I met Cole Thomas of Madson Wines at a 2019 tasting event highlighting "the new wave of Santa Cruz winemakers." Coincidentally, I was in town that weekend reporting on a story for SF Chronicle about four other young winemakers in the Santa Cruz region. I've been following Madson ever since, and I strongly believe that Thomas and his business partner, Ken Swegles, who also owns and runs a viticulture consulting firm, are among the next names to look to in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Madson produces terroir-driven Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, three varieties that thrive in the cool, foggy climate here. The majority of vineyards in the region are small, a few acres at most, planted in small clearings vying with the rigid, mountainous landscape, redwoods, and forest.

Madson prioritizes leasing vineyards and overseeing its own farming instead of purchasing fruit. All of the vineyards they work with have been converted to organics, with an additional emphasis on regenerative farming. And to top it off, Swegles and his partner, Abbey Crystal, live on and farm Ascona Vineyard high up at 2,450 feet elevation. In the cellar, it’s natural and spontaneous fermentation, neutral wood, minimal racking, and just a small sulfur addition at bottling.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are considered an ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, and most of the AVA is planted to that. But Thomas says he is always looking for Chardonnay vineyards, and for our sake, I hope he finds them because these are the wines that Max and I are really excited about.

The Chardonnays featured here represent the two sides of the region (ocean vs. mountains). Toyon Vineyard is on a steep south-facing slope in the Soquel Hills; planted on sandstone soils just 400 feet above Monterey Bay, the vines nearly have a front-row seat to the Pacific’s coastal winds, morning fog, and cloud cover. And Les Enfants du Soleil comes mostly from 1960s-planted, own-rooted vines near Boulder Creek where the soil is decomposed schist. Both wines gracefully express cool-climate Chardonnay—fresh, vibrant, mineral—but Toyon has a prominent salinity component while Les Enfants du Soleil carries slightly more depth and concentration.

Both Thomas and Swegles have built their careers here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After earning a degree in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz and working a number of jobs in vegetable farming and landscaping, Thomas discovered winemaking while working for local legend, Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, where he also met and worked with Swegles. Together, they launched Madson Wines in 2018.

Note: Last week, SF Chronicle Wine Critic, Esther Mobley, wrote a glowing review of Madson Wines for her "Wine of the Week" column

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