Best of the Rest of Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands

Santa Lucia Highlands gala 2014
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This is part 2 of our review of the Santa Lucia Highlands gala on May 17. (Click here for part 1).  Part 1 reviewed the top three wineries (Mooney Family, Loring, and Pelerin) and the best in show wine (Hallcrest’s 2012 pinot noir from Montelinda Vineyard Pommard clone).  This article reviews the best of the rest of wine artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Note on the Music

After we finished tasting we relaxed on the patio to the music of the Mario Flores Sontet.  We recorded about five minutes of their performance on my iPhone.  Sound quality is not very good but the quality of the group compensates.  Click the play button below to enjoy their music while you read the rest of this article.

Executive Summary [repeated from previous article]

By my count we tasted more than 30 pinots and a couple of syrah – GSM’s. I’ll only review those we liked. For those who don’t want to wade through all the reviews, here’s a summary.

Best in show: Hallcrest’s 2012 pinot noir from Montelinda Vineyard Pommard ($52).

Best newcomers (at least to us): Mooney Family Wines, Loring Wine Company, Pelerin Wines.

Other notables (in the order we tasted them):

  • Lucia Garys’ Vineyard 2012
  • Puma Road 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands blend ($40)
  • ROAR Wines Rosella’s Vineyars 2012 ($52)
  • Mansfield-Dunne Peterson Vineyard 2012 ($48)
  • McIntyre Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands blend 2012 ($32)
  • La Rochelle Sleepy Hollow Vineyard 2010 ($48)
  • Siduri Soberanes Vineyard 2012

Review of Other Notables

These are in the order of our preferences. Remember, we picked ten of the best from the 30+ we tasted. None of the wines below will disappoint anyone.

Mansfield-Dunne Santa Lucia Highlands

Mansfield-Dunne

Mansfield-Dunne is the child of John and Lynn Peterson. They own Peterson Vineyard and are growing terrific grapes, turning them into great wine. Their Peterson Vineyard 2012 ($48) is great stuff. Raspberries and rhubarb aromas with berries and spice on the palate. Supple tannins round out a long, fine vanilla-butterscotch finish. Very Burgundian (but more quaffable).

John Peterson Santa Lucia Highlands

John Peterson (courtesy August West Winery website)

After searching for ten years, John and Lynn finally found two plots in the Highlands that worked for them. Peterson Vineyard is actually near Big Bench Road, a relatively low elevation. It doesn’t seem to have made a difference. They opened in 2010 and are easily candidates for newcomer of the year.

Lucia Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands

Lucia Pinot Noir

Lucia Vineyards is the sister label of Pisoni Vineyards.  They were tasting their Soberantes Vineyard 2012 ($53) and Garys’ Vineyard 2012 (price not listed, but probably in the same neighborhood).

Planted in 1996, the namesake vineyard of the two Garys (Pisoni and Franscioni), is a classic Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir: vibrant and lively aromatics followed by full-bodied fruit and spice character woven together.

Of the two we preferred the Garys’ with its lighter aromas of rose petals followed by bing cherry and tobacco on the palate. The surprising finish is slightly burnt caramel with just a hint of spice.

Some readers may wonder about the placement of the apostrophe in Garys’. From the website →

Thus, two Garys mean a plural possessive.

La Rochelle Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands

La Rochelle Pinot Noir

La Rochelle Winery offered a Sleepy Hollow Vineyard 2010 ($48) that we found very nice. Black cherry aromas with pepper and smoke are followed by more black cherry flavors and pepper with some spice on the palate. Some tannins and toasty oak round out a nice structure. You can hang on to this one for a few years before opening. Right now it’s big with tannins and oak that need some time to develop.

Steven Kent and friend Santa Lucia Highlands

Steven Kent and friend

La Rochelle is part of the Steven Kent Portfolio in Livermore. We’ve written about Steven several times and have always been impressed with his winemaking skills. His wines are easily the best in the Livermore Valley and among the best in California. But we’ve always found the La Rochelle pinots too big and bold for our taste. Remember that if you pick up a few bottles of the Sleepy Hollow. (Disclaimer: we found out about the Santa Lucia Highlands gala in an e-mail from the Steven Kent winery. Unfortunately, the winery was unwilling to pay our admission to the event.)

Puma Road Wines Santa Lucia Highlands

Puma Road Wines

Puma Road Santa Lucia HighlandsPuma Road is one of the labels of Ray Franscioni Wines. The Franscioni name is justifiably famous in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We had high expectations. The Santa Lucia Highlands blend 2012 ($40) did not disappoint. This is a lovely pinot, with a beautiful long finish.

Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands

Siduri

Siduri was there with their Soberanes Vineyard 2012 ($48, not yet on their website). This is wonderful stuff, with long, complex aromas and flavors. Wet clay and rosemary aromas with the expected cherry notes are followed by layered cherry and plum flavors with more clay and herbs. Take a sip and wait ten minutes before you take another.

We’ve written about Siduri on numerous occasions, so we’ll just point out that Adam and Diana Lee have continued the California winery tradition of helping beginning winemakers. Many winery websites thank them for their help and advice. At Siduri, the Lees pioneered small-lot single-vineyard wine production. If you ever get a chance to visit their place during the crush (or shortly after) you’re in for quite an experience.

ROAR Wines offered up their Rosella’s Vineyards 2012 ($52). This is an absolutely terrific pinot, featuring a long finish with a hint of white pepper. Aromas of nose of fragrant rose petal, wild raspberries and toast followed by flavors of ripe gooseberries and tea.

The name Roar refers to the sound that the coastal winds make as as they blow through the gaps and down the benchland that makes up the region. Roar Pinot bottlings include a regional Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot and vineyard designates from Rosella’s Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and the Pisoni Vineyard.


A description of ROAR’s history from the PinotReport (issue 82, p. 8) → 

ROAR is the child of a different branch of the Franscioni clan. Gary and Rosella with their son Adam own and manage Rosella’s Vineyard. Gary is one of the two Garys who own Garys’ Vineyard. There’s a great description of the family and their philosophy on the winery web site.

ROAR Vineyards' Gary, Rosella, and Tiger Santa Lucia Highlands

ROAR Vineyards’ Gary, Rosella, and Tiger

McIntyre Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands blend 2012 ($32) is a bargain. Aromas of strawberries and spice, followed by smooth tannins with a hint of wet slate.

McIntyre Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands

McIntyre Vineyards Pinot Noir

McIntyre’s “Block 3” 2012 ($52 in the program, $48 on the website) features nice aromas, with mushrooms, tannins and oak on the palate. A very long finish is a promise to those willing to wait a few years.

Kristen, Steve, and Kim McIntyre with Byron Kosuge

Kristen, Steve, and Kim McIntyre with Byron Kosuge

McIntyre’s first vintage was 2005. Steve and Kim McIntyre have been growing grapes and consulting for three decades. They discovered winemaker Byron Kosuge and started making wine from their own vineyards. Daughter Kristen runs the hospitality end of the business. And there are their five dogs. “Steve and Kim McIntyre, currently reside in Monterey County, along with Petrus, Jura, Quintessa, Duchess and Juliet, their Bernese Mountain Dogs.”

The Venue and the Band

We would be remiss if we did not mention the Mer Soleil winery venue and the terrific band.

Mer Soleil terrace Santa Lucia Highlands

Mer Soleil terrace

The organizers had set up a patio on the large concrete pad outside the main entrance.  

Dancing! Santa Lucia Highlands

There were snacks, a band, and dancing.  We ended our day sitting and listening to some great music.

Mario Flores Sontet Santa Lucia Highlands

Mario Flores Sontet

Conclusion

The Santa Lucia Highlands gala is worth a special trip. You will taste wines from wineries you’ve never heard of before. We’re looking forward to returning in 2015. Highly recommended.

About the author

Tony Lima has been a California wine fan since arriving in California from the east coast in 1974. He's lived the growth and expansion of the West Coast industry first hand. He's seen the fickle California Wine consumer fads pop up and burst... the craze for Zinfandel, then oaky Chardonnay, then Merlot, now Pinot Noir. On behalf of fellow Californian oenophiles, he hunts for great pinot noir and great values in pinot noir all along the West Coast. His day job is Professor of Economics at California State University located in Hayward. His undergrad degree in chemical engineering (MIT) and his MBA (Harvard) and Ph.D. Economics (Stanford) are the root of his interest in the Business of Wine. He is a card-carrying member of the AAWE - American Association of Wine Economists.

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