When the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA was founded in 1992, it was producing mediocre grapes sold by the truckload to mass producers like Mondavi and Sutter Home. But Gary Pisoni, and later Robb Talbott and Gary Franscioni, recognized the tremendous potential of the area and focused on creating quality single vineyard wines. Other producers began following suit, and almost overnight the region has become a fountain of highly-coveted wine.
The Santa Lucia Highlands is made up of just over 20,000 acres and runs along a southeast-facing slope that overlooks the Salinas Valley of Monterey County. This AVA has one of the coolest and longest growing seasons in all of California with average August high temperatures is the mid-70s. Significant winds and fog constantly funnel through the valley from Monterey Bay, keeping the area cool and moist. But the high moisture levels bring mildew, which is the biggest problem facing vineyards in the Highlands.
These growing conditions are ideal for Burgundian varietals, with Chardonnay vineyards taking up over half of the 2,300 acres of planted vineyards in the Highlands. The Chardonnay here displays ripe apple and pear flavors while Pinot Noir, the runner-up in popularity, shows a lush black cherry. Syrah is the up-and-coming star of the Highlands with producers planting more and more vines in the warmer southern end of the region. Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Blanc and Riesling are also planted but less abundantly.