MONTEREY COUNTY, CA
The 2016 wine grape harvest in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation is likely to begin in about four weeks.
Early reports from the vineyards indicate another high quality, smaller than normal Pinot Noir crop. Winegrowers in the S.L.H. are also relieved that smoke from the large Soberanes fire has not been a problem. Some of California's finest vineyards call the Highlands home: 3,200 acres of Pinot Noir and 2,100 acres of Chardonnay are planted there.
Jason Smith, of Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines, states that "the growing season has been a good one. The potential Pinot Noir crop is larger than last year but still smaller than normal. The main difference from the past two years has been the return of very cool nights – allowing the vines to rest and provide the long 'hang time' that our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir love. We'll probably begin picking Pinot in early September; the Chardonnay harvest will start mid to late September and be done in early October. Overall, we are excited about the coming vintage; just wish there was more of it."
Jason has many friends and associates that are dealing with the large Soberanes fire, near Big Sur. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the folks close to the fire zone. In the S.L.H., we've been fortunate; smoke from that blaze has not been an issue for us."
Longtime Highlands' grower Steve McIntyre is also happy that fire concerns have not added to his normal pre-harvest planning: "the majority of the smoke is headed to the southeast or out to sea. In the Salinas Valley, the same marine dynamics that create our winds and fog off Monterey Bay have provided a protective inversion – the smoke is trapped on top of the inversion layer. In the afternoon, our famous winds scour the hillside vineyards and clean out the air under the inversion."
Steve McIntyre continues that he is enthusiastic about the coming crush's potential – "we've had a remarkable string of successful vintages here in the Highlands. While crop loads are down, the vines are very focused on the remaining fruit. It should be another high quality year."
Morgan's Double L Vineyard is one of the northernmost in the appellation. This is owner Dan Lee's 17th harvest on the property.
"Veraison is finishing up in our Pinot Noir blocks and we are on track for an early to mid-September harvest. Chardonnay a couple weeks after that. The crop is fairly light again this year. But we're on the right curve, with phenol and flavor development versus fruit ripeness. Mildew pressures have been high but we've been aggressive, within our organic protocols – the fruit is very clean. And so far, no problem with smoke from the fire – our ocean winds and the natural barrier of the Santa Lucia range are keeping any smoke away from our mountainside grapes."
The Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the crown jewels of California viticulture, growing and producing some of the state's best cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The appellation encompasses more than 6,000 acres of prime vineyards, planted on the elevated terraces and alluvial fans of the Santa Lucia mountain range in close proximity to nearby Monterey Bay. The region's unique winegrowing character was recognized with official A.V.A. status in 1991.
Formed in 2005, the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans is a non-profit association of vineyards and wineries that grow grapes in the S.L.H. or use the appellation's fruit to craft their vintage releases. The group's online home is SantaLuciaHighlands.com.