wine Features
from the Middle of California
Pinots Pinots on
Some Individual Vineyards

Recommended Wines

By Jim Clarke
June 2008

The rise of Pinot Noir has brought attention to some parts of California were once off the beaten wine drinking path. Napa Valley, the state’s best-known appellation, is, with a few exceptions (especially Carneros), rather too warm for the grape. But nowadays the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast are both becoming common words on the lips of Pinot fans, and the “Sideways effect” seems to have had legs for the Santa Barbara region (where the movie was set) as well.

There are a few spots in between that haven’t reached the same level of fashionability, but that do great things for the Pinot grape, and the Santa Lucia Highlands ranks high among them. A strip of hills nestled next to the Salinas Valley south of Monterey, the vineyards, planted on well-drained alluvial fans, start just 40 feet off the valley floor, but some vines grow at elevations up to 1300 feet. These hillside, southeast-facing vineyards grab the morning sun, while afternoon breezes cool things off so the grapes don’t ripen too fast, guaranteeing a long growing season so flavors and sugars can ripen together.

If the region is a bit off the radar, the main reason may be that it’s not as touristed as other places. While there are 2,300 acres of vineyards, there are only a handful of wineries; many of the Highlands most famous wines are made at facilities elsewhere (It’s about where the grapes are grown, not where they’re vinified.). So there’s not as much to visit, compared to some of those well-trodden areas I mentioned earlier. This is changing, as many of the vineyard owners are beginning to vinify some of their grapes, while still selling grapes to outside wineries.

Some individual vineyards
Another reason that the appellation may be less familiar is that several individual vineyards have names that stand out in lieu of the region as a whole. Perhaps the vineyard name that comes up the most often on high-quality bottles of Pinot is Pisoni Vineyard. Gary Pisoni planted his eponymous vineyard in 1982; it’s one of the highest vineyards in the region, with some plantings at 1300 feet. The Pisoni family does make some of its own wines, but they also sell grapes to a large number of top-end producers.

Gary also co-owns Garys’ Vineyard with Gary Franscioni. Gary Franscioni and his wife Rosella in turn own Rosella’s Vineyard, which was planted in1996. The Franscioni’s were winegrowers, but not winemakers, until 2001, when they began making wine under the name Roar, in collaboration with their longtime customers, the Siduris. Other wineries making wine from these vineyards include Tantara, Morgan, August West, Capiaux, and Copain.

Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow Vineyard lies in the north of the Highlands, and is divided into two parts; Talbott uses most of the grapes themselves, but a few plots are set aside for other wineries including Arcadian and Testarossa.

Some Recommended Wines
(all Pinot Noir; prices are retail, and approximate)
A Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir can often be characterized by its concentration and firmness; instead of the soft, rich, almost sweet character sometimes found in North Coast pinots, these are more focused and muscular. Fruit aromas tend to waffle (or better, blend) red and darker notes, and are often touched by a spice or bacony quality and a touch of earth.

Santa Lucia Highlands:
Paraiso 2006 ($18)
Roar 2006 ($40)
Siduri 2006 ($32)
Morgan “12 Clones” ($25)
Arcadian 2005 ($28)

Vineyard Designate:
Pisoni Vineyard:
Roar 2005 ($90)
Siduri 2006 ($50)
Tantara 2005 ($60)

Garys’ Vineyard:
Roar 2005 ($90)
Testarossa 2005 ($50)
Tantara 2005 ($40)

Rosella’s Vineyard:
Siduri 2006 ($45)
August West 2006 ($45)

Sleepy Hollow Vineyard:
Arcadian 2002 ($45)
Talbott ‘Case-Sleepy Hollow’ (The “Case” in the name is for the Talbott family’s eldest daughter, Sarah Case Talbott) ($48)
Testarossa ($60)


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