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Love Pinot & Chard? 6th Annual SLH Gala Delivered

by Laura Ness - HerVineNess on May 31, 2012

SLHlogoFor the past 6 years, the Santa Lucia Highlands Artisan winemakers have held what is arguably one of the most delicious and fun introspectives on an AVA: what began as the Highlands Fling, morphed into the Santa Lucia Highlands Gala, a gathering of all the wineries that produce wines from fruit grown in the SLH AVA. SLH Vineyards map 2010

This narrow strip of rugged land above the Salinas River was once home to cattle and row crops. Over the last 30 years, driven largely by the success of pinot noir and the efforts of Rich Smith of Paraiso and the Central Coast Vineyard Team, Steve McIntyre of Monterey-Pacific , Dan Lee of Morgan and the ambassadorial crusade of Gary Pisoni, this region has become a mecca for Burgundian fruit and consistently produces some of the finest examples of  pinot and chardonnay coming out of North America.

HollyBThis years event, organized by Dave Muret of the SLH Artisans with assistance from Holly Boekenoogen (left), whose family hosted the event last year at their vineyard, was held inside the cavernous Mer Soleil barrel room off River Road, in the northern part of the benchlands. As beautiful as the Highlands are in May, or any other time for that matter, you never know how that capricious Mother Nature will behave. Tables were set up on the crushpad for outdoor enjoyment, to the sounds of a lively jazz band, and many people hung out, grooving on the lovely setting with the vineyards all abloