It’s no accident that more than half the acres planted to grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands are Pinot Noir vines. Some of the best and most praised Pinot Noirs from California are made from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Of roughly 6,400 acres planted, about 3,500 are devoted to producing world-class Pinot Noir.
The appellation offers dreamy conditions for growing this sometimes-challenging grape, including its cool, coastal climate, foggy nights and mornings and persistent daytime wind that moderates the warm sunshine and ultimately slows down ripening.
First, as regions to the south of the Santa Lucia Highlands warm up each day, this creates a vacuum effect that pulls cooler air down the Salinas Valley from the Monterey Bay. That brings along stiff afternoon winds that moderate daytime temperatures so that the warmest part of the day is not only earlier, but shorter than most other cool-climate regions on the Pacific Coast. Next, the fog gently rolls in the evenings and hovers around overnight and into the morning hours protecting the grapes.
All of these climatic influences combine to create a longer growing season, beginning with bud break in late February and harvest into late October, allowing the Pinot Noir grapes to develop full, phenolic ripeness.
Additionally, the relentless wind has a particular influence on the grape skins—where wine gets nearly all of its flavor—by changing their structure and further enhancing flavor development.
Single Vineyard Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir grapes are grown throughout the entire Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, expressing varying characteristics from vineyard to vineyard, which can range from stronger tannins in the higher elevations where the soils are thinner and the temperatures are cooler to more intense fruit flavors from vineyards where pockets of vines are protected by the wind and are slightly warmer. Many producers make wines from single vineyards, which allows for an incredible opportunity to compare and taste and understand a particular place.
Pinot Noir wines from Santa Lucia Highlands are praised for their richness, silky texture, vibrant red fruit flavors, subtle earthiness and warm spice characteristics.
Adam Lee of Sonoma’s Siduri explains why he chooses to make Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands, “Our fruit comes from both the southern and the slightly warmer north end of the appellation. We appreciate the remarkable natural acidity, fruit-forward and rich character of Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.”
Explore wineries making Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands.