Al DeRose at the DeRose tasting room in San Martin. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Al DeRose at the DeRose tasting room in San Martin. Photo by Robert Eliason.

If you shop at Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista, you have probably noticed the photo mural above the wine displays depicting the DeRose family posed amongst the wine barrels in the cellar of DeRose Winery. The DeRose’s connection to San Juan runs deep: their vineyard in the Cienega Valley still has an acre of negrette vines planted in 1855 by pioneer winemaker Theophile Vaché, who sold his wine from a small adobe on Third Street. 

While Vaché’s wine depot is long gone, DeRose Winery is now showcasing many of the wines that master winemaker Al DeRose produces both in Cienega Valley and in Chile at a new tasting room in San Martin.

“I was looking for a way to kind of increase our direct sales,” said DeRose. “I  used to do a lot more through distributors, but I really want to have direct sales instead, and the tasting rooms and our wine club allows us to do that.”

The tasting room is located in the Little Uvas Vineyard “Garage,” a large warehouse with room for both wineries as well as the vineyard’s “fancy car” collection, everything from perfectly restored Volkswagen Beetles to pristine Porsches. 

DeRose has been making the wine for LIttle Uvas for the last three years and was initially asked if he knew of anyone looking for space for a tasting room. He suggested a few people, and when that did not work out, he decided to take the chance himself—with help from the family. 

“My sister Marietta and my brother-in-law Don are more or less retired, and they both loved the idea,” he said. “And so I said, ‘Well, why don’t we do it together?’ So it is just the three of us, and here we are.” 

Located in San Martin, a few blocks from the Matsen Avenue exit off Highway 101, the new tasting room will be bringing DeRose wines much closer to the South Bay Area and sees considerably more traffic than the Cienega Valley winery.

“If you stand here and watch the cars,” he said, “we probably get 10,000 a day going by. In Hollister, we might get 20 people coming in on a Friday. Here, we’re in the middle of this wine trail, and we can get 100 people stopping by.”

The new tasting room differs in a few ways from the original one. In Hollister, DeRose changes the flights every four to six weeks, while in San Martin, the flights will be changing weekly. The wines available in San Martin are more tightly curated while the selection of wines at the Hollister location is more extensive, including both the full range of wines that DeRose makes from his vineyards in Hollister and Chile, along with a wide variety of wines imported from around the world. 

DeRose currently produces 42 domestic wines for his own winery and for clients, along with 27 Chilean wines, each one taking different approaches and techniques.

“I try to make sure that I am well-versed in making different styles,” he said. “It’s like a chef that only cooks for French cuisine or somebody who can do French, Spanish, Italian. There is pretty much nothing that anyone can bring me that I have not made before.” 

The new tasting room’s location in Santa Clara County is tempting DeRose to try his hand at working with the vineyards from that region, but his heart remains in Hollister.

“It’s kind of cool to see the huge explosion of small winemakers buying fruit from Cienega Valley, and San Benito County,” he said. “It’s actually the first time since I’ve been here that I’m getting calls and I’m having to tell people, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any fruit to sell you.’ It’s become like a little cult following here in San Benito County.”

The Wines of DeRose Winery

2018 Viognier – Bottled two years before it was released, De Rose says he prefers to serve this wine at cellar temperature to bring out the aroma and viscosity. “I like to age my whites a little bit longer,” he said. “This one is kind of interesting: sometimes you think it is going downhill, then in six months it comes back to life and peaks.” The light aroma leads to balanced notes of stone fruit, especially peaches and nectarines, and a smooth finish with just a little goodbye nod of acidity. DeRose recommends serving this wine with scallops.

2018 Pinot Noir – “We don’t grow pinot noir, and people constantly were asking why we don’t have it,” DeRose said. “We got so many requests that I occasionally buy some from Eden Rift and make just a little bit for the tasting room and wine club.” A combination of Dijon and Calera clones, the fruit is destemmed and made into a medium-body wine that has a cherry and cranberry aroma that is so full you can almost taste it. There is a little acid around the edges that helps round things out, making it a very attractive wine that is perfectly drinkable now.

2019 Alchemy Syrah – This is one of the labels DeRose produces in Chile. All of the Alchemy wines are hand-destemmed. “We literally pluck all the grapes off the clusters,” DeRose said. “It is labor intensive, but we are able to get the ultimate selection. If there is a green berry or a piece of stem, it is gone. It makes the wines soft, silky and supple.” There is a deep blueberry aroma and notes of toasted caramel, pepper and black fruit. It is an effortless wine to drink—you might discover the bottle empty before you know it!

2021 Alchemy White Angel – DeRose uses sauvignon blanc grapes from Chile’s Casablanca Valley, which he says is similar in climate to Monterey. “It gets ice cold at night,” he said, “but they get a little kiss of heat and sunshine two or three hours a day. That cuts down on the grassiness of the sauvignon blanc.”  The wine is unfiltered and fermented in concrete. “Usually, sauvignon blanc is fermented in stainless steel because a barrel takes away from the flavor,” he said. “With concrete, there is no flavor from the barrel, but it still lets in oxygen, which brings out the aroma and helps the texture a bit.” There is a delightful hint of pineapple in the aroma and the flavor that makes this very approachable. DeRose recommends oysters with this wine, I would suggest some herbed goats milk cheese.

2020 Dry-Farmed Old Vine Zinfandel – “These grapes were planted in 1905,” De Rose said. “It is 12 acres, and, for me, it is what grows the best out there. Zinfandel likes warm days, and cold nights. So we get the ripeness, but it’s not overripe, and the acidity is still good.” The wine comes on with big fruit—blackberries and raspberries—an undercurrent of faint tannins, a dash of pepper, and a bit of vanilla and chocolate. The finish is quick and smooth, with an oaky downturn at the end that fades quickly. This vintage is being poured for the first time at the tasting room, and it is my pick of what we tried that day. 

De Rose San Martin Tasting Room (255 Fitzgerald Avenue, San Martin)

Phone: 669-294-4146

Fridays 2 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Saturdays & Sundays 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

DeRose Winery Tasting Room (970 Cienega Road, Hollister)

Phone: 831-636-9143

Monday-Friday, 11 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 11 p.m. – 4 p.m.

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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.