The Mer Soleil venue Santa Lucia HighlandsThe Mer Soleil venue Santa Lucia Highlands

The Best Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands


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Santa Lucia Highlands logo

I was originally going to write one long review of the Santa Lucia Highlands 2014 Gala tasting, but when the story broke through 1,000 words, I decided two parts would be the best approach.  On May 17 we drove 90 miles south to the Santa Lucia Highlands 2014 Gala tasting. And what an event it was. Hosted in the fabulous barrel room of the Mer Soleil Winery, we mingled with several hundred of our new best friends, tasting the very best wines made from Santa Lucia Highlands grapes. Mer Soleil is located at the base of the Highlands and is not open to the public. The nearest town is Salinas, about ten miles northeast. (If you go to Salinas we can recommend the Marriott Residence Inn. Very nice people and a great room.)

With 36 wineries pouring, we decided to focus exclusively on pinot noir. There were a few chardonnays that looked attractive, but we resisted. Here’s our tale of 36 hours in the greater Salinas area.

Executive Summary

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)

  1. Mooney Family Wines
  2. Loring Wine Company
  3. 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, avoid the 2008 vintage)
  • Siduri Soberantes Vineyard 2012

Best in Show

Our choice for the single best pinot noir is Hallcrest’s 2012 pinot noir from Montelinda Vineyard Pommard clone ($52). Hallcrest did something interesting, pouring four different Montelinda selections: a blend ($32), a blend fermented with Assmanshausen yeast ($52), a Dijon 667 clone ($52) and the Pommard clone. More on the other three later.

John and Lorraine Schumacher

Hallcrest’s John and Lorraine Schumacher

The Pommard opens with scents of cherries, figs and tobacco. The palate is juicy with an outstanding acid balance. The finish lasts forever. Even at this price it’s a bargain.

Best Newcomers

In order, the best newcomers are Mooney Family Wines, Loring Wine Company, and Pelerin Wines. We’ll review each in detail below. But a few notes are in order here.

Mooney Wines Santa Lucia Highlands

Mooney Wines

Mooney Family Wines is actually a second label from Chateau Margene. (The Mooney Family website is currently being upgraded.  If you run into problems, go to the Chateau Margene site and follow the links from there.) Owners Michael and Margene Mooney have been making wine in their Creston location since 1998. Chateau Margene focuses on Bordeaux-style blends and cabernet sauvignons. The Mooney Family label produces pinot noir and chardonnay. Operated by the Mooneys’ two sons, this second label was started in 2007. That qualifies them as newcomers. Look for their 2012 Santa Lucia Highland blend ($32, a serious bargain) and Boekenoogen Vineyard ($68).

Loring Wines Santa Lucia Highlands

Loring Wines

Loring Wine Company is owned and operated by Brian Loring and his sister Kimberly with occasional help from their 80 year old mom. Their first release was in 2000, but that was only about 100 cases. Their 2012 releases totaled 6,100 cases with 13 different labels. (Source: Greg Walters, PinotReport, Issue 90, October 1, 2013. Available by subscription at http://www.PinotReport.com.) Here’s the summary:

Loring Production 2012

Loring Production 2012

[pullquote]”Pelerin, meaning “pilgrim” in French, symbolizes our ongoing quest to follow our passion — producing uniquely delicious wines.”[/pullquote]

The quotation over there on the right is from the Pelerin Wines website. Co-owners Chris and Cathy Weidemann met when they were students in the viticulture and enology program at U.C. Davis. Talk about a shared passion! The website describes Pelerin as a “micro-winery crafting small lots of exceptional wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands.”  They are obviously a must-have for organizers of the Santa Lucia Highlands gala.

Pelerin Logo Santa Lucia Highlands

The Top Four In Depth

Michael and Margene Mooney pouring at Santa Lucia Highlands

Michael and Margene Mooney pouring

Mooney Family Wines was pouring their Santa Lucia Highlands 2012 blend ($32) and Boekenoogen Vineyards 2012 ($68). The SLH blend is juicy and very quaffable. It’s one of the bargains of the event. The Boekenoogen is more complex. Cherry, spice, and cedar aromas are followed by more cherries on the palate with notes of chocolate. A long, extended finish rounds out this excellent selection.

Brian Loring at work Santa Lucia Highlands

Brian Loring at work

Loring Wine Company offered three from the 2012 vintage: an SLH blend ($32), Rosella’s Vineyard ($50), and Garys’ Vineyard ($50). The blend features black cherry aromas with hints of smoke and forest floor. The palate brings more of the same. This wine is nicely structured and balanced. A bargain at this price. Loring’s Rosella’s was the best we tasted from this vineyard. Complex black cherry aromas with earthy, smoky notes. Smoky cherry flavors with toasty oak hints. Open this one an hour before you drink it. The Garys’ was similar with cherry aromas closer to bing than black cherry. We actually preferred the Rosella’s.

The Loring Wine Company is owned and operated by Brian and his sister Kimberly Loring. Located near the Lompoc wine ghetto, the company sources fruit from some of the best vineyards in California and Oregon. They are following the best advice ever given to a winemaker: “Get the best grapes you can and try not to screw it up.”

Pelerin's Chris and Cathy Weidemann Santa Lucia Highlands

Pelerin’s Chris and Cathy Weidemann

Pelerin Wines featured the usual 2011 Santa Lucia Highlands blend ($36). This is a serious bargain. Aromas of ripe black cherries and spice are followed by strawberries and a hint of pepper on the finish. Pelerin was also pouring two single-vineyard pinots. Their 2010 Rosella’s Vineyard ($48) opens with aromas of cherries and a hint of rose petals. Hints of licorice weave through flavors of cherries and Satsuma plums. Very light tannins on the finish round out this excellent selection. The other Pelerin offering was a 2010 Sierra Mar Vineyard ($42). If nothing else, this wine shows the incredible variety of pinot noir. An earthy nose is followed by minerality and tobacco on the palate. Not to our taste, but that’s why we taste pinot.

Hallcrest Vineyards not only had the best wine we tasted (the 2012 Montelinda Vineyard Pommard), but also performed an interesting experiment. Using various clones and techniques, they produced four wines from the Montelinda Vineyard.

Hallcrest Wines Santa Lucia Highlands

Hallcrest Wines

The Montelinda Cuvee ($32) is a field blend of various clones from that vineyard. Notes of spice, black cherry, and licorice both on the nose and in the mouth. Another real bargain. Another field blend was fermented with Assmanshausen yeast ($52). We found this less interesting and not particularly to our taste. The Montelinda Dijon 667 clone ($52) opens with a bright strawberry nose. Sweet cherry fruit on the palate is followed by a long finish with silky tannins.

Conclusion

This is part one of a two-part review.  In the next segment I’ll review all the wines we liked.

Santa Lucia Highlands Vineyards map 2010

SLH Vineyards map 2010

(You can download a detailed pdf version of the Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards by clicking here.)

 

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