The sold out Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Gala featured seminars, food pairings and tasting wines from over 40 Santa Lucia Highlands wineries in Monterey county.
On May 16 the Santa Lucia Highland Gala was held at Mer Soleil Winery, where the Santa Lucia Highlands winemakers came together and served wine lovers some of the best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah and more. Gathered in the Mer Soleil barrel room, wine lovers tasted wines from over 40 SLH winemakers.
Santa Lucia Highlands is truly a special place for winegrowing, particularly Burgundian varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This premier cool-climate winegrowing district has over fifty of the most famous premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards are located here. Almost 80% of the vineyards here are dedicated to these two Burgundian varietals, with many Rhone varietals occupying much of the rest.
You can’t go wrong with any of the wines from this premium region, with grapes from such high end vineyards as Rosella, Garys’, Pisoni, Soberanes, Sierra Mar, Tondre and Doctors.
- The Gala started with a seminar, “Beyond Pinot”, with three Santa Lucia Highlands winemakers, Sabrine Rodems of Wrath Wines, Chris Weidermann of Pelerin Wines and David Coventry of Manzoni Vineyards. Each brought along wines other than Pinot Noir to show that Santa Lucia Highlands offers so much more. Sabrine explained that the famous strong afternoon winds of this region are important to the wines produced. Every afternoon the winds cause the stomata on the grape leaves to close causing sugar production to pause, adding greatly to the stress put on these grapes. Her 2012 Wrath “KW Ranch” Syrah is a cool climate Syrah with more spice and curry qualities than warmer climate Syrah’s.
- Chris shared his Pelerin 2011 “Les Tournesols”, a blend of Roussanne and Viognier. According to Chris, his goal is to, “Utilize the Roussanne for character in the nose of sandalwood, lavender, clove and honey, and the Viognier then pumps up these flavors.” David Coventry of Manzoni brought along his Manzoni 2013 “North Highlands Cuvee” Pinot Gris, what he calls the flip side of Chardonnay. This wine has nice acidity, tropical flavors, citrus, honey and a round rich flavorful finish. It is aged on lees in the barrel for seven months. As David says, “Great wine takes time.”
Following the “Beyond Pinot” seminar, we enjoyed a seminar on cheese with Michael Burke, the cheese guy from Star Markets and the cheese maker from Schoch Family Farmstead in Salinas. They shared a wide variety of cheeses for pairing with Santa Lucia Highlands wine. A particular favorite was the Kokos Coconut Cheese from Star.
There were a few wines that particularly stood out among some of the great wines of this region.
- Luli Wines is a partnership between Master Sommelier Sara Floyd and the Pisoni Family with the goal of showcasing the beauty of this region with wines of consistent quality. The 2013 Luli Chardonnay is a nice, bright fresh wine with aromas and flavors of white peach, pear and citrus with a good acidity and minerality. This is a complex wine that is a blend of both barrel and stainless steel fermentation, thus delivering the aromas and flavors of the Chardonnay and the texture from neutral oak. The 2013 Luli Pinot Noir has an abundance of red fruit aromas and flavors including Bing cherry, raspberry and pomegranate with a hint of tea leading on to a nice flavorful textured finish.
- Mooney Family Wines is a small winery that focusses on crafting a very limited quantity of exquisite wines that reflect the terroir of Santa Lucia Highlands. They source their grapes from some of the finest SLH vineyards including Boekenoogen, Tondre and more. The 2013 “El Pistolero” Chardonnay is a stainless steel fermented wine that retains the great acidity and minerality of Chardonnay and the flavors of citrus and sour apple. It is a very nice refreshing wine. The 2013 Pinot Noir “Boekenoogen Vineyard” is loaded with lush dark fruit flavors of black cherry, plum and blackberry with a nice touch of spice and vanilla. It has a long finish.
- Paraiso Vineyards has some of the best vineyards in the region. The Alexander Smith label is in honor of their parents Rich Smith and Claudia Alexander Smith. The Paraiso 2014 Riesling is an easy drinking wine with the crispness and flavors that makes it excellent on those warm summer days. The Paraiso 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was fabulous and while still retaining the lightness and freshness of a Rose, it also delivered all the aromas and flavors you expect from a fine Pinot Noir. The Alexander Smith 2011 Pinot Noir Clone 115 and 667 was the ultimate Pinot with dark ruby color tied with the aromas and flavors of black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, and a touch of candy.
- Other vintners pouring at the Santa Lucia Highlands Gala included August West, Bernardus, Boekenoogen, Estancia, Hahn, J. Lohr, Joyce, Kosta Brown, La Rochelle, Loring, Mansfield – Dunne, McFarland, McIntyre, Mer Soleil, Miura, Minor, Morgan, Pelerin, Pessagno, Pisoni – Lucia, Prim Family, Puma Road, Roar, Sarah’s Vineyard, Saxon Brown, Scheid, Siduri, Testarossa, Tondre and Tudor.
By Steve Ferree, Examiner