The winegrowers of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation are catching their breath after a fast and furious 2014 wine grape crush.
While the totals for the district are still being compiled, early reports show yields slightly higher than normal with “very good” to “excellent” quality on Pinot Noir, the Highlands’ most widely planted varietal.
“The dry, warm winter and spring conditions pushed everything forward a bit but in the end, the overall quality of the fruit was superb,” said Dan Lee of Morgan Winery.
Lee has just completed the 2014 harvest on his organically-farmed Double L Vineyard in the Highlands. The warmest spring and summer in recent memory meant early “bud break” and ripening.
“Happily, the late summer and early fall were gentle, without many heat spikes; the winds and fog off nearby Monterey Bay slowed down ripening and allowed for gradual flavor development,” Lee said. “The young 2014 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays look exceptional.”
Bill Brosseau, Director of Winemaking for Testarossa, sources fruit from several of the Highland district’s best estates.
“We were picking some Chardonnay in late August, which is early for the Highlands,” Brosseau said.
Yields were 20 percent higher at many vineyards in the Highlands, according to Brosseau. This included the Dos Rubios and Fogstone properties. Overall quality was very good with slightly lower acids, riper fruit flavors, and great color intensity on Pinot Noir.
“I expect the 2014 vintage’s ‘style’ to end up somewhere between the great fruit character of the 2012s and the weight and intensity of the 2013s,” Brosseau continued.
Jason Smith at Paraiso Vineyards, one of the Santa Lucia Highlands’ original plantings, is happy with the harvest’s results.
“It was an early but great pick; we brought in our first Pinot Noir during the first week of September and finished the last,” Smith said.
Smith harvested his Chardonnay the last week of September and first week of October. He reported quality and tonnage was good with “good flavors and color and nice complexity in certain clones.
“Acids dropped nicely with the warm nights and the fruit ripened in a balanced manner, with no “big swings” due to weather events,” Smith said.
For his Mooney Family Wines label, Michael Mooney sources grapes from three well-known Santa Lucia Highlands properties: Boekenoogen, Vigna Monte Nero, and Tondre Grapefield.
Michael anticipated an early harvest as well based on an earlier-than-normal bud break that was driving by warm, spring temperatures and very little rainfall, which boosted early-season soil temperatures.
The Santa Lucia Highlands is known for its cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The region encompasses more than 600 acres of vineyards planted on the elevated terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range.
Formed in 2005, the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans is a formal association of vineyards and vintners that grow grapes here or use this region’s fruit to craft their wines.