Why Pinot Noir Excels in the Santa Lucia Highlands
"The Santa Lucia Highlands sits on the east-facing terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range to the south of Monterey Bay on California's Central Coast. In the 1790s Spanish missionaries and conquistadors planted the first vinifera wine grapes here but for the next two centuries the area focused more on vegetable farming than on viticulture. Winemaking really started to redevelop as an industry in the 1970s with the emergence of a handful of family wineries. The Santa Lucia Highlands officially became an AVA in 1991. It is 18 miles long with elevations ranging from 40 to 2,300 feet. Today there are 5,700 acres of vinifera grapevines, predominantly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
When Dan Morgan Lee graduated in 1978 from the enology program at UC Davis, the famous Napa Valley was where most of his classmates were drawn to. Lee chose a different path taking a head winemaker job in little known Monterey County, three hours to the south of Napa. Four years later Dan and his wife Donna Lee started Morgan Winery. At the time the area had little in terms of reputation as a quality winemaking area. Today the Santa Lucia Highlands is considered some of the best terroir in California for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the United States.
The Morgans have played an important part in the development of the Santa Lucia Highlands and their winery has been recognized for quality from the beginning with their very first Monterey Chardonnay earning a Gold Medal at the LA County Fair and a Platinum Medal from Wine & Spirits Magazine. Since then, they have won many awards including the prestigious “Winery of the Year” honors from Wine & Spirits in 1996 and from the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003."
To read Dan's full interview by Christopher Barnes of the Grape Collective, click here.
48 Hours on the Monterey Peninsula
Monterey County is home to sweeping coastal scenery, locally grown wine, fine dining, vibrant downtown areas, plenty of outdoor recreation, and so much more! With our forty years of experience on the Peninsula, we are ready to help you explore like a local with some of our favorite places to eat, drink, and play!
Woody's at the Airport
Just steps from your arrival at the Monterey Regional Airport, this restaurant is owned by the award-winning and locally celebrated chef Tim Wood. Look no further, this is a top-flight meal.
Tip: The sand-dabs are a must-order, and our Highland Chardonnay is a perfect pairing.
Every good vacation starts with a tasting at Taste Morgan! This is the only place to taste our most limited releases, and on Sundays, perfectly aged wines straight from our library.
Tip: Book a reservation ahead of time and save on a seasonal cheese plate pairing.
Owned and restored by Clint Eastwood, the Inn is a quaint and charming retreat a short distance from downtown Carmel.
Tip: You might spot the Hollywood actor and former Carmel Mayor at the bar drinking a glass of our Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, rumored to be his favorite local wine.
Embark on a kayak tour through the state's largest salt marsh, with guaranteed sightings of playful sea otters and other rare plants and animals.
Tip: Plan your journey into the slough to coincide with the daily tides - it's much easier paddling with the current than against it!
Phil's Fish Market
This local's favorite boasts some of the freshest seafood in the county, straight out of nearby Moss Landing harbor.
Tip: The line moves quickly and there's always plenty of picnic seating available. Check their live webcam for the weather before you go.
On your way home, stop by historic Star Market in Salinas to stock up on an expansive selection of local foods, fresh produce, and premium cuts from their in-house butcher shop.
Tip: Ask for Victor in the wine aisle. He gets some of the best wine deals in Monterey County!
We hope our tips and recommendations will help you to create a truly unforgettable trip along the California coastline. We'd love to hear about your favorites too! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and join in by tagging us @morganwinery.
Albariño: New releases of the crisp white wine are a harbinger of warm-weather sipping.
Monterey County Weekly
By: Dave Faries
Nature lets us know when spring arrives. The rains – such as they were – trickle to a stop. Meadows bloom. A new vintage of Albariño arrives at tasting rooms.
Actually, that may not be an official sign of the season, but perhaps it should be. Several wineries, including Morgan, I.Brand’s La Marea label, and Twisted Roots, released their new editions of the varietal over the past few weeks. It’s reason enough for a little spring Albariño fling.
Morgan’s 2020 version is distinctly genteel on the nose – floral, with whispers of whole mango and apple peelings. A sip lulls you at first, with soft blossoms and hints of buttered toast. But that is just a ruse, as brash lemon and tart apple burst onto the palate. The wine becomes brisk and playful before residing on the finish.
Albariño has sprung.
Sam Smith: Preserving and Evolving The Morgan Style
Edible Monterey Bay
By: Laura Ness
March 8, 2022 – The SLH is rich with storied wine brands, but only a few command consistent and significant presence on grocery store shelves. Morgan is one of them. Started by winegrower Dan Lee and his wife Donna in 1982, Morgan Winery has also been the incubator and training ground for two talented winemakers who have gone on to other great labels. David Coventry, who was instrumental in the development of Metallico, the very spirited unoaked Chardonnay from Morgan, is now at Talbott, after many years of consulting for various brands including Mesa del Sol and De Tierra. Following Dave Coventry at Morgan was Gianni Abate, who was lured away from Morgan to Chalone and subsequently on to other opportunities.
Abate’s departure left the door open for Sam Smith, a UC Santa Barbara alum who spent a semester abroad in Bordeaux, where his fascination with wine soon plotted his life’s path. On the way to his current home base in Salinas, he made Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and Syrah in the Northern Rhone: two places that solidified his love for cool weather grapes. As assistant winemaker at Margerum, he further explored coastal sites with chill and altitude, giving him the impetus to form his own label that would focus on cool, mountain sites. In 2016, Smith joined Morgan for his first harvest with Morgan Winery, the SLH lodestar.
We caught up with Smith, who also makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah under his own label, Samuel Louis Smith, from a variety of local vineyard gems like Albatross Ridge, Bald Mountain, Coastview and Zayante. He’ll be pouring some of his wines sourced from the Pelio Vineyard, sited near the crest of Laureles Grade, at Soif this Thursday, from 5 to 7pm. Further details at the end of this piece.
EMB: What attracted you to the position at Morgan? How long have you been there now?
SLS: I was attracted to Morgan because it was a great opportunity to work for a historic brand and family-run winery. Morgan is a pioneer in organic viticulture in the SLH, which is really cool. I’ve been at Morgan for six years, so 2022 will be my seventh vintage.
EMB: How well does your winemaking approach mesh with that of your predecessor Gianni Abate? How would you describe your approach?
SLS: There are certainly some similarities, but also quite a few differences. These days, we’re doing less to enhance the already present richness and opulent fruit that we naturally get in the SLH, and utilizing a bit more native yeast and picking a little earlier when possible. Taking all of this into account, I think the wines we’re making now have a bit more lift and charm, and are a bit lighter across the board. That being said, the wines are still indistinguishably SLH.
EMB: Did Dan Lee describe a house style to you that he wanted to preserve? How involved is he in winemaking and blending decisions?
SLS: Yes, there is certainly a house style that we would like to preserve. However, as with everything, there’s always evolution. That evolution is being realized by the approach above. Dan’s not so involved in the winemaking these days, as he trusts me well. In most circumstances, we have a similar vision. Blending, however, is always a team effort.
EMB: How many of the varieties that you are making at Morgan had you made before and which were new to you?
SLS: I had made all varieties apart from Albariño. (Note: This grape is sourced from Cedar Lane Vineyard in Arroyo Seco and was a Silver medalist at the SF Chronicle Competition.)
EMB: Which varieties are the most challenging to make and why?
SLS: All varieties have their own personalities in the vineyard and winery that make them challenging, but Pinot Noir is probably a little more challenging, and Grenache probably a little less challenging than the rest of the pack.
EMB: Have you altered the use of cooperages since coming aboard?
