard Estate offerings, including the current release of the Monte Bello.  This includes a short vineyard walk (weather permitting) and a tour through the Old Winery barn. At $35 a person, this experience is definitely worth it, particularly if it’s your first time. Altogether, this last about 90 minutes and reservations required 7 days a week, with 2 appointment slots available each day, and all guests must 21+ years old. (You can make reservations online.)

Private Tastings: also available by appointment.  

Extra Details:

They do have a picnic area and it’s available to customers on the weekends on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s also available M-F to guests with reservations. (Check their site for full picnicking policies.) Dogs are not allowed due to the presence of rattlesnakes in the area.

Member Benefits:

Ridge has three different membership programs, however, each gets access to special bottlings that are often hard to find. Wine Club Members also receive Estate and Single-Vineyard tastings complimentary for up to 4 guests, among other perks.

Sipping Through the Wines at Ridge Vineyards

Ridge’s wines probably need no introduction at this point. They’ve long been established in California and are extremely well-regarded. Their Monte Bello Cab is a sought after cult classic and they’re very well known for their elegant Zinfandels.

I’ve been a fan for many years­. It’s been over ten years since my husband and I made our first trip to their Lytton Springs location, but only recently had the chance to visit their Monte Bello location for the first time. These wines were tasted during that visit.

(Please note that my tasting fee was comped as a member of the wine industry. I received no other compensation and all opinions are my own.)

Ridge refers to its winemaking style as “pre-industrial” and aims to be as non-intrusive as possible during the winemaking process, so they’re a good winery to search out if you feel particular about what goes into your wines.

Ridge Montebello

Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Tasting Notes: On the nose it is ripe with tropical fruit notes, golden apples, and notes of vanilla. It is bright on the palate with a juicy quality. Similar fruit and spice notes as on the nose, but with a little stony underpinning and hints of savory herbs. The oak acts as spice, but it is in balance. This would be a great pairing for buttery seafood (lobster and crab please!) and roasted chicken. American oak, 18 month in barrel, 28%-30% new. This wine is not made every year. 14.2% abv.

Ridge Geyserville, Alexander Valley, 2015 – 50th Anniversary Edition

Blend: 70% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 3% Alicante Bouschet.

Geyserville is an old field blend style, but is always predominantly Zinfandel.

On the nose it has orange peel a hint of tea, blackberry, raspberry, and a little white pepper. It’s ripe on the palate, however, it is not overly heavy. It remains elegant with sweet berries, light herbs, white pepper, and a stony core. 14.5% abv. This is delicious with game birds and pork chops. Click here for a pairing recipe:

Ridge Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley 2015

Blend: 74% Zinfandel,16% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane, 2% Mataro (Mourvedre).

Ripe, warm berry sauce on the nose with hints of red flowers. On the palate, fruit is ripe but leaner than expected, very fresh, with a hint of meatiness on the palate. I think this will flesh out with time. 14.5% abv.

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Blend: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Eucalyptus on the nose with hints of cocoa, and sweet dark fruits laced with herbs and mint. Light pepper and cassis join in on the palate, with sweet-tart black cherries, dark raspberries, blackberries. Has a tart finish with well-integrated tannins, even now when it’s young. 13.7% abv.

Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2014

Blend: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

Plush, slightly brooding nose, with bramble light herbs, pepper, and floral notes. Tobacco comes in on the palate, with very pretty fruit of cassis and red and black cheeries, and hints of graphite pencil lead. Tannins are hefty and this definitely needs some time to fully integrate. Got more velvety with air. 13.5%.

Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2006

Blend: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Dark berries and cassis on the nose, with a little charcoal, a little dark chocolate, espresso in the background. Silky up front with dusty tannins on the finish. Everything was very well integrated and just starting to show tertiary notes. Notes of pepper and a little menthol both on nose and on the palate. This was showing really well but could also definitely go longer as acid was still kicking. 13.5% abv.