Leal Vineyards staff members Dayana Campa and Karisa Sarracino pause for a photo in the Hollister vineyard’s tasting room. Photo: John McKay

I love our local wineries but have to admit I haven’t been to them all. In an attempt to spice things up and seek something new, I wanted to take a trip to Leal Vineyards near Hollister. 

I decided I wanted to slow it down, and I’m still not sure if I want to challenge the new “turbo roundabout,” so jumped off onto Shore Road and stayed on it until I was at Maranatha Drive leading to Leal Vineyards. Wow, only two turns and I’m there. 

But along the way I got to enjoy the wonderful farmlands, hills, and the view of a rugged peak to the southeast whose name eludes me. Maybe you know?

As I turned onto Maranatha Road, I really didn’t know what to expect. I crested a hill and an incredible sight of vineyards opened up on both sides of me with event space along a large pond and beautiful Victorian style mansions cresting the hills on either side of the vineyard. 

I cruised to the upper olive grove and a calm settled in as I imagined warm afternoons with friends, wine and food under the canopy of the rows of olive trees. There are large elaborate fireplaces for those times it’s not so warm. There is a huge steel sculpture perched on a slight hill next to the upper parking lot that simply says “LOVE”—standing out against the blue sky with the green vineyard filling in the rest of the picture.

I passed by bocce ball courts on my way to the “experience room,” as owner/winemaker Frank Leal calls the “tasting room.”

I looked around and saw a noticeable level of elegance and quality in everything. It is comfortable yet very classy and you can tell someone worked very hard to make it feel that way.

There is a lot of passion at Leal Vineyards, a lot of emotion. In my interview with the owner and winemaker, Frank, I felt this high level of emotion and energy—a romantic passion. The way he spoke of his passion for wines and building premium experiences for his customers, you could tell part of his business plan was to feel good about what he’s doing while paying the bills. He truly enjoys his work.

Frank grew up in a Portuguese family with a strong work ethic. By the time he was 23 he had worked in various wineries in Napa and realized what he wanted to do the rest of his life—make the best wine he could. Everything fell into place afterwards to support that early and ongoing passion.

At 23 he had a house in Morgan Hill where he planted 200 grape vines. The passion was visible in the rows of vines. 

But he wanted to create a vineyard and winery so he searched for property that was similar to Napa. His research showed that two areas had lands that were quite similar to the magic terroir of Napa—Hollister and Soledad. 

In 1998, he found a 40-acre property in Hollister and started planting the vines himself the following year. Over time, he would acquire an adjacent 10 acres which allowed him to expand the business to include large events. Twenty acres were home to the vines he carefully tended and the rest turned into winery facilities and events space. 

Views of the vineyard, event center and their environs welcome visitors to Leal Vineyards near Hollister. Photo: John McKay

Working in Napa in the early years helped create a vision and an understanding of what it would take to fulfill that vision. It also introduced him to the different grape varietals and he developed an appreciation for Bordeaux region wines. 

The Bordeaux varietals he specializes in are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot. The exception to his Bordeaux region focus are his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, originally of the Burgundy region of France, which he sources from others in the Santa Lucia Highlands and San Benito County—all fairly local.

His wines quickly got the attention of people who knew wines. His product appeared on the wine list of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose in his first release in 2001. He just makes good wine with several varietals/blends and at different price points.

Frank speaks in terms of romance when he talks about his winery. Wine has this romantic appeal which is apparent everywhere in popular culture. Wine plays a huge role in the portrayal of elegance, relaxation and romance.

There must be something to this feel of romance—his wedding business is thriving with four venues on sites capable of hosting 500 people. He has beautiful Victorian homes on the hills for the wedding party to stay in.  

I wonder how many closed the deal with a partner for a lifetime of romance right at the winery. Wines to weddings take on a special meaning here.

The experience room (tasting room) has outdoor seating complete with chandeliers, plus heaters and misting hoses that make it a comfortable place any time of year. Frank has paid special attention to his customers’ needs and is continually refining the facility for maximum comfort. 

The quality of the wine and the experience at the winery quickly became obvious so I asked him, what do you want people to know about the winery that might not be readily apparent?

He said he wants his customers to feel a great cool vibe where the service is first class, it’s comfortable, the wines are approachable and easy to drink right now (but could age well), there is great value, and it just radiates romance. 

Next time I’ll bring my wife and test that romance thing for myself. A glass of wine in front of me and someone special beside me sounds pretty good right now, even romantic.

Leal Vineyards can be found at 300 Maranatha Drive, Hollister. Call 831.636.1023 for tasting room reservations and days and hours of operation.

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