SLS: Not much. Cooperage selection is one very big way to impact a house style, so it’s no surprise that the oak regimen remains steady as she goes.
You can taste Samuel Louis Smith at Soif on Thursday. Alexis and Dede are thrilled to welcome Samuel Louis Smith Wines and Pelio Estate Winery for a fun tasting on the Soif patio, Thursday, March 10, from 5 until 7pm. Tasting is $25 for the general public, and $10 for Soif wine club members.
Pelio Estate Vineyard is one of Smith’s Monterey sources for his personal portfolio. Planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by the late Peter Figge, it is owned by the Pelio family, who are working on opening a tasting room in Carmel Valley Village. After Figge’s tragic passing, the Pelio Family turned to Greg and Chris Vida to make their wines. As part of his commitment to cool, mountainous sites, Smith makes both a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this vineyard under his eponymous label.
The vines at Pelio Vineyard grow in what was an ancient seabed approximately 12 million years ago. Sitting just 6 miles from the Pacific Smith describes this site as truly on the edge of viticulture.
At the Soif tasting, guests will be able to try two Pelio Vineyard sourced Pinot Noirs side-by-side, made by different winemakers. The opportunity to do this is always enlightening, both for the audience and the presenters alike. How does fruit from the same dirt taste in two different glasses? Only one way to find out. Uncork and taste truth.
Both producers will also be pouring two other wines from their portfolios as well.
Smith told us he calls his 2019 Pelio Vineyard Pinot Noir, “Carmelita.” It is 100% from Pelio. He will also pour his 2020 Chardonnay from the Spear Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills and his 2020 Syrah from Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Mountains.
EMB: Why did you choose to source from Pelio Vineyard?
SLS: I chose Pinot Noir from Pelio because the terroir is very interesting and great for growing mineral- and structure-driven Burgundian varietal wines. While retaining good acidity, they also ripen at relatively low potential alcohol. My Samuel Louis Smith brand is focused on organically farmed, mountain sites, and Pelio qualifies.
Pelio Vineyards is located in the hills above Carmel Valley
EMB: How does Pelio differ from the Double L site?
SLS: While both are organically farmed and cool-climate sites, they are very different. The soil at Double L is granitic sandy and clay loams, and while the air temperature is generally a little warmer than at Pelio, it is much windier, so that is a cooling affect that lowers the canopy microclimate and dramatically affects ripening and acid retention. Elevation at Double L is around 500 ft. On the other hand, the soil at Pelio is a very shaley clay loam with some diatomaceous material, resulting from uplifted seabed. The air temperature is generally a bit cooler, but wind plays less of a role. Pelio is at around 1000 ft elevation. Depending on the day, one site may be more affected by marine layer than the other.
EMB: Do you use different coopers or fermentation treatments for the Pelio Vineyard wines?
SLS: There are some overlaps and differences. I use some of the same coopers, but generally select barrels from those coopers that are little more subtle, as that’s what the site requires. I generally pick earlier and use much more whole cluster, in the 50-80% range.
Come taste this special site through the lens of two different wine artists.
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.
The Wine You Should Always Drink When Watching This Classic Fall Movie
The Zoe Report
By Nicole Kliest
With a title like Autumn in New York and an all-star cast like Winona Ryder and Richard Gere, what's left to do than dim the lights and enjoy 103 minutes of fall foliage and a slightly depressing but all the same romantic storyline? For this film, eschew red and opt for a white with a full-body mouthfeel, like Chardonnay. It's fantastic with food and is an excellent white wine for the colder months of the year.
Pair It With: 2018 Double L Chardonnay
Interview with Melissa Askew, Wine Club Manager
Interview by The Crossroads Carmel
Melissa, what was your first exposure to the wine industry? Did you always know you wanted to work at a winery and tasting bar?
My father is a local Carmel Valley winemaker, so I grew up surrounded by a love of wine. But it wasn’t until I studied in Italy that my passion for wine really ignited. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Morgan for five years now. With Morgan being a local, family-owned winery, I feel right at home.
