Santa Lucia Highlands

About 40 miles south of Monterey, lies the wine region know as the Santa Lucia Highlands, an area as yet, somewhat undiscovered by the wine tourists. But, thankfully, winemakers know the region and are making  beautiful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as some Syrah. The area provides the weather conditions suitable for both the Bugundian varietals as well as those from the Rhone region, reflecting the styles of the cooler northern Rhone.

Most of the vineyards of the Highlands are planted on the elevated terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range overlooking the Salinas Valley. These vineyards take advantage of the morning sunshine while still experiencing the cooling fog and ocean breezes coming off nearby Monterey Bay and are perfect for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The slightly warmer, more wind-protected canyons and slopes provide an area more suited for Syrah to flourish.

The area is small with about 46 vineyard properties comprising approximately 5,900 acres under cultivation. The wineries are family owned  and most have a long history in agriculture in the area. Their goals are passion driven with the desire to make small amounts of great wine.  Indeed case production, for the most part, is low, and I found the quality of the wine to be quite high. These producers have a strong sense of the land and are innovators in all areas of production. New clones, trellising systems and farming techniques are constantly being explored, and many are employing sustainable, organic and biodynamic regimens in their vineyards.

This week I attended a tasting event sponsored by The Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands. This event not only provided me with the opportunity to taste wines from a region I was unfamiliar with, but I also was able to meet and talk with many of the owners and winemakers themselves. This is where their passion and knowledge of wine making shines, and their enthusiasm is tangible. Dan Morgan Lee of Morgan  excitedly enlightened me about the dozens of clones he is experimenting with and how he farms organically to protect the land.  Joe and Penny Alarid of Tondre lovingly described their family and the multiple generations participating in “the dream”. Chris Weidemann the self-proclaimed “pilgrim” of Pelerin Wines, spoke soulfully of his journey into winemaking. And let’s not forget Gregory Peebles, the wholesale manager representing La Rochelle Winery that day. He speaks about wine with such enthusiasm and passion, that one is compelled to buy whatever he’s sellin’.

And then there is the wine. I was not disappointed on this day. For the most part I was quite impressed with the range of styles represented by the Pinot’s and the quality of all the wines I tried. I’ll list here a few of my favorites, and encourage you to get to your favorite wine store and seek out some of these gems from the Santa Lucia Highlands.

  • August West – Pinot Noir, “Rosella’s Vineyard” – 09 – $42 (315 cases)
  • Boekenoogen – Pinot Noir, “Estate” – 07 – $40
  • Hahn SLH Estate – Chardonnay, “Estate” – 07 – $25
  • Lucienne – Pinot Noir “Lone Oak” – 07 – $50
  • Morgan – Chardonnay “Double L Vineyard” – 09 – $36
  • Pelerin – Pinot Noir, SLH – 08 – $36
  • Pisoni – Lucy Rose of Pinot Noir, SLH – ’10 – $18.00
  • Novy – Syrah, “Garys’ Vineyard – 08 – $33
  • Tondre – Pinot Noir, “Tondre Grapefield” – 08 – $40 (500 cases)
  • Tudor – Pinot Noir, SLH – 06 – $40

I’ll Drink to That!

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