We’d like to tell you about one of our favorite appellations, Santa Lucia Highlands. If the name “Santa Lucia Highlands” doesn’t automatically ring a bell, chances are the vineyards will. This AVA includes Doctor’s Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard, Lone Oak Vineyard, Mer Soleil Vineyard, Paraiso Vineyard, Peterson Vineyard, Pisoni Vineyard, Rosella’s Vineyard, Sierra Mar Vineyard, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Smith & Hook Vineyard, Soberanes Vineyard and Tondré Grapefield Vineyard. So, you may already be familiar with excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines made from grapes grown here.
The Santa Lucia Highlands American Viticultural Area (AVA) is located in Monterey County on the eastern side of the coastal Santa Lucia Range of mountains. About 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is slightly under 18 miles long and has approximately 6,000 acres of grapevines. There are 50 vineyard properties currently, primarily planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, at elevations ranging from 300 to 1,400 feet. The next most common varietals in the region are Riesling, Syrah, Pinot Gris and Viognier.
This is a cool growing region due to its proximity to Monterey Bay and the earliest Vinifera plantings were at Mission Soledad in the 1790s by Spanish missionaries. The first commercial plantings for the area were completed in the 1970s by local pioneers such as Nicky Hahn (Smith & Hook), Rick Smith (Paraiso), the McFarlands (Sleepy Hollow) and Phil Johnson (La Estancia). Since then, local winegrowers continue to test new clones, trellising systems and farming regimens in the pursuit of excellent wines. Conscientious viticultural standards, whether organic, biodynamic, or sustainable, have long been the norm here.
Santa Lucia Highlands Annual Gala
Representing the appellation, the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans is an association of the AVA’s vineyards and vintners that grow grapes here or use this unique region’s fruit to craft their wines. Each year, they join forces to present the annual Santa Lucia Highlands Gala, a festival of premium wines from the area and delicious food pairings from local restaurants, caterers and food purveyors. This year’s Gala was held a few weeks ago featuring over 40 wineries at the dramatic Mer Soleil Winery, a venue not normally open to the public. For many of the artisan vintners participating, in fact, this was their one public tasting of the year.
We didn’t even try to taste all 140+ wines being poured that day. We still had a delightful time and below are the wines we were particularly impressed by. We suggest you seek these out at restaurants, wine stores, and/or from the wineries themselves.
Bernardus Winery – 2015 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay, 2015 Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay, 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Rosé (Pinot Noir) and 2014 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir
Boekenoogen Vineyards & Winery – 2014 SLH Estate Chardonnay
Hahn Family Wines – Hahn 2015 SLH Chardonnay, Lucienne 2015 Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay, Lucienne 2015 Smith Vineyard Chardonnay, Lucienne 2015 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir
Joyce Vineyards – 2016 Tondré Grapefield Chardonnay and 2016 Turbidity Current Rose (Grenache, Gamay Noir)
J. McFarland Wines – 2015 Tribute Blanc de Blanc, 2013 Tribute Pinot Noir
Morgan Winery – 2015 Highland Chardonnay, 2015 Twelve Clones Pinot Noir
Paraiso Vineyards – 2016 Riesling
Pisoni Vineyards – 2015 Lucia Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir
Tudor Wines – 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
Wrath Wines – 2014 KW Ranch Pinot Noir, 2014 Tondré Grapefield Pinot Noir
In addition to the excellent wine and live entertainment at the 2017 Santa Lucia Highlands Gala, we also had the pleasure of enjoying many excellent food bites. Our favorites are listed below and if there is a storefront or restaurant, we’ve included their address for your future reference and/or travel plans:
AQUA TERRA Culinary – “A Taste of Spring” with Fava Beans, Fresh Peas, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Pancetta, Herb Salad, Brioche Croutons and Hollandaise
Carmel Valley Ranch – Pulled Pork Sliders, and Polenta with Peas, Fava Beans, Asparagus and Corn (1 Old Ranch Road, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 855-OUR-RANCH)
Cheesecake Dreamations – Multiple Mini Cheesecakes, but most especially their Original with Strawberry, Mixed Berry on Oreo Crust, and Caramel Pecan Cheesecakes (265 Reservation Road, Suite C, Marina, 831-884-5033)
Chef’s Palette Spice Rubs – Braised Pork Belly with Juniper Berry Rub, Fire-Roasted Corn Polenta, Orange Honey Gastrique and Watanabe Farms Micro Scallions
The C Restaurant + Bar at The Clement Monterey – Tuna Tartare Tacos with Avocado in a Fried Nori Shell with Ginger Lime Aioli (750 Cannery Row, Monterey, 831-375-4800)
Dolly Cakes – Carrot Cake Cupcakes (343 Monterey Street, Salinas, 831-206-6686)
la Balena – Beef Stew (Junipero Street between 5th and 6th, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 831-250-6295)
Luigi’s – Polenta Cake with Chunky Marinara Sauce over Arugula (346 Alta Street, Gonzales, 831-675-7800)
Marich Chocolates – Milk Chocolate Cherries, Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel Popcorn and Dark Chocolate Salted Caramels
Moto-Espresso – Espresso-based Drinks
The Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans also gave back to the community by donating proceeds from the Gala and its Silent Auction to a local nonprofit organization, Rancho Cielo. Silent Auction items included large format bottles of wine, tickets to winery luncheons, and Morgan Winery provided a fully packed picnic basket containing a blanket, a magnum of their Chardonnay, a magnum of their Pinot Noir, and two tickets to their wine club’s upcoming BBQ event.
Rancho Cielo is a comprehensive learning and social services center for underserved and disconnected youth in Monterey County. Established in 2000, this nonprofit organization is focused on transforming their lives and empowering them to become accountable, productive and responsible citizens. Programs offered include diploma education (even up to age 25 if needed), vocational training, job readiness and life skills coaching, and connections to local health, social and family services.
Santa Lucia Highlands: Wine Country Travel
We are huge fans of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and the wines crafted from grapes grown here. If you want to plan a wine tasting trip, please realize that within the appellation itself, only Hahn Family Wines, Manzoni Vineyards, Odonata Wines, Paraiso Vineyards, Pessagno Winery, Puma Road and Wrath Wines operate tasting rooms open to the public. In nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley, you can find tasting rooms for Bernardus Winery, Boekenoogen Vineyards & Winery, Caraccioli Cellars, Joyce Vineyards, Manzoni Vineyards, Morgan Winery, Paraiso Vineyards, Scheid Vineyards, Talbott Vineyards and Wrath Wines.
Other wineries also use Santa Lucia Highlands grapes for their wines including Kosta Browne, La Rochelle Winery, Prim Family Vineyard, ROAR Wines, Saxon Brown and Siduri so you may want to keep an eye out for those wines as well.
If you decide to plan a trip to Santa Lucia Highlands, Carmel-by-the-Sea or somehere else in Monterey County, please check out our recommendations for other wineries and restaurants in the area. Click on Favorites By Wine Region on the navigation bar above and follow the drop-down menus. Or, you can just click here.
We also strongly suggest you keep an eye out for next year’s Santa Lucia Highlands Gala. In addition to General Admission tickets, the event also offered VIP tickets (enabling entrance one hour earlier and access to special wines), Designated Driver tickets (so your DD could enjoy non-alcoholic beverages, food items, auction and entertainment to their content) and Shuttle tickets (offering motor coach transportation from Monterey Peninsula College so you didn’t have to worry about driving or parking). Please go to the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans website for more information about the appellation, to sign up for their newsletter and/or receive early notification regarding the 2018 event.