What makes Morgan wines special?
One thing in particular, I think, makes us special. Morgan was founded in 1982, and many of our customers have followed Dan Morgan Lee’s winemaking journey since then. Those who have, know that Morgan always offers consistency and value. People can depend on Morgan for a quality bottle of wine on a restaurant menu, at their local market, or straight from the source at Taste Morgan.
Which wines are your best sellers? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
That’s a tough one! We have more than 18 different wines, and of course people love them for different reasons. I will say, we are well-known for two of our flagship releases — the Twelve Clones Pinot Noir and the Highland Chardonnay. Both are quintessential SLH varietals, portraying the terroir and quality of the region while remaining affordable.
Where are the grapes sourced?
Morgan’s estate vineyard—the Double L Vineyard—is the only organically grown vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We also have partnerships with well-known growers throughout Monterey County.
Have you noticed any new wine trends since people are drinking more wine at home?
Time spent at home has encouraged more home cooking and family dining. Whether it’s a casual dinner or a home celebration of a special occasion, wine helps elevate the moment. Morgan has such a wide range of wines to choose from! We offer everything from wine for a casual everyday drink to high end wines to honor the moment.
Should we keep our eyes peeled for any new or limited-edition wines?
Absolutely! We just released our 2017 Double L Pinot Noir which received 96 points from Wine Enthusiast. It’s spicy with rich red fruit and showcases our winemaking team’s hard work. It’s truly the kind of Pinot that first made you fall in love with wine. I also have to mention our new Rose of Grenache—perfect for the summery weather we’ve been having!
How do you hold tastings at Taste Morgan wines at Crossroads Carmel amid the Covid-19 pandemic?
Good question! Our tastings are currently held outdoors. We’ve revamped our patio with socially distanced seating, umbrellas for the sun, and blankets for those foggy Carmel days. Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are encouraged due to limited seating. You can visit our website at www.morganwinery.com or give us a call at (831) 626-3700 to make a reservation for our pet-friendly patio.
We’ve all been impacted by Covid. We are grateful to have the support of our loyal Club members, customers, and community. Our main priority has been to let them know we are up to date on all safety regulations, and we are here for them, too.
What membership options are available for wine tasters?
We offer four club options:
—Double L Club – a mix of our estate and single-vineyard wines
—Club Crimson – all red wines
—Club Blanc – all white wines
—Club Highland – a range of our entire portfolio
We are currently working on a Club Exclusive Virtual Tasting to celebrate the September Club release!
Any advice for people navigating this crazy time in our lives?
Early on, a friend told me to take things day-by-day, and not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. It’s important to be grateful for the things we do have, and to continue to seek out happy moments. Also, pour yourself a glass of wine. You deserve it!
Click here for a link to The Crossroads Carmel article.
Navigating a cautious reopening of winetasting rooms in Monterey County
Featured article in the Monterey County Herald:
Not unlike that uneasy moment of peeking outside one’s shelter after the storm — or, in this case, while the pandemic persists — our community is beginning to open its doors, as we move into the next phase of reopening the local economy. Among the various businesses easing back into service starting Friday are the winetasting rooms throughout Monterey County...
...When the shelter-in-place order went into effect, Morgan Winery’s Taste Morgan in the Crossroads Shopping Center of Carmel, went from serving wine seven days a week to shuttered. As it eases into “tasting in the time of COVID,” it has condensed its week to three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday — for now.
“We want to do this right, so we’re limiting ourselves to three days, and reservations for three parties per time slot to give people a safe, social distance,” said Jackie Lee, sales administrator for Morgan Winery. “We are fortunate to have both indoor and outdoor seating to adequately accommodate our guests, and those seated outside can bring their dog.”
