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David Bruce Winery - Santa Cruz mountains, Los Gat


Incredibly, in second place behind David Bruce was a $900.00 bottle of Batrad-Montrachet!

When we last featured a pair of David Bruce wines 2 years ago, we reported that he was “Riding the Crest of His Winemaking Career.” We are pleased to report that Dr. David Bruce is still riding that wave of success with each new vintage he releases. His is the only winery we have “three-peated” in our Club’s history. We do this without hesitation because of the enormous response his wines have always received by our Club members over the years. The only downside with featuring David Bruce Winery is that his wines are produced in very limited quantities and sell out very quickly!

David Bruce Winery is located in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains near Los Gatos, California, about a 90 minute drive south of San Francisco. It was founded in 1964 by Dermatologist David Bruce, who still operates the winery and serves also as the winemaker. The winery property sits 2,200 feet above sea level and covers 40 acres. Twenty-five acres are planted to vineyards—18 to Pinot Noir, 6 to Chardonnay and 1 to Syrah. In fact, it’s located only a stone’s throw away from Loma Prieta summit, which was the epicenter of the relatively recent huge 1989 “San Francisco” earthquake. The numerous fault lines that run through the area have created knife-like cliffs that are common sights. Winemakers in Santa Cruz county insist that these massive and powerful global shifts have brought special characteristics to the soil that make this wine-growing region unique. After the devastating earthquake which all but leveled the city of Santa Cruz, several area wineries banded together to produce a wine from which proceeds would go to earthquake relief and reconstruction. The wine was appropriately named “Epicenter Cuveé.”

In a business dominated by giants, David Bruce has cut a wide path. Not in terms of the quantity he produces, but by the quality of his wines and the unusual and adventurous styles he has developed. He is often recognized as the forefather of “blush” wines, having made a White Zinfandel as early as 1964. He has made both dry and sweet late harvest Zinfandels and late harvest Grenache. His interest in Grenache and Petite Syrah in the late sixties was well before the mainstream.

A gifted innovator, Dr. Bruce’s early use of malolactic fermentation and use of rotary tanks for fermentation have contributed to both the industry’s evolution and to the wine quality at David Bruce today. One of the more interesting developments at David Bruce Winery is the use of small-batch, foot crushing of his highest quality wines. David believes this achieves that velvety texture so esteemed by the Burgundy lover.

David Bruce Winery is perhaps best known for big Chardonnays and exquisite Pinot Noirs. Few in the wine industry dispute the fact that Santa Cruz Mountain Pinots rank among the finest in the country, and perhaps in the world. The prestigious Vintner’s Club of San Francisco, a group of highly respected and knowledgeable wine experts from within the industry, in 1993 assembled the best American Pinot Noirs produced in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Their taste-off resulted in David Bruce’s 1990 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir winning the title as the finest in the land. Then in a similar competition held in 1994, he again took top honors against the likes of notable Pinot Noir producers, Calera, Sanford, Au Bon Climat, and Hess.

Until the famous so-called “Judgment at Paris” in 1976 when a California wine won top honors against the best French wines, one did not mention California Chardonnays in the same sentence with the great White Burgundies. In 1993 the International Wine Exposition in Chicago held a re-enactment of the 1976 Paris tasting and included the same great French and American wineries. David Bruce’s 1991 Estate Chardonnay came out on top. Incredibly, in second place behind David Bruce was a $900.00 bottle of Batrad-Montrachet!

In addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, wines currently being produced are Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon all of which have earned suitcases full of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.
This month’s medal-winning wines are a 1992 Petite Syrah and 1992 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Two fine examples of superb David Bruce quality. The Petite Syrah is the legendary grape of the South of France. It prospers here in California and makes great BIG wines. “I thought it could make a fruitier, supple and elegant wine . . . and it can!” says David Bruce. “Now it’s not too much; it’s just enough!! This Petite Syrah you can take into polite company, no longer the bull in the china shop.” And speaking about his Cabernet he says, “I’m a firm believer that it is a rare single vineyard that produces the great Cabernet. I blend not just the grapes, but the vineyards too.”
A total of 30,000 cases are produced each year at the winery. Obsessed with quality, David has little desire to expand beyond the current size. In fact, he is considering cutting back on production to put even more emphasis on quality.



David Bruce’s interest in wine started while attending medical school at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California. There, he became friends with a winemaker who had a small parcel of land in the Santa Cruz mountains. His friend had dug a cave on his property that served as the winery and wine cellar. He introduced David to a variety of different wines and shared his knowledge of winemaking and passion for wine. It planted a fast growing seed within him. David quickly became obsessed with wines and the entire winemaking process.

‘It was like a vacuum that developed inside of me that just needed to get filled,” he recalls. Soon he was reading every book on wine that he could find and developing his own theories on winemaking. After graduating David attended medical school also at Stanford and received his M.D. in 1956. Immediately after he moved to Portland, Oregon to fulfill his dermatology residency requirement.

In 1960 David moved back to California and began to make wines of his own. ‘The deciding factor to begin producing wine,” he recalls, ‘was realizing that the conditions were perfect to make the world’s best wines right here in the Santa Cruz mountains.” At the same time, he started his Dermatology practice in nearby San Jose. His medical background is helpful in winemaking he says, ‘Because it gives me the ability to look at problems in the vineyard and decipher more effectively what actions to take.” That first year’s experimental batch was 100 gallons each of Zinfandel and Chardonnay. However, the quantity (and quality) continued to increase each year until his operation became a full-fledged bonded winery in 1964.

David simultaneously continued his medical practice and winemaking for 25 years, until retiring from Dermatology in 1985. He and his wife Jan, along with two of their sons, Dana and Dale, run most of the winery operations. Two other sons are pursuing other interests.

David Bruce’s winemaking career is definitely a labor of love. Some of his friends thought he was crazy to give up a successful medical career, to roll the dice in the wine business. ‘You go into the wine business for one of three reasons,” he says. ‘You’re either a money type, and these people generally do quite well because they know how to get the production done and they know how to sell and market it. Then there are a few people who just want to build themselves a memorial. Or, you do it for the love—and this group of people usually start in a garage-sized, boot strap operation and work up from there. And they may or may not make it because they generally aren’t very good business people.”

After 32 years in the wine business, David Bruce is making it. He has carved out a lasting impression in the industry, and with those who have been lucky enough to sample his wines. David has extended an invitation to all Gold Medal Wine Club members to call or write for more information about his wines. ‘I truly enjoy seeing my wines go home with people I know; people who appreciate the pleasures that great wines can bring.”

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