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Elke and I enjoy exploring the vast number of wineries in this area. Three weeks ago, we paid our first visit to Integrity Wines, in Watsonville, CA. There, we met Eric Silverman, who is one of the owners. On that day, Eric was our sommelier.

Both Elke and I are fans of big and powerful, yet smooth red wines. We like thick textures and fruity flavors that activate all of the tastebuds. Imagine my surprise when we walked out with a 2019 Riesling, a white wine made from grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Elke is from Germany. Her niece owns a small, boutique winery. Riesling reminds Elke of home.

With a wine flight, you get to taste a sampling of wines produced by the winery. All in all, it is often a bit more than a full glass of wine, with multiple flavors, allowing you to sip and savor over time. Elke usually packs crackers and cheese, some nuts, and a little chocolate. We love to eat when we drink. I’m actually pretty sensitive to wine alcohol, so a food buffer is important.

Good wine drinking is more akin to walking, not sprinting. The world slows down. The wine provides a little social lubricant. People around you open up and speak freely, sharing experiences, telling stories, and laughing. Elke and I both enjoy all the ways that wine tasting opens up our senses to the world around us.

Eric shared with us that he worked for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California, for over 20 years. “Wow!” I exclaimed, “I went to college at Chico. I was at that brewery on the first day that they opened. My uncle worked there for years. It played a part in my life.” Eric smiled. He opened a drawer, grabbed an item, and placed it in front of me with pride.

“It is a bottle opener that they don’t make anymore. It’s yours,” Eric said. I feel so honored by his generosity. That was when I noticed a display of Wine Passports. These are little books created by the Wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Each book provide a list of more than 40 wineries along with a map…

When you bring the passport to a winery in the book, they will give you a flight of wine and ink-stamp their page. It’s a great way to visit wineries that you’ve never been to before. It’s inspiration for future adventures.

Thus begins the journey of the Wine Passport…