Mike Kohne at Crave Wine Company. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Mike Kohne at Crave Wine Company. Photo by Robert Eliason.

In the six months since their grand opening, owners Mike Kohne and Maura Cooper have worked to redefine San Benito County’s wine reputation with their Crave Wine Bar & Shop on San Benito Street in Hollister. With their wine club selections, particularly the “20” Club, which focuses on locally sourced wines, and their tasting events with winemakers who are on the cutting edge of the industry, they have helped bring new attention to the county’s heritage vineyards and fine wineries.      

“We love to spread the gospel on San Benito County wines,” Kohne said. “We want to celebrate the quality of grapes grown in this region and get them into people’s glasses so they can taste it themselves. We are just starting, and I think there is so much more we can do.” 

The worldwide recognition of Calera Wine Company and Eden Rift, according to Kohne, has helped to elevate the reputation of the county’s wines.

“When two of the five important wineries in our county—40%—are recognized as being in the top 100 in the world,” he said, “I think that is really validating for the region. The other wineries do not necessarily partake in scoring to the same degree as those two, so who knows how they would have rated?”

Crave’s quarterly “20” Club, a play on “What’s your 20?,” trucker’s slang for a location, is a great example of the wine company’s spotlighting local production with the intent of the club is to focus on wines sourced within 20 miles of Crave’s location in Hollister. The most recent release has four wines:

  • 2021 Precedent Chenin Blanc 
  • 2021 Blade and Talon Falanghina
  • 2021 Benitoite Red Table Wine
  • 2017 Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Chenin blanc is sourced from nearby Santa Cruz, but the grapes for the three other wines all come from local vineyards and really reflect the diversity of what is grown in the county. 

The Benitoite, reviewed in a recent Eat, Drink, Savor article on winemaker Ryan Stirm, is a superb blend of the grapes that are at the historical center of the local wine industry: cabernet pfeffer, zinfandel and negrette. 

The falanghina, produced by cutting-edge winemaker Nat Wong, is an unusual varietal that can be traced back to Ancient Rome and is grown at Siletto Vineyards in Tres Pinos. 

And the pinot noir is both an exemplar of the heights of elegant winemaking reached by Calera’s Mike Waller and an amazing bargain that Kohne pulled out of his hat—Calera sells this bottle for $120 and membership in the wine club is only $114.99 quarterly for three to four bottles of wine. (The Benitoite, along with a 2021 Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc, is featured in the recent Crave Club release. The club offers two bottles of wine every two months for $44.95.) 

Another way Crave serves the wine-savoring community is through its twice-monthly tasting events where winemakers or sommeliers show off their current favorites. Recent participants include winemakers Ryan Stirm, Nat Wong, and Nichole Walsh, with Certified Sommelier Erin Herendeen Hill presenting the wines of Ian Brand

Hill will be back on July 13 at 6:30 p.m. to showcase Grand Cru Selections from Santa Barbara’s Railsback Freres, owned by brothers Eric and Lyle Railsback and Sebastopol’s Monte Rio Cellars, owned by Patrick Cappiello. 

All three winemakers have impressive credentials: Lyle was the portfolio manager for wine importer Kermit Lynch, Eric owns Verve Wine Shops in New York and San Francisco, and Cappiello was the wine director for Tribeca Grill and has won multiple sommelier of the year awards.
Tastings of six wines, some reviewed below, will be offered at the event:

  • Railsback 2021 Vermentinu, Brick Barn Vineyards
  • Railsback 2021 Rose, La Rocacasses
  • Railsback 2020 Syrah, Cuvee Chloe
  • Monte Rio 2022 Pinot Grigio
  • Monte Rio 2022 Zinfandel
  • Monte Rio 2022 Petite Sirah

Tickets are $30, which includes the tasting and a charcuterie board, and can be ordered on Crave’s website.

“The feedback has been great,” said Kohne, “and people love the opportunity to try things that are produced in the area. But we’re still trying to learn who our customers are as we expose them to new and different wines.”

While he is pleased with the success of Crave so far, Kohne is also excited by the re-igniting of the local beer and wine scene.

“You have Pour Decisions, Mad Pursuit, and us,” he said. “And there’s The Garden Shoppe n’ Bar where you can relax and hang out. All these places are important to the ecosystem, and we’re looking forward to more coming in too because that helps to bring the community downtown.”

I had a chance to taste the two wine club offerings with Kohne and three wines from the Grand Cru event as well. I am looking forward to trying the other three at the event.

The Wines of Crave Wine Company

2021 Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc (12.9%) – “This is very typical of sauvignon blancs,” Kohne said. “It is going to speak to a large array of palates.” The aroma, oddly, reminded me of my mom’s turkey stuffing, with a bit of sweet baked fruit, allspice, and warm cornbread. It is a very dry wine, but it projects a peach sweetness, limestone and lime acidity. A nicely done and slightly eccentric wine, it is certainly refreshing and relaxing.

2021 Precedent Chenin Blanc (12.0%) – “It is hard to find a good Chenin blanc,” Kohne said.  But this one hits all the marks.” Pleasantly scented with very nice texture, this wine has hints of ripe melon and a swirl of sour apple acidity right at the end. This is regularly featured on the Crave menu and is great for sipping or as a food wine.

2021 Blade and Talon Falanghina (13.5%) – “We try to find local gems,” Kohne said. And finding local whites can be a challenge because there are so many great reds coming out of the area.” It has a very interesting aroma that you will come back to again and again trying to place it – maybe some ripe apple, some pear, a hint of banana? There is a pleasing floral taste with an undertone of minerality, all coming through with a soft and engaging texture. It is very light with just enough acidity to make it a great cheese and cured meat wine. Recommended.

2021 Railsback Vermentinu, Brick Barn Vineyards (13.0%) – A crisp wine with a leaner style than the Blade and Talon Falanghina. There is more acidity coupled with a lighter body and a whisper of apricot and white peach that makes this absolutely charming.  

2022 Monte Rio Petite Sirah (13%) –  A knockout with an amazing explosive aroma, similar to the Benitoite’s cab pfeffer/negrette profile and with a big taste, fruit-forward and just like eating a slightly overripe black raspberry. There are undertones of herbs and dry grass that thread their way through to the finish, and all of the flavor notes just bounce around happily on the palate.  I loved this wine and I highly recommend it. It is very much worth showing up to the winemaker event to try.

2017 Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir (14.8%) – An absolute masterpiece and one of the finest wines I have had a chance to taste in the course of doing this series. “This is everything we love about Calera,” Kohne said. “You can’t find a finer pinot in all of California. They are such an icon in the county, and we are so lucky to have them here.” There is a delicate aroma of baking spice and sandalwood and an elegant mouthfeel that gently introduces itself and just as gently fades away. There are raspberries, some sweetness, a little tobacco, and finely placed tannins. All of the elements in this wine are as complex and finely balanced as a precisely crafted Swiss watch. Amazing. A must try, and worth the price for a very special occasion.

Recommendations for future Eat, Drink, Savor articles can be emailed to roberteliason@benitolink.com.

BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.