The Corralitos Wine Trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains

A secret wine trail through the Santa Cruz Mountains leads to four family-owned wineries.

Magical Sunset Panorama over Santa Cruz Mountains, picture
Wind through the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains to find four amazing wineries.
Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock

Turn off California’s Highway 1 at Aptos, south of Santa Cruz, then head east toward the Santa Cruz Mountains, and you’ll quickly find yourself on the Corralitos Wine Trail. You won’t run into traffic jams or lavish estates—just four distinctive family-run wineries, where on intimate tours you get to meet the vintners as they pour impressive tastes.

Corralitos Wine Trail Tasting Stops

The bowl-shaped property at Craig and Cathy Handley’s Pleasant Valley Vineyards has vines on the sides and a hammock strung between shady redwoods in the middle. It’s a sweet spot to sip a rich Dylan David pinot noir, one of several wines named for the couple’s grandkids.

“We don’t do it for a living, we do it for love,” says Marguerite Nicholson of Nicholson Vineyards. She and her husband, Brian, a ninth-generation Californian, produce mainly chardonnay and pinot noir. Sage-green trees outside the barnlike winery sustain another of the couple’s passions: farmstead olive oil.

After selling his bread company, Richard Alfaro set out to try a different use for yeast, launching Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery. His wife, Mary Kay—a certified sommelier—pours serious wines at the tasting room’s granite counter. The setting is anything but stuffy: A basketball court by the vineyards is open to everyone.

Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery’s namesake trees stand high on a ridge overlooking the windswept Pacific Ocean. Picnic benches beneath them provide a tranquil perch as you sample Jim and Judy Schultze’s Burgundian pinot noirs and chardonnays and take in the view of Monterey Bay.


This article was first published in January 2012 and updated in February 2019.