Santa Lucia Highlands
Salinas Valley, California is a fertile bed of agricultural growth an hour
south of the city of Monterey. Referred to as the “salad bowl of the world”
this is a long and expansive landscape of bright green fields. Terraced along
the western mountain range is the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) where
vineyards abound at 1,200 feet elevation. The cooler grape varietals of
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir dominate in rocky schist soils. Morning fog and
brisk maritime temperatures invade the hillside as winds funnel south from
Monterey Bay through this narrow swath of land in the early afternoon,
generating cool gusts of 20-30 mph. As the fog burns off, the sun appears in
the early afternoon. These moderating temperatures allow for an extended
growing season and slower ripening of the fruit. This medium allows grapes
to achieve their optimal ripeness, without being overripe, while retaining
freshness and concentration.
The Santa Lucia Highlands stretches 12 miles in length with 6,100 acres of
vines encompassing 46 vineyard properties. Unlike the populated
winegrowing areas of Northern California this region seems unexplored with
only a token number of formal wineries. The Spanish missionaries were
among the first to settle in this territory in the late 1700’s. Some of the first
pioneers of the modern age to establish residence in SLH were: Rich and
Claudia Smith at Paraiso, Nicky Hahn at Hahn Estate, the McFarland family
at Sleepy Hollow and Phil Johnson at La Estancia. Santa Lucia Highlands
was officially granted its own AVA in 1992.
Chardonnay from higher elevations in SLH can showcase purity of flavors
and freshness because the temperatures are cooler and soils are lean.
Warmer sites that are protected from the wind reveal intense, riper, and
concentrated flavors. These wines can be silky and generous with attractive
baking spices that lead to a creamy finish.