♦ History ♦

The seeds for Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard were planted when a young man by the name of Ken Burnap took a prom date out to one of the finest restaurants in San Antonio, Texas. Ken ordered a bottle of wine and mangled the pronunciation of the French wine. The very snobby and pretentious wine steward humiliated Ken with his reaction and in the manner of most of us when barely out of our teens, Ken vowed to learn as much as he could about wine and go back and show that wine steward a thing or two.

The very next day he set off to find and read every book he could get his hands on that had anything to do with wine. In no time at all he was totally captivated with the subject of fine wine. He soon forgot about the snobby wine steward but had gained a fascinating hobby that would become the passion of a lifetime.

Through the years Ken’s favorite variety became Pinot Noir – Pinot Noir from Burgundy, that is. Ken was perplexed with how it could be that Pinot Noir from France could be so amazing, while California Pinot Noir was pretty much universally not very good. So he started to do research on Pinot Noir.

This was the early 1970’s. A great majority of the wine produced in California came out of Napa Valley, including most California Pinot Noir. Through his research, Ken came to the conclusion that the reason most California Pinot Noir was so bad was that it was grown on the floor of Napa Valley which was the wrong climate to grow Pinot Noir. So he started to look at regions in California that might be better suited to good quality Pinot Noir.

Ken Burnap with new winery building, 1979

The renegade Pinot Noir maker, 1979
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Photo Gallery
The Photo Gallery of Vineyards of Quinta Cruz and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards

Ken lived in Orange County, in southern California. He owned an industrial contracting firm and ran a restaurant called The Hobbit, which he founded. Purely as an excuse to travel to beautiful locations in northern California, his hobby became exploring different areas that he thought would be excellent for growing great quality Pinot Noir. The way he puts it, he never had any conscious intention of starting a winery. He had developed a list of about 13 criteria that he felt were necessary to have in a vineyard site in order to produce top quality Pinot Noir. In these trips to Northern California he started looking at property that might meet those criteria. Very quickly, his main areas of focus became the Russian River Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains. He felt these would be the best places to grow Pinot Noir in California.

On one of these trips to the Santa Cruz Mountains he finally found a site that met all of his criteria. The site was on Jarvis Road in the Vine Hill district of Santa Cruz County. The site continuously had grapes since 1863, had just been planted to Pinot Noir — and it was for sale.

Ken decided to drink a bottle of champagne in the vineyard to celebrate the fact that he found the place he thought would grow great Pinot Noir. He still had no intention of buying a vineyard. Through the course of drinking that bottle of champagne on top of the vineyard’s highest hill, Ken started to feel a little more philosophical and daring. He came to the realization that so many of us spend our whole lives saying, “if only (fill in the blank) then I would do what I truly want to do.” By the time the bottle was empty Ken had decided to jump in with both feet, buy the vineyard and try his hand at making Pinot Noir.

Jarvis Vineyard, early 1980’s

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Photo Gallery

The property was owned by David Bruce, another Pinot Noir aficionado. He made Zinfandel from the property in the 1960s. But the Zinfandel was very old and not producing much anymore so David pulled out the old vines and planted Pinot Noir in 1969/1970. David had planned on keeping the vineyard as a secondary Pinot Noir source to augment his production at his Estate Vineyard up in the Summit area, but his plans changed and he ended up needing to sell the property.

So in 1974 Ken Burnap found himself with a brand new Pinot Noir vineyard in Santa Cruz and two businesses in Orange County, 400 miles away. For two years Ken commuted from Orange County to Santa Cruz, basically every weekend. He spent three days a week at the vineyard and four days a week in Orange County, where he gradually phased out his involvement in the contracting company and The Hobbit restaurant.

Ken built a rectangular cement block building to function as the temporary winery building for the first two vintages, 1975 and 1976. He did most of the work in the vineyard and the winery, with occasional help from various friends. He slept on a cot in the winery building and cooked on a camp stove.

Ken Burnap and Bill Craig field crushing Bates Ranch Cabernet, circa 1982

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Photo Gallery

The first vintage made was in 1975 and the meticulous attention to detail that Ken had applied in the research phase was also applied in the winemaking. When the 1975 Estate Pinot Noir was released, it made a very big impression on the wine world. It received fantastic reviews and was voted one of the top five or six California Pinot Noirs in the late 1970s. Some of these other 1975 Pinot Noirs were from Joseph Swan, Chalone, ZD, and Mount Eden.

