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Santa Lucia Highlands

A.V.A. Established 1991

Current planted acreage: approx. 5900 acres
Growers: 34

highlands-1The earliest vinifera plantings of the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) appellation took place in the 1790s. Spanish missionaries and conquistadors were the first grape growers of the area. As the conquistadors left California, the art of wine making in the highlands was forgotten. However, the craft once again brought to life in the early 1970s. Pioneers such as Rich and Claudia Smith at Paraiso, the McFarland family at Sleepy Hollow, Phil Johnson at La Estancia, and Nicky Hahn at Smith & Hook revived the highlands legacy in winemaking.

Approved in 1991 as a unique AVA, American Viticulture Area, the vineyards here are planted on the southeast facing terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range. They overlook the majestic Salinas River Valley. The vines’ elevated location on the highlands enable them to take full advantage of the morning sunshine. As afternoon approaches, a maritime breeze reaches the vineyards, allowing them to cool. This climatic combination results in an especially long growing season. As a result, grapes can fully develop and attain maximum varietal potential. Ancient, glacial alluvial soils pair with ocean fog and breezes to create a true Region I climate. Cool weather-loving Burgundy varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flourish here; Rhone grape types emulate their French northern districts brethren, thriving in the SLH’s slightly warmer, more wind-protected canyons and slopes.

highlands-2Today, 5900 wine grape acres are currently under cultivation, with the majority heavily weighted toward Pinot Noir (2,700) and Chardonnay
(2000). Rhone varietals also thriving in the region. This is becoming evident as more Santa Lucia Highland properties produce high end Syrah grapes and wines. Winegrowers of the Santa Lucia Highlands are innovators – almost every single vineyard is a living laboratory, with new clones, trellising systems, and farming regimens being continuously explored. The SLH is the holy land of wine making and continues to be a huge contributor in the wine industry.