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Unlock the Magic of the Santa Lucia Highlands

A Journey Through the SLH with Paige Comrie

By Paige Comrie

May 2024

California boasts a stunning array of wine regions, each with its own charm and signature flavors. But for those seeking a place where breathtaking scenery meets world-class wines, the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) deserves a special place on your itinerary.

Here's why:

- Dramatic Beauty: Imagine rolling vineyards nestled amidst soaring Santa Lucia Mountains, kissed by cool coastal fog and bathed in golden sunshine. That's the magic of SLH.

- Pinot Noir & Chardonnay Paradise: This region isn't just about the views. SLH is renowned for producing some of California's most sought-after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, known for their complexity and elegance.

- A Hidden Gem: Unlike Napa or Sonoma, SLH offers a more intimate, off-the-beaten-path experience.

Intrigued? This blog post will be your guide to unlocking the magic of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

I've tasted wine all over the state of California (and the world!) but SLH is a region that stands out in mind for its awe-inspiring beauty and beautiful, complex, terroir-driven wines. Not to mention… the wind! The coastal winds here play a huge role in shaping the complex flavors of the wine and make for a memorable destination.

My 2021 summer trip to Santa Lucia Highlands remains one of my all-time favorite wine-country experiences. 

Setting the Scene: The Geography & Climate of SLH

Nestled between the soaring Santa Lucia Mountains and the cooling Pacific Ocean, Santa Lucia Highlands boasts a unique geography that sculpts its wines. Morning fog rolls in from the coast, blanketing the vineyards in a cool embrace that slows ripening and allows grapes to develop intense flavor profiles.  As the day progresses, sunshine breaks through, warming the slopes and ensuring optimal grape maturity. This interplay between fog, sunshine, and well-drained soils fosters grapes with vibrant acidity, balanced sugars, and concentrated flavors – the hallmarks of truly elegant and complex wines.

Grapes of Glory: Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the undisputed stars of Santa Lucia Highlands. The cool climate coaxes these grapes to develop vibrant acidity – and let me tell you –  it's absolutely jaw-dropping! 

This isn’t just a subtle tang of acid; it’s a refreshing wave that dances on your palate. It's the kind of acidity that might (in a good way!) feel like it'll rip the skin off your teeth, but that's precisely what makes these wines so distinct and food-friendly. This vivacious acidity forms the lifeblood of SLH wines. 

Pinot Noirs here are renowned for their elegance and complexity, bursting with aromas of red fruit, spice, and earth. Chardonnays achieve a beautiful balance between richness and restraint, offering notes of citrus, stone fruit, and subtle hints of oak. Both varieties are living expressions of the region's unique terroir, resulting in captivatingly nuanced wines that perfectly complement a meal.

Beyond the Vine: Where to Visit

One of the things I love most about visiting SLH is that many of the wineries have convenient tasting rooms in downtown Carmel. You can easily spend a day strolling downtown and checking them out. OR you can get off the beaten path and visit a handful of vineyard tasting rooms.

Here are a few of my favorites from my trip!

Wrath Wines 

Wrath Wines absolutely exemplifies the magic of SLH. Their dedication to single-vineyard bottlings allows the unique character of each vineyard to shine through in their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. A visit to Wrath promises an intimate tasting experience, where you can delve into the nuances of these terroir-driven wines and discover the beauty of Santa Lucia Highlands in every sip.

Morgan Winery

Morgan Winery is one of my all-time favorite Chardonnay producers. I’m absolutely in love with their Double L vineyard (which I had the privilege of visiting back in 2021) and everything that comes out of it. Although they’re most known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, I just had a dry Riesling from them that was absolutely outstanding! 


The first tasting room in Carmel and housed in an old bank, Bernardus is one not to be missed! Bernardus Winery stands out in Santa Lucia Highlands for their critically acclaimed Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Their diverse tasting experiences cater to all preferences, offering intimate settings to explore aged wines in their library or scenic vineyard tours culminating in a taste of their latest releases.

McIntyre Vineyards

I literally exclaimed with glee when I saw McIntyre’s SLH Pinot Noir in a recent press shipment I received. McIntyre Vineyards is nestled in the heart of Santa Lucia Highlands' "sweet spot," a 12-mile stretch of benchland renowned for producing wines of character and complexity. Here they offer a chance to experience wines crafted by one of California's most respected viticulturists, Steve McIntyre.  Their SIP Certified practices showcase a commitment to sustainability, while their tasting room invites you to explore the character and complexity of their acclaimed Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.  

Talbott Vineyards

Talbott Vineyards boasts a rich history in Santa Lucia Highlands. Their focus is unwavering: crafting exceptional Burgundian varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, using 100% estate-grown grapes from the famed Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. Planted in 1972, Sleepy Hollow is one of the region's oldest and coolest vineyards, considered Grand Cru-level for its exceptional quality.  Winemaker David Coventry, along with his team, translates this prime terroir into wines that have garnered praise for over three decades.  

Folktale Winery & Vineyard

Folktale Winery brings a touch of whimsy to Santa Lucia Highlands. It was one of my favorite stops during the trip – both for the aesthetics and for the interesting range of wines they produce! Here you’ll find everything from SLH Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Syrah to a Solera-style wine and more! Their welcoming tasting room invites you to sip and savor their captivating wines, each sip a story waiting to be told, much like the name itself.


A Toast to Unforgettable Experiences

Just imagine – rolling vineyards bathed in sunshine, kissed by cool coastal fog – that's the magic that awaits in Santa Lucia Highlands. Writing about this region and revisiting some of my favorite bottles from there has me itching to pack my bags and head back myself!  It's a hidden gem, just a two-hour drive from San Francisco, yet feels worlds apart.  Beyond the world-class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that echo the region's unique terroir, a relaxed atmosphere invites you to slow down, explore charming towns, and truly unwind.  Santa Lucia Highlands isn't just a wine region; it's an unforgettable experience waiting to be uncorked.  

So, are you ready to write your own Santa Lucia Highlands story?


Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans

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