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 and 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.
Pinot Noir from higher elevations such as SLH can showcase firm tannins because the temperatures are cooler, and soils are lean. Warmer sites that are protected from the wind reveal more intense, riper, and concentrated flavors. These wines can be silky and generous with attractive wild berry spices leading to a creamy finish.