Stroll highlights wineries

WINE STROLL Vicki Seelig (left) and Fortino Winery Sales Director Bertha Valenzuela show off Fortino's wines that will be part of the Morgan Hill Wine Stroll. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Sonoma County may boast an impressive 425 wineries, but the nearly two-hour drive proves too far for many.

Los Gatos has a nice collection of wineries, but wine fans have to brave the treacherous Highway 17 to get there.

Thankfully, wine lovers in southern Santa Clara County don’t have to look far: The growing Santa Clara Valley AVA features more than 30 wineries all within a roughly 20-mile radius.

But if that is still too far to travel, most of the wineries will be in one place on April 27.

The Morgan Hill Wine Stroll returns to downtown from 1-5pm, featuring 23 wineries pouring wine in 22 businesses.

Put on by the Morgan Hill Downtown Association, the annual event proves popular, with the more than 1,000 tickets typically selling out early, said Kerry Wallace, who is chairing this year’s stroll.

“We’ve always had a very successful Wine Stroll with full attendance,” she said. “It’s a good time had by all.”

This year, organizers are looking to evolve the stroll into an art and wine festival-type event, Wallace said. As a result, the stroll will feature an art gallery that so far has 15 artists set to display their work, according to Wallace, and 10 bands will serenade strollers as they sip wine downtown. The lineup includes a South Valley Symphony Brass Ensemble and String Quartets, Undercover, Tony Johns, Jeff Smith, Lavender Fields, Chris O’Connor, Aprylle Gilbert and more.

A staple of the event is the poster competition, where ticket-holders will have the chance to vote on which poster designed by a local artist they like best. The winning poster will be used on marketing materials for next year’s event, and the artist will receive a case of wine.

Wallace described the event as a “two-way street” for wineries and downtown businesses: the wineries set up shop inside a business and promote their products to the public, while the businesses and restaurants offer discounts to entice strollers to stay and shop.

“It’s a chance to experience downtown while sipping wine with friends and family,” she said.

Carlo Fortino of Hecker Pass Winery, which has participated in the stroll nearly every year of its existence, said such exposure is crucial in a time when online shopping dominates.

“You want people to come out and touch, taste and feel everything that you’ve got going on,” he said.

Fortino added that many local people are unaware of the wealth of wineries right in their own backyards.

“They are pretty surprised to hear that there are 30 wineries within a 20-mile radius,” he said.

Mike Sampognaro, owner of Morgan Hill Cellars, said he’s experienced a similar situation as well: Many Morgan Hill residents never knew his business existed, despite it being founded in 1913.

“We enjoy talking with the people,” he said. “It’s always good to get out in the community.”

Bertha Valenzuela, sales director of Fortino Winery, said the rise of the Santa Clara Valley AVA has put it among the best in the state.

“Morgan Hill has become the new Los Gatos,” she said.

The stroll has proved to be a boon for the Gilroy-based winery, she said, adding that the event has netted many new wine club members.

“It gives the opportunity for the public to taste our wine without going to the winery,” she said.

Morgan Hill’s established event has even helped a burgeoning wine stroll get off the ground.

When Watsonville city officials and the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture wanted to debut a wine walk downtown in 2018, they headed to Morgan Hill’s stroll to get ideas. Tickets for that first year’s event sold out quickly, and 2019’s event, set for May 11, is enjoying similar success, said Shaz Roth, Pajaro Valley Chamber CEO.

“We just had so much fun,” she said of the Morgan Hill stroll. “We got some great ideas.”

Wallace added that the Wine Stroll is representative of the successful growing region here.

“The wineries are really taking off,” she said. “This is really becoming a well-known AVA.”

And Valenzuela said attending the stroll is a good way to support local businesses.

“Support your local wineries,” she said. “Drink local.”

The Morgan Hill Wine Stroll takes place April 27 from 1-5pm in Downtown Morgan Hill. Early Bird tickets are $39, and day of event admission is $45. For tickets, visit tinyurl.com/y6tqkhc3.

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Participating Wineries

• Aver Family Vineyards

• Clos Le Chance

• Creekview Vineyards

• Fortino Winery

• Guglielmo Winery

• Morgan Hill Cellars

• Sarah’s Vineyard

• Seeker Vineyard

• Solis Winery

• Medeiros Family Wines

• Verde Vineyards

• Lion Ranch Winery

• Martin Ranch Winery

• Kirigin Cellars

• Sycamore Creek Vineyards

• Guerra Cellars

• Tank House Winery

• Fernwood Cellars

• Church Creek Cellars

• J Winston Winery

• Aimee June Winery

• Paradise Valley Vineyards

• Hecker Pass Winery

Participating Businesses

• A Visionary Salon

• Bubbles & Brew

• Tryst Fashion Apparel

• Betto’s Bistro

• Murphy’s Mercantile

• South County Fashion Boutique

• Maison A

• Portraits by Rebecca

• Bike Therapy

• The Jewel Box of Morgan Hill

• Dezign Salon

• Sinaloa Cafe

• The Huntington Station

• Realm Flower Co.

• Noah’s Bar & Bistro

• Cherisse’s Hair Salon

• Silva Custom Construction

• Rosy’s at the Beach

• Windermere Valley Properties

• The Grapevine

• Royal Clothiers

• Grange Hall