Califonia Bountiful

Heart O' the Mountain: From Hitchcock's hideaway to thriving winery

Feb./Mar. 2012 California Bountiful magazine

The Brassfields—Brandon, right, and parents Judy and Bob—often invite Alfred Hitchcock's granddaughter Tere Carrubba, left, to Heart O' the Mountain.

California pioneer Pierre Cornwall discovered it, Alfred Hitchcock escaped to it and Bob Brassfield and his family first made it their home and then eventually built an award-winning winery on it.

If you haven't yet heard of Heart O' the Mountain, you're not alone. Located just outside the city limits of Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz County, Heart O' the Mountain is the name of a property that has a long history of providing refuge to its inhabitants. Located at an elevation of 1,100 feet on the southern slope of Mt. Roberta in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the private estate is not exactly visitor-friendly, which may be one of the reasons that many of Scotts Valley's own residents have never heard of it.

That all has begun to change in recent years as Bob Brassfield, 68, and his son Brandon, 38, have found success with their wines. In addition to the acclaim that their pinot noirs have received by the wine business, the Brassfields have also opened the doors of their estate winery to the public on six days of the year.

Sons Alexander, left, and Gabriel lend a helping hand.

Combine the glowing reviews with the oohs and aahs from visitors experiencing the view from the outdoor tasting room for the first time, and the Brassfields have slowly begun to put Heart O' the Mountain on the proverbial must-see map.

"We were reluctant to open up the property at first," said Bob Brassfield, born in Porterville to parents who had been farmers in Oklahoma before heading west. "We turned down quite a few offers, including from people who wanted to use it to make movies or hold weddings here. But after we decided to get into the wine business, we knew we were going to become more public."

Harvest proves to be a family affair as Brandon Brassfield and wife Angela separate the grapes before sending the fruit down a chute to the destemmer.

In 1881, Cornwall and his wife Sada discovered the property when hiking in from the nearby mountain community of Glenwood.

"Cornwall used this as his summer home," Brassfield said. "He lived in San Francisco. He was the first person to produce and sell electricity commercially in San Francisco and was also a member of the first state Legislature in California. He and his son Bruce grew cabernet sauvignon grapes under the Santa Sada label."

The British-born Hitchcock bought the property in 1940. That same year, he directed his first U.S. film, "Rebecca." Starring Joan Fontaine, "Rebecca" was the only one of Hitchcock's more than 50 feature films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

"Joan Fontaine's mother lived in Saratoga and suggested to Alfred and his wife Alma to look at the Santa Cruz Mountains for a summer home. He used it as that until 1974," Brassfield explained. "Hitchcock grew white riesling grapes on the property. As far as we know, he didn't make wine to sell, but he did sell his grapes to Cresta Blanca (Winery)."

In 1978, Brassfield and his wife Judy purchased the 154-acre property on which they raised their family. After retiring from a career in the health food and nutrition business in 2000, he soon realized he needed to find something to occupy his free time. Knowing that both Cornwall and Hitchcock had grown grapes on the property, Brassfield approached his son in 2002 with the idea of growing the fruit for the purpose of selling it to wineries. After speaking with consultants and other winemakers in the area and taking viticulture classes at the University of California, Davis, they settled on growing pinot noir.

Their plan to sell their grapes fell by the wayside when the father-son duo decided to try their hand at making a small batch of wine themselves. Surprised by how much they liked it, they abandoned the idea of being solely growers. Their first commercial release was in 2005.

"Our vineyard is a small vineyard," Brandon Brassfield said, adding that annual production is about 600 cases. "It's all small-batch fermentation. Our winery is a gravity-flow winery. No pumps, no filters. Our wine is unfiltered pinot noir, all hands-on, gentle processing. We harvest each (pinot noir) clone separately, and it is processed and fermented and barrel-aged separately for about 18 months. Our soil is sandstone soil and loamy clay. Sandstone soil gives you good drainage, which is good for growing grapes."

Accessible only by shuttle on a narrow access road that passes through a number of gates, the winery has become a favorite destination of wine lovers who participate in the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association Passport Days, held annually on the third Saturday of January, April, July and November. Heart O' the Mountain is also open to the public annually on the first weekend of June for the SCMWA Vintners' Festival, while the winery's wine club members are invited to special events at the property, including a tour of the gardens outside the main house.

A former horse barn, the winery stands about 600 yards from the house. An album featuring photos of Hitchcock with celebrity friends and notables that include Ingrid Bergman, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly relaxing on the property is available to peruse at the tasting room.

Hitchcock still has family in the area. He was the maternal grandfather to Tere Carrubba, a resident of nearby Aptos. Carrubba and other family members have become good friends with the Brassfields. A wine club member, Carrubba said she believes her grandfather, who had an extensive wine cellar, would be pleased with how the Brassfields have taken care of the property.

"Heart O' the Mountain was really my grandfather's refuge. The Brassfields basically left the house the way it was, but modernized it," said Carrubba, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and visited Heart O' the Mountain in the summer as a child. "My grandparents would have liked the winery and probably thought it would be a great thing to do. We're happy to be associated with the Brassfields."

Worth noting

In addition to the winery, Bob Brassfield is also in the cattle business.

In 1993, he and wife Judy bought Thompson Valley Ranch, a 430-acre Black Angus cattle ranch north of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada. They have roughly 100 cows and four bulls. Their grass-fed beef is sold mostly at seasonal farmers markets in the Lake Tahoe area under the Thompson Valley Ranch name.

Bob's brother Jerry Brassfield has his own vineyard and winery. Called Brassfield Estate Winery, it is located in Lake County and makes sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, zinfandel and pinot noir.

Bob's youngest son Dustin Brassfield, 35, has his own vineyard and label, High Valley Vineyards, also located in Lake County. Bob and son Brandon often pour High Valley Vineyards sauvignon blanc to start private tastings at Heart O' the Mountain.

Kirsten Fairchilds

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