In a Harvest Update Zoom call on September 19, 2023, moderated by Gwen McGill, winegrowers of the Santa Lucia Highlands candidly discussed their growing season. Annie Lee of Morgan highlighted the impact of the abundant winter precipitation: it resulted in heightened vigor in the vines and the cover crop. Lee mentioned that bud break at her Double L property occurred in late April, with flowering in early June. She was pleased with the fruit set and shared that the unusually high precipitation and delayed bud break called for intensive vineyard work in May and June.
Lee reported that due to this year's weather patterns, there is a reversal in the ripening between their lower and upper fields, with the lower field ahead this year. Lee also indicated that despite an initial thinning of the green fruit to aid the ripening of remaining clusters, the vines are so fruitful they'll go through a second thinning process. With all these factors considered, she anticipates a delayed but bountiful harvest.
This report illustrates that while Lee and other winegrowers are navigating substantial changes due to this year's weather conditions, careful management can help growers adapt to Mother Nature's curveballs.
California winemakers are riding the Climate roller coaster and
still producing top rated drinks. It’s all about the passion.
By: Louise L. Schiavone
"This crazy weather is my biggest concern," winemaker Dan Morgan Lee tells me in the middle of the California winter's extraordinary rainy season. A lifetime winemaker and founder of Morgan Winery, Lee owns 65 acres in Soledad, California's Santa Lucia Highlands. In this rain-drenched winter, the hillsides have transformed from drought-parched brown to a green as rich as the Scottish Highlands. Fifty acres of the vineyard are planted with grapevines and, together with the grapes that Lee buys from other farmers, Morgan Winery produces 30,000 12-liter cases a year. Its stocks sell out annually, with retail prices ranging from $20 to $75 per bottle. He holds 90+ ratings for many of his wines, mainly chardonnays and pinot noirs.
Morgan bottles everything from the vineyard before the next harvest. "We sell a good product that tastes good to us," Lee says. But in recent years, like all farmers, he's concerned about the intensifying manifestations of climate change. "The dry years are really dry, and the wet years are only wet." The Highlands experienced a flood two years ago. In 2020, a fire in the hillsides corrupted the flavor of red grapes in many vineyards, including Morgan's, with smoke taint so powerful that it made them unusable. A Labor Day temperature spike last year dehydrated some grapes on the vines, but Lee sees every day as a new exercise in advance planning and patience. "We find that, a lot of the time, your sugars rise with a full moon and once it starts to wane, they normalize."
Beneath the Santa Lucia Highlands, Lee says, is an aquifer that's bigger than Lake Tahoe, enough to support growth for at least two decades. When this highly coveted land became his in 1996, he resolved to go organic. "There were so many people around here who said, 'You're absolutely crazy!'" But, he thought, "we were so fortunate. Land in the Santa Lucia Highlands doesn't change hands, probably ever, and we thought, How do we treat this property with the most love and the most respect that we can?"
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.
"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."
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.
By: Cathrine Todd
Another well-known figure in the area is Dan Morgan Lee, no relation to Adam Lee. He has been a winemaker in Monterey County for over 40 years and started to focus on Santa Lucia Highlands around 20 years ago with his winery, Morgan Winery. Although the Pinot Noir wines from Santa Lucia Highlands have gotten a lot of attention, Dan said that Chardonnay initially put them on the map such as the ones made by Talbott Vineyards and his winery. But it makes sense since great Pinot Noir and outstanding Chardonnay go hand in hand in finding the ideal grape growing region.
Yet Dan is not only proud of their fabulous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but that they continue to safeguard the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA name by making sure that only vineyards that fit particular criteria are included in the official appellation. A few years back, Dan initiated the need to have the wine region evaluated by a professional geographer and viticulturist who examined the geological formations. The areas that were truly highlands were added, or if already existing within the AVA were allowed to stay in it, compared to the flatter land removed from the appellation, so some land was added while a lot more land was taken out. It is undoubtedly an atypical course of action to have less total acreage after a new AVA assessment is done.
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.
By: April Louis
May 16, 2022
Tasting Highlights' wine reviews are fresh out of the tasting room, offering a sneak peek of our editors' most recent scores and notes to WineSpectator.com members.
Stretching from Santa Barbara County to the San Francisco Bay area, California's Central Coast AVA is one of the most diverse wine regions in the country. Featuring Monterey Chardonnay, Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, Paso Robles Zinfandel and more, this week's selection displays the sheer range of Central Coast wines available. Even better, all ten wines here have earned 90 points or more on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, offering some of the best examples from this expansive region.