Reservations, one hour apart, will give guests 45 minutes of wine tasting, and reserve 15 minutes for staff to sanitize the space for the next round. Also, Taste Morgan is supplying disposable masks for patrons who need them, as well as disposable spit buckets and Govino glasses, the “go anywhere, shatterproof, reusable, recyclable” wine glass guests can take with them when they leave.
“Govino glasses don’t give quite the same experience as something in a stem,” said Lee, “but they’re not Solo cups, either. We don’t have to wash or reuse glasses, and customers get to have a really fun, cool memento.”...
Meet Monterey’s New-Wave Winemakers
From left to right; David Baird of Folktale Winery & Vineyards; Matt Piagari of Joullian Vineyards; and
Sam L. Smith of Morgan Winery
Wine Enthusiast Magazine
By Matt Kettmann
Monterey County is a historic and well-established viticultural region. Grapes sourced throughout the county serve as the backbone for many popular Central Coast cuvées, and the region is home to prestigious subappellations like Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands that are world-renowned for quality. It’s largely a land of tradition, ruled by generational families and corporate concerns that make it hard for new blood to establish itself.
But the Monterey winescape is changing. There’s an electricity buzzing across the county, as a growing contingent of adventurous vintners settles into urban wineries in Salinas and Marina, and established brands enlist the next generation of winemakers. Many have taken a renewed look at the Carmel Valley, while others discover forgotten vinelands that are also influenced by the Monterey Bay, like those in the adjacent San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties.
Unbound by the shackles of convention and attuned to the desires of millennial consumers, this emerging vanguard produces racy, exciting and even avant-garde bottlings, often at stunningly fair prices. Its efforts have reinvigorated respect for this geographically blessed cross section of California, where a diverse array of microclimates and soil types can produce a brilliant rainbow of wine styles.
Morgan: wine from a Monterey County pioneer
San Francisco Chronicle
By: Matt Kettmann
Dan Morgan Lee is a pioneering legend in this corner of Monterey County. Thirty five years after starting his winery, he continues to produce wines that wow at every price point, from the Cotes du Crow Rhone red blend to the top-tier, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
Lee followed a traditional path to wine, studying at UC Davis and then apprenticing for Jekel Winery in Monterey. A job at Durney Vineyard in Carmel Valley followed, which is where he hatched an idea for his own winery with his wife, Donna, in 1982. In 1996, the Lees purchased Double L Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and have made it one of the appellation’s iconic properties.
Unlike most other tasting rooms in Carmel, which are found in the plazas and along the cobblestone sidewalks, the Morgan experience is housed in an upscale strip mall called Crossroads Carmel on the outskirts of the village. That usually means easier parking, a sunnier space with more room to spread out and, in this instance, a large gift shop. Inside, track lighting from the vaulted ceiling illuminates the long bar, and there are ample seating areas.
WHAT TO TRY: There are a variety of tasting options, including ones that mix both whites and reds and another that’s solely Pinot Noir-focused. There may also be an opportunity to try Lee Family Farm wines, which are more experimental batches of grapes such as Grenache and Tempranillo.
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.
Dan and Donna Lee have led Morgan Winery since ’82
By: Tom Leyde
Had it not been for a wine class that Dan Lee took while attending UC Davis, the story of Morgan Winery would be quite different, or no story at all.
Lee, a native of Turlock, was a pre-med/pre-veterinarian student at the time. The wine class piqued his interest. He found it fun and wound up studying viticulture, and graduated from the university’s enology program in 1978. That led to his first job in Salinas Valley with Jeckel Vineyard in Greenfield, where he perfected his winemaking skills.
It also led to a dinner event where he met his life partner, Donna Morgan. She worked in agriculture finance and the die was cast. Morgan Winery was founded in 1982 in a warehouse off Abbott Street in Salinas.
Thirty-four years later, Morgan is a top producer of premium organic California wines. The brand is known throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada and in several European countries. Wine drinkers know that when they uncork a bottle of Morgan wine that it will be a high-quality product.
