Like most wine writers during the dog days of Covid, my standard winery visits morphed into Zoom wine tastings, and I had my fair share. Always eager to participate, I learned a great deal tasting my way through Argentinian varietals, Tuscan treasures, and Napa’s best cabs. But throughout these virtual journeys, one of my greatest a-ha moments came via a tutorial about the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Though largely under the radar and deep in the shadows of more prominent pinot regions such as Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley or Santa Barbara County’s Santa Rita Hills, this Monterey County sub-AVA is a source for some of California’s preeminent pinot noir winemakers.
Fully aware of their relative anonymity, the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans created the “Mighty Cool Pinot” tour to spotlight their premier wine-growing region and its signature grape. The tour presents a rare opportunity for those around the U.S. to experience the world-class pinot noirs emanating from this cool-climate, fog-shrouded growing region that proudly rejects its wallflower status.
Kicking off in Denver on April 27, 2023, before moving to San Diego, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, the walkaround format wine-tasting “tour” features such acclaimed producers as Bernardus Winery, Hahn Family Wines, Morgan Winery, Pisoni Vineyards, ROAR Wines, Rombauer Vineyards, Wrath Wines, and more—a dozen in total, pouring samples of more than 50 wines. Guests can mingle with winemakers such as Kerith Overstreet of Windsor’s Bruliam Winery, who annually makes the four-hour trek to the Central Coast in search of fruit for one of her many pinot noir bottlings.
“I buy fruit from the SLH because the grapes showcase a specific personality and a tremendous sense of place, totally unique to the region—and different from Sonoma County,” said Overstreet. “SLH terroir is informed by cool weather, morning coastal fog, and intense afternoon winds that mitigate rot pressure, keep the grapes cool, maintain the acidity, thicken skins, and lengthen ‘hang time.’ The resulting wines have smooth, silky tannins and are always sexy on the palate.”
The tour name references the ‘mighty cool’ climate, which Overstreet references. A sub-AVA of Monterey County’s Monterey AVA, SLH is cooled by strong daily winds and Monterey Bay fog that lowers temperatures, creating growing conditions ideal for more complexity, depth, and intensity. Low precipitation during harvest extends the growing season, yielding consistent, high-quality fruit from vintage to vintage- the resulting wines ranking among the best pinot noirs in the United States.
“Wine lovers fall in love with the distinctly rich, lush, and vibrant pinot noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands because of its delicious versatility,” said Steve McIntyre, proprietor of McIntyre Vineyards. “We’re excited for people to meet the generational family farmers and renowned winemakers from our small but mighty winegrowing region.”
Tickets are available here.