Vinous Secrets of the Santa Lucia Highlands

The vineyards of California’s Santa Lucia Highlands are planted on the southeast-facing terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, overlooking the Salinas River Valley.

The vines’ elevated locations take full advantage of the morning sunshine before the afternoon maritime breezes arrive and cool the vineyards. This climatic combo results in an especially long growing season, which allows the grapes to fully develop and attain maximum varietal potential.

Ancient, glacial alluvial soils pair with ocean fog and breezes to create a true Region I climate. Cool weather-loving Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flourish, while Rhone varieties mirror their French northern district brethren, thriving in the slightly warmer, more wind-protected canyons and slopes.

Today, according to the Monterey Vintners and Growers Assn. (, 5,900 winegrape acres are under cultivation, with the majority heavily weighted toward Pinot Noir (2,700) and Chardonnay (2,000). The Rhone varietals also are in evidence, with Syrah gaining increasing notice.

The earliest vinifera plantings in the area can be traced to the 1790s, with the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries and conquistadors. The modern era began in the early 1970s with plantings by Rich and Claudia Smith at Paraiso, the McFarland family at Sleepy Hollow, Phil Johnson at La Estancia, and Nicky Hahn at Smith & Hook.

The area was approved as an official American Viticultural Area in 1991.

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On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the winegrowers of the Santa Lucia Highlands will host their first-ever “New Release Reception” at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Twenty-nine wineries will be showcasing their latest Pinots, Chardonnays and Syrahs. The reception runs from 5 to 7 p.m., and the $50 admission fee includes the wine tasting and a sampling of artisan charcuterie and cheeses.

Tickets are very limited and available only at:

Posted in Wine Region Profiles
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