Santa Lucia Highlands
Some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world grows in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, a narrow, 18-mile-long coastal region tucked along the western hills of Monterey’s Salinas Valley.
These vineyards are planted on the southeast facing terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountains, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. Ancient and light well-drained soils pair with maritime influences create an optimal region 1 microclimate for Pinot Noir.
Sun, Wind & Wine!
This bench land runs along the west side of the Salinas Valley above the valley floor, between the City of Gonzales and the Arroyo Seco canyon. A fault line divides the valley floor and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Its southeast facing slopes allow the highlands to take advantage of the morning sun. Sitting above the valley fog that shrouds the Salinas Valley each morning during the summer, long cool days characterize the area.
More than 200 years ago Franciscan friars at the Spanish mission of Soledad planted the first wine grape vines in what is now the Salinas Valley. The area occupied by the Sarmento Ranch Vineyard was once part of the Soledad Mission Ranch. When the Mexican government secularized the religious missions and divided up the church’s land holdings in the 1830s, part of the land went to the Sarmento family, which still owns it today. The vines planted by the friars vanished in time and it wasn’t until the early 1960s that vineyards reappeared, with growers experimenting by planting just about every grape variety. Experience proved that the cool-loving Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produced exceptional fruit in the cooler, northern part of the valley. Smith was one of the first to recognize the potential of the Santa Lucia Highlands, planting vines here in 1973, although the area wasn’t designated an American Viticultural Area until 1992.
Santa Maria Valley
Dan Tudor first made wine in 1982 while working for cousin Louie Lucas, the founding and managing partner of Tepuesquet Vineyards in the Santa Maria valley. Tepusquet Vineyards was owned by Luis and George Lucas and partner Al Gagnon, and consisted of a 2,700-acre ranch with 1,700 acres of developed vineyard located 17 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and sit at 400 to 800 feet above sea level. They are planted in sandy, alluvial soil that is well-drained which limits yields and drives the vines to concentrate their energy on fruit maturation. The cool climate with moderating maritime influences from the east-west orientation of the valley leads to a long growing season and desirable acid retention.
This benchland is located between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Sisquoc River, and was originally denoted as Tepuzli, a Chumash Indian term meaning “copper coin.” Spanish settlers later renamed it Rancho Tepusquet. The original owners of the rancho, part of a 1838 Mexican land grant, were the Olivera family who raised cattle and planted Mission grapes.