Santa Barbara is known for its lively and brigh-fruited wines. Take Margerum’s Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc for example; it delivers fresh pomelo, citrus zest and lime leaf flavors on a sleek yet juicy frame. But Santa Barbara is perhaps best-known for its Pinot Noir. Optik’s Bien Nacido Vineyard bottling is a light and piercing version with cherry, blood orange, pomegranate and tarragon notes.
While the warm Paso Robles region is known for Rhône-style wines and Zinfandels, Adelaida has succeeded here with Chardonnay. Vineyards in the Adelaida District AVA benefit from chalk-limestone soils and the Pacific's influence, which causes significant diurnal swings during the summer, allowing Chardonnay to thrive. As a result, Adelaida’s HMR white bursts with stone fruit flavors and butterscotch, ginger and orange sherbet notes.
Moving up Route 101, the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation lies near the coastal town Monterey. Morgan has been making wine in the area since the 1980s, including the zesty G17 Syrah below, a great value at $25. Farther north, Contra Costa County may not be the Central Coast's best-known subregion, but it's notably home to century-old vines. The region's Evangelho vineyard, for instance, was planted more than 130 years ago by Portuguese immigrants. It's the source of the Zinfandel, Mataro and Carignan grapes used by Bedrock winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson to craft the unique field blend below, which displays rich cherry and orange peel notes supported by lively tannins.
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.
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.
By: Nathan and Courtney Marton
Lofty blackberry, roasted pine nut, juicy blood orange. Ethereal bing cherry, forest floor, rhubarb pie. Gorgeously expansive and elegant bursts of pomegranate preserves, ripe cranberry, and blueberry lead a deep yet delightfully delicate attack magnificently complicated by captivating organic tones of forest floor, sautéed mushroom, and peat moss. Notes of cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and thyme contribute intriguing waves of lifted spices that dance alongside perfumed floral tones of rose, lavender, and violet. Hints of nori and sea breeze gently impart beautifully fresh saline character that collides with gravely earthiness in a brilliant display of terroir. Hauntingly high toned and expressive on the nose while remaining thoroughly generous and ripe yet nicely restrained on the palate; exhibiting a bold yet perfectly balanced presentation that frames seductive fruit against an incredible backdrop of complex non-fruit flavors. Medium-plus bodied with moderate tannin backed by bright acidity. This 2018 Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir by Morgan Winery is a pure and pedigreed red from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Located in Monterey County along the eastern-facing foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of California's most well known and iconic regions for the production of Pinot Noir thanks to the influence of cold wind and fog that blows in daily from the nearby Monterey Bay. This bottling, crafted by Morgan Winery using Pinot Noir sourced from their estate Double L Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, is an irresistible example of the unique combination of concentration and balance that wines from this region can express. This effortlessly leaps from the glass with pronounced aromatics of dark and red fruits intertwined with pleasant forest tones, intricate spices, perfumed florals, and deliciously salty earthiness. While drinking wonderfully today this should also continue to age and improve in bottle for at least 5-10 years, where its plump fruit will eventually subside to reveal greater tertiary complexity. Excellent.
By: Laura Ness
There’s a trend in the competitions I’ve judged so far this year: Albariño keeps showing up in a big way. At the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Competition, an Albariño from Wood Family in Livermore topped a field of 41 entries—a record number—to earn Best of Class. At the just held 2022 East Meets West Wine Competition, a 2021 Albariño from Las Positas, another Livermore winery, won Best of Show, beating out 1,100 total entries for the top prize. Let’s hear it for this Iberian white popular in Spain (30K acres) and Northwest Portugal (14K acres), whose acreage has doubled in CA since 2012. Yep, we’re up to a whopping 560 acres now.
Local favorite Morgan, won a lot of hearts and big smiles with the 2020 Morgan Albariño (13%, $24) from Arroyo Seco. Gorgeous floral aromatics just charm your nose, and the pleasing flavors of melon, white peach and a hint of salty prosciutto make this wine a keeper. Soft and delicate, but with definitive presence from start to finish. A most engaging composition.
Morgan winemaker Sam Smith tells us this wine is from the Mission Vineyard in the northern reaches of Arroyo Seco, very close to the SLH, and that Morgan has been sourcing from there for seven years. He used Cross Evolution yeast to enhance both aromatics and mouthfeel, which is also bolstered by barrel aging for six months in 11% new French and Hungarian barrels, with the balance being neutral. He picked the fruit at 21.5 brix. Asked what he’s aiming for with this wine, Smith says, “We are trying to achieve a wine that is relatively lean and very fresh, with effusive aromatics and enough mid palate richness to be paired with oysters and lunchtime fare alike.”
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