The hunt for California’s Holy Grail

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You think you need to travel to The Mecca of Pinot Noir to satisfy your appetite for the variety? Well, I have news for all of you starving wine lovers. Though it is hard to deny that a week in Beaune, France would do wonders for the wine soul, I can point to so many places in California where Pinot Noir has gone to the next level. Where? Could it be the Russian River Valley, the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast? While those places do indeed have some of America’s very best Pinots, today I’d like to talk about the Santa Lucia Highlands.

History tells us that the earliest plantings in this AVA took place in the 1790’s, but it was not until the 1980’s and 1990’s that the area was re-discovered by farming families: Pisoni, Franscioni, Manzoni, Boekenoogen and others. Today there are many artisan productions proving this area’s potential for greatness. At the forefront of the movement is Bernardus, whose single vineyard Pinot Noirs are nothing short of spectacular. While Proprietor Ben Pon had been known for developing a strong case for Bordeaux blends (Marinus) out of Carmel Valley, his more recent launch of Pinot Noir is grabbing  attention from the top critics in the wine world. Wine publications such as the Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate and the Wine Enthusiast, have given the wines superb accolades and high scores.

In my recent tastings I was really wowed by the 2011 single vineyard offerings. The  Soberanes shows great balance and trueness to the varietal. The Sierra Mar takes the varietal on a darker fruit journey and is pretty delicious. The Pisoni is scary good and so young that it could take a year of two before it is ready, though one could roast a leg of lamb and be pretty happy with this wine. The Garys’ is complete and distinctive as it offers a more savory personality. My very favorite is the Rosella’s. This wine is so spectacular that I could easily turn away a fine Gevrey-Chambertin and pour this one in its place. Gentle and bright, yet deceptively powerful, the wine just stays, stays and stays on the palate. It may now be the time to invoke a new saying, “Can Burgundy rival America’s best single vineyard Pinot Noir?”

2 thoughts on “The hunt for California’s Holy Grail”

  1. wow spot on … as I read the article I thought you were going to suggest that Russian River was on par with Burgundy. Though Burgundy has it’s problems and it is elusive to find any of the mythic magic, that magic is still there and not in Russian River, though I quite like Russian River. I was about to roll my eyes at the article when I then hit your real goal – Santa Lucia. Love this place. Just getting to know it after making a correlation between Pinots I’ve loved over the past year and being like “they all came from SLH”

    Can’t say I’ve found anything to match burgundian magic in SLH but I’m open to the possibility that it’s there. I can say that SLH has made me quite happy over the past few years and it’s the only place in California on my map of places I want to wine tour.

    Looking forward to trying Bernardus single vineyard bottlings!

    – Kyle

    1. I am a big fan of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs too. Pinot Noir provides so much fun for the serious wine drinker and as so many nuances to it. Very often the varietal is so producer dependent.

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