Santa Lucia Highlands
First Commercial Plantings: 1973
A.V.A. Established: 1991
Current Planted Acreage: Approx. 6,100 Acres
Vineyard Properties: 46
The Santa Lucia Highlands is one of California's most famous winegrowing districts, home to many well-known vineyard estates and wine labels.
The earliest vinifera plantings, in what was to become the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, took place in the 1790s, with the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries and conquistadors. The modern era, however, began 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. A second wave of vineyards were established over the last two decades, resulting in several iconic SLH estates: Pisoni, Garys’, Rosella’s, Mer Soleil, Tondre, Double L, among others. The Santa Lucia Highlands was approved in 1991 by the Federal government as an unique American Viticultural Area.
The vineyards of the Highlands are planted on the terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. Fog and ocean breezes off nearby Monterey Bay funnel south, creating a cool, Region I climate. The vines’ elevated locations take full advantage of the morning sunshine before the stiff, afternoon maritime winds slow ripening by shutting down the grapes’ photosynthesis. The exceptionally long S.L.H. growing season – early budbreak, lack of fall rains, prolonged harvests – allows the fruit to develop full, phenolic ripeness and flavors. While cool weather-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are king and queen here, Riesling is enjoying a Renaissance in the Highlands. And Syrah emulates its Northern Rhone counterparts, thriving on the S.L.H.’s more wind-protected, slightly warmer canyons and slopes.