MONTEREY, Calif.  (Food-News.net)  The 2010 wine grape harvest in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation is a couple weeks behind schedule, thanks to an unusually cool spring and summer. But the same conditions that have delayed the start of Crush have also combined to allow slow, gentle ripening and maturation of the area’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit – making for a potentially very high-quality crop. Some of California’s finest vineyards call the Highlands home: 2,729 acres of Pinot Noir and 2,034 acres of Chardonnay are currently planted there.  

At the Pisoni Vineyard, Gary Pisoni is looking to begin picking the first week of October. He comments that “Cooler years are always welcome – they extend the growing season and allow for slow and steady ripening. Being close to the ocean with fog and moisture, though, things can still be ‘too cool.’ This year has seen one of the coldest summers on record for many parts of California. Fortunately, the Santa Lucia Highlands are also very windy, which keeps the grapes dry. Rains usually start later in the year, giving us the extra time needed time to ripen – hopefully turning a challenging year into a truly great vintage.”

Dan Lee of Morgan Winery is also excited about the potential quality at his organically farmed Double L Vineyard in the Highlands. “If there was an award for healthy vines, we would have won it this year. However, our awards come from the wines we produce, and although hard to predict right now, the wines should be home runs, or, at least, triple baggers.”

Mr. Lee continues, “The Pinot Noir bunch weights at the Double L look lighter, with small clusters and small berries. The cool summer has slowed ripening. The Double L is about eight to ten days behind ‘normal.’ We’re not concerned, though, because with a smaller crop and healthy vines with plenty of green leaves, the ripening process can still progress nicely. With the warmer weather due over the next few days, the grapes will ‘sprint’ to the finish line. At Double L, the Pinot Noir harvest should start the end of this week and take five weeks. The Chardonnay pick should start the first week of October and take four weeks.”

Rich Smith at Paraiso Vineyards is getting ready for his thirty-fourth harvest in the Santa Lucia Highlands. He comments that “Pinot Noir is about three weeks behind in sugar development compared to 2009; however, the flavor development in the berries is very close to ‘normal.’ Flavors have been bright and vibrant in the earliest clones for the last 10 days or so. We plan to start Crush gradually over the next couple of days.

“Our Pinot Noir harvest at Paraiso could extend even a week longer than the three-week norm; we could finish the Pinot Noir fermentations after Halloween. With no rain in the long range forecast and plenty of time to pick, 2010 should be a great vintage.”

The Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the crown jewels of California viticulture, growing some of the state’s best cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Syrah. The appellation encompasses 46 estates, with 5,900 acres of vineyards; the area’s unique character was recognized with official A.V.A. status in 1991.  

The S.L.H. Wine Artisans is an association of vineyards and vintners that grow grapes here or use this region’s fruit to craft their wines. The group’s online home is http://www.santaluciahighlands.com



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