‘Twas the night before a gala SLH tasting …


It happens at least once during each tasting/event … the ahh-ha moment, when no matter what story any winemaker or marketing guru is spinning your way, you ‘get it’ … you understand the terroir and the people and the struggles they endure to make some of the finest and most sought after products in the world … in your own way.

I know ‘getting it’ means different things to different people. ‘Getting it’ could be comprehending the basics. For instance: The Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) is an American Viticultural Area on California’s Central Coast specializing in the production of wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes … Or, ‘getting it’ could mean understanding that much of the SLH features sandy/clay/loamy soils, a northeast facing aspect, maritime climate, and subtle (but noticable) shifts in temperature which helps the slow and even development of grape flavor precursors essential to making world-class wines. For me, ‘getting it’ means understanding how young the SLH appelation is … and knowing the potential it brings to the table for generations of future wine makers and consumers.

Thankfully, those who had a hand in building the appelation into what it is today … beginning in the early 1970s with initial 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 … had enough foresight to identify a core group of varieties which ‘could be’ successful – among them Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Syrah.

Today, that success is paying off as more and more attention is drawn to Monterey County’s darling appelation. The thing is, the SLH is now a debutant and it’s time for a reality check. Now that you’re on the map, everyone’s watching. What are you going to do next? How much better are you going to get? What are the winemakers willing to do to differentiate the SLH brand?

It’s not easy enough being blessed with perfect weather, accute soils, and a community of altruistic, educated, and well-funded vine growers and winemakers. Everyone in California is – to some extent. But with so many tools in hand winemaking can get sloppy in the name of profits, leading to epic booms and busts visible to the global wine trade from space. 

Whatever the case, it’s easy to get lost in the intoxicating aromas of an event like the SLH gala tasting, but tomorrow’s tasting will be different for me. This #americanwinewriter will be looking for the new gems among the classics … the space monkeys, the sputniks, the stem cells … of what could be the SLH of the next generation.

If you know of an SLH producer in the following list who’s making something truly unique, let me know @wordsnwine or via the exclusive #americanwinewriter on Twitter, or on Facebook

Wineries scheduled to appear … Alfaro, August West, Belle Glos, Bernardus, Boekenoogen, Caraccioli, Hahn, Kori, La Rochelle, Lucienne, Manzoni, McIntyre, Mer Soleil, Miner, Miura, Mooney, Morgan, Novy, Paraiso, Pelerin, Pessagno, Pisoni, Poppy, Puma Road, Roar, Scheid, Sequana, Siduri, Talbott, Tantara, Testarossa, Tondre, Tudor, and Wrath.

See you there …




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