Small vintners at the Swift & Ingalls complex have united in the Surf City Vintners group. Photo by Chipo Scheuer.

The name Surf City Vintners is the branding umbrella for a dozen limited-production wineries clustered at the industrial edge of town. Neither surfers nor city dwellers, these folks are all vintners all the time. The presence of these artisanal winemaking facilities at the bustling Kelly's complex at Ingalls & Swift has added even more bustle. Witness the limos filled with visiting wine lovers arriving on Fridays. The energetic pulse of winetasting right in the winemaking cellars themselves grows to a fever pitch each weekend when out-of-towners join inquiring locals to taste, listen and purchase some of the best wines made in our region.

From the avid wine-taster’s point of view, the clustering of small-scale wineries means easy access to flavor comparisons among the many varietals and styles. From the winemakers' perspective, the phrase “win/win” comes to mind. Events such as the annual “Dare to Pair” match-up of Cabrillo College Culinary student dishes with SCV wines allows access to a large-scale audience for whom a critical mass of tasting opportunities is highly welcome. Park once, taste lots.

“It's been very helpful to join forces, just the fact that we're within walking proximity makes it easier for people to come and taste,” admits Silver Mountain winemaker Jerold O'Brien, whose tasting room has occupied the site opposite the Vino Tabi facility for 3 1/2 years. “Folks want to go where there's the most variety. And another plus is that as winemakers we do in fact cooperate and promote together.”

The collective captures freestyle tasters who may in fact be en route to other destinations, such as shopping at New Leaf, or dining at Westend Tap, and who've been lured into a tasting by the view of wine barrels stacked to the ceiling behind the tasting counters. Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard finds that moving his action down off “the mountain” where the grapes are grown has allowed for more exchange ideas between vintners. “Wine is a very personal thing,” he observes, “and different people like different styles. So I don't see that we compete with each other.” Emery believes that all the Surf City Vintners “have benefitted by our mutual association and close proximity.”

Along with other members of the collective—including across-the-street neighbors such as Barry Jackson of Equinox and up-the-street ones like Denis Hoey of Odonata—Emery finds himself enjoying the ease of making, storing, pouring and engaging with the public all in one conveniently-located space.

“Being at the Ingalls Street facility has been great for the business,” Emery admits. “After 25 years of making wine at the end of a two-mile, one-lane road, with no tasting room, it is much easier to move trucks with grapes, bottles and everything else we need in and out of the current winery location. And our customers can find us so much easier.”

And of course that's the bottom line: location, location, location. Other attractions interweave the winemaking shops, such as El Salchichero, an artisanal charcuterie shop created by hands-on butcher Chris LaVeque. Wood-fired pizza perfumes the sleek interior of Bantam, another dining force just a block away. More than one consumer has been known to scarf down one of Frank's Snappy Dogs while savoring a lusty zinfandel made by Michael Sones.

“Having the tasting room in this vibrant part of town that is constantly reinventing itself has been a great thing,” Emery contends. “I've always loved being in this business because other wineries are not my competitors, but my peers and my friends. We all learn from each other.”