The Lees are still producing wine in the warehouse where it all started. But things have changed. They now have 25 employees, a tasting room at the Cross Roads shopping center in Carmel and a 65-acre vineyard, the Double L Vineyard, in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Double L was named after their identical twin daughters (Double L for double luck), born in 1995. Annie and Jackie are now off on their own. Annie is a graduate of West Point and is serving in the Army. Jackie, who worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Monterey County, is taking up residence in San Francisco.
Founding Morgan Winery was a big risk for the Lees. There was a deep recession going on in 1982. But they were young and ambitious. Family members invested in their venture and they were off, while still working their regular jobs.
“I sold a motorcycle. That was my big contribution,” Lee said with a laugh.
Their fermentation tank was a stainless steel milk tank trailer, and the couple often spent evenings after work labeling bottles at the warehouse.
“That first year was an El Niño year,” Lee said. “It was a difficult harvest. We were sweating bullets.”
The rains produced detritus mold on the grapes, but it actually worked to the couple’s advantage for their first vintage.
“We took barrel samples around to retailers,” Lee said. “We took these little bottles of cloudy wine. People were very gracious, but they said, ‘Why don’t you bring it back when it’s ready.’
“We were naive and young and there was nothing to fall back on,” he said.
But the couple’s persistence and knowledge paid off in gold.
Their chardonnay won a gold medal at the 1983 L.A. County Fair. Then Wine Spirits magazine did a taste-off of the gold medal winners and their Morgan chardonnay won it, receiving a platinum medal. That led to a lot of positive press about Morgan wine.
With that lucky turn of events, the Lees launched the winery with 2,000 cases of chardonnay, and released it at the Monterey Wine & Food Festival at Laguna Seca.
“That was the first time anyone (local) had tasted the wine,” Lee said.
They sold out in a year.
“It was a really exiting beginning” he said.
Eventually, Morgan wines reached the table of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. When he became president, Reagan had a representative call Lee and told him the president wanted 10 cases for a White House dinner. Lee checked his stock. He had only five cases of wine left and had to tell the president’s man he couldn’t deliver.
“To this day, I think he thinks I was sandbagging,” Lee said.
In the mid-1980s, the Lees changed jobs. Dan went to work for Durney Vineyard and Donna joined Wells Fargo Bank. Their winery output grew to 5,000 cases. They produced pino noir and cabernet and even did some zinfandel. They ventured into syrah and grenache.
In 1996, they bought their ranch. It was bare ground and they planted it in 1997. There are now 481/2 acres in grapes. The couple planted their grapes in a north-south line to take advantage of maximum sun and shade for the grapes. The ranch is certified organic.
“We wanted to be organic from the very beginning … ,” Lee said. “The whole purpose of this is wine quality … It’s the ultimate goal. … We kind of think of the vineyard as a more pure expression of the fruit there.”
The Double L Vineyard boasts 25 different clones on eight different rootstocks. Those rootstocks produced the winery’s flagship releases: the Double L Pino Noir and Double L Chardonnay.
The vineyard also offers single vineyard designate releases from three other Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards: Garys’, Rosella’s and Tondre. Grapes also are purchased from other local growers, including Paraiso, KW Ranch, Leavens, Fogstone and McIntyre.
The Lees continue to buy grapes from other vineyards to add to the different wines that Morgan produces.
Morgan Winery was named Winery of the Year in 1996 by Wine & Spirits magazine and in 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle.
After more than three decades in the Monterey County wine industry, Lee has a long view of its history.
“The industry has matured, I think,” he said. “The quality of wine has improved and I think the wine business has become glamorized.”
A number of celebrities have started their own wine labels.
“That has not been real healthy,” Lee said. “I think the consumer is faced with almost overload.”
Now 63, Lee remains committed to producing premium wines from Monterey County grapes.
“I’m still having fun with it,” he said.
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.