A Primer on the Santa Lucia Highlands

First an update:  For some reason, some of you did not receive our Monday e-mail.  If you didn't get it, you missed Kerith's second fabulous cooking demonstration.  You can check it out by clicking here.  Now, on with our story:

So far we've spent quite a bit of time telling you about the Anderson Valley.  We're now going to shift gears and begin a discussion of our second source of grapes, the Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA (apparently pronounced Lu-see-ya, not Lu-chee-ya, as I just learned after five years of mispronunciation) is located about 30 minutes east of Monterrey, CA, on the east side of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range.  The AVA is approximately 13 miles long and encompasses approximately 5,500 acres of grapes, all of which grow on the southeastern facing side of the mountains, overlooking the Salinas River Valley.  The vineyards are scattered along varying elevations above the valley floor, protected by the mountains from the ocean's temperature shifts, yet still benefiting from the cooling effects of ocean fog and ocean breezes.  The resulting climate is ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay.

Over the past ten years, the Santa Lucia Highlands has become world renowned for its pinot noir, largely due to the effort of two men, Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni.  In 1997 the two partnered to create the famed Garys' Vineyard which has become a go-to source of top quality pinot noir grapes for many producers.  You're probably familiar with their "side ventures".  Franscioni is the proprietor of Roar Wines and also owns Santa Lucia Highland's other famous grape source, Rosella's Vineyard.  Pisoni is the owner of the equally formidable Pisoni Vineyards.  If you're looking for an explosive wine that exemplifies this area, you won't go wrong with anything these men produce.  Our other favorites are the offerings from Loring Wines which specializes in a number of boutique, single vineyard pinot noirs, including Garys' and Rosella's.

When we learned that we could make wine for our launch sourcing fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands, we jumped at the chance.  You see, the Santa Lucia Highlands grapes ignited our love affair with pinot noir in the first place.  Up until about five years ago (ah, callow youth), we were all about the big, bad ass Napa cabs.  Then, on a fateful winter trip to Napa, we visited Miner Family Vineyards and, whether by luck, divine intervention, or the fact that it was pouring rain and the tasting room was empty, we were invited into their wine cave to barrel sample their wines.  I don't remember every wine we tried, but I do remember the moment I first had their Garys' Pinot Noir.  It was an absolute revelation for two devoted cabernet drinkers, and it changed everything.  We're still "aging" most of the cabernet sauvignon we had purchased prior to that fateful day in Napa, but our wine fridge dedicated to pinot noir has now been filled and consumed more times than I care to admit.  While our pinot palate and our appreciation for its unique geographic qualities and differences have expanded over the years, the Santa Lucia Highlands will always remain our first pinot love and opening a bottle of Garys' always seems like a homecoming.

So, what's to look forward to with the Bruliam Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir?  Pinots from this AVA are usually darker and denser than their Burgundian cousins.  That's not to say that they are heavy or without finesse, but they tend to have a little bit of tannin, a lot of dark fruit, and great leather and smoke on the nose.  There is absolutely no mistaking a well made Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir, even if you are a novice wine drinker.  The contrast to our Anderson Valley pinot, which will be lighter and brighter, will be dramatic and should make side-by-side tastings a real blast.

We're sourcing our 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands pinot grapes from Doctor's Vineyard (have you noticed yet how everyone in this AVA is big into the apostrophe??).  Doctor's is located toward the southern end of the AVA, roughly between Garys' to the north in the mid-valley and Pisoni at the far southern end.  The more southern placement of our vineyard will mean warmer temperatures, resulting in the bigger, bolder taste that we're aiming for in this wine.  Doctor's has 243 acres of fruit, including eleven different pinot clones (clones will be a topic covered in more detail in a future post).  One of those clones comes from Calera Wines (another favorite) which, apparently/never confirmed/only rumored/please don't sue us, was sourced from vine clippings "borrowed" many years ago from Domaine de la Romanee- Conti, the most famous pinot noir producer in Burgundy.  If you want to learn more about our grape source, there is a great short video on Doctor's Vineyard on the Crushpad website that you can access by clicking here.

We're super excited to have access to grapes from this great vineyard and can't wait to share our wine with you.