In 1977 Ken and his wife, Marie “Ree” Burnap, moved up to Santa Cruz from Orange County. Ken then had the opportunity to build the winery he had been researching all these years. The new winery building was built on a steep, north-east facing hillside and half buried into the mountain in order to have good natural climate control. It had four working levels so that each operation could be done by moving the wine by gravity.

Barrel cellar at the old Jarvis Road winery location

Library Wines

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Photo Gallery

Library Wines

For the first two years of wine production, 1975 and 1976, Ken made only Pinot Noir from the Estate Vineyard. But after building the new winery he had a lot more space, and the Estate vineyard wine didn’t come close to filling the barrel cellar. So Ken started buying fruit from other vineyards, branching out to varieties other than Pinot Noir.

In July of 1979 Ken was still doing all the work at the winery himself, with occasional help from his friends. Ken needed to bottle the 1977 Cabernet Sauvignon and called on a couple of friends to help. One of them couldn’t make it that day, but instead sent a college kid he worked with named Jeff Emery. Jeff was 19 years old and a sophomore attending UCSC, getting a bachelor’s degree in earth sciences. Through two days of bottling, Ken and Jeff found that their personalities were remarkably suited to each other and that they worked well together. Ken had reached the point in which he needed an employee or two, and invited Jeff to come back and do other work. Jeff wanted to finish his degree and so started working part-time at the winery. By the time Jeff graduated from UCSC in 1981 he had been totally captivated by winemaking and growing grapes, and couldn’t possibly look for a “real job.”

Ken Burnap, 1981

Jeff Emery watching
the press, 1981


A wonderful relationship ensued between Ken and Jeff, and without anyone ever officially defining it as such, an old fashioned apprenticeship was established. During this time Ken took on another young employee, Bill Craig, and the trio of Ken, Bill and Jeff tended the vineyard and made wine together for a number of years. Bill Craig ended up leaving to pursue a career in construction, and the “third” position was filled by Luis Martinez, and then by Robert Vermilion in subsequent years.

Jeff and Ken’s final toast to the Jarvis Road property, May 2004
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Photo Gallery

Towards the end of the 1990s and heading in to the new century, Ken started taking longer and longer vacations away from the winery leaving the day-to-day tasks of the business to Jeff. Through a very gradual process that has no clear definitions Jeff starting taking on more and more responsibility of running all aspects of the business. The winemaking decisions in these later years were made by Ken and Jeff together. They found through the many years of working together that not only did their personalities mesh well, but they had uncannily similar palettes when it came to wine. Jeff maintains it may have something to do with being “weaned” on Ken’s wine.

Ken completely retired from the business in 2003 and Jeff maintained operations at the Jarvis Road facility, making wine on his own for Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. Ken decided to sell the property in order to fully enjoy his retirement, and in the spring of 2004 the vineyard and winery building at 2300 Jarvis Road were sold. Jeff bought the business, equipment and inventory from Ken and took over as sole owner of the business in July of 2004, exactly 25 years from when he first stumbled into the winery to bottle the 1977 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The entire winery operation was moved in the spring of 2004. By shear luck of timing, Jeff found out about a new winery that had just been built and had space available to lease. It is located off of Highway 236, halfway between the town of Boulder Creek and Big Basin State Park. The winery was built by Bradley Brown, owner and winemaker of Big Basin Vineyards.

Jeff moved the winery equipment and all of the 2003 wines in barrels from the Jarvis Road location to this new winery site near Boulder Creek. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard wines were made here until the winery moved to its present location on the west side of the city of Santa Cruz in the spring of 2008.

On the very last day that Ken and Jeff spent at the Jarvis Road location, they walked up to the upper most hill of the vineyard where Ken had drunk that life-changing bottle of champagne in 1974. They drank a bottle of sparkling wine made from the vineyard, said goodbye to the vineyard, passed the torch, and celebrated a very long and most fulfilling collaboration. That day in 2004 was almost precisely 30 years from Ken’s first visit to the site, and on that day Jeff was exactly the same age that Ken was when he stood there for the first time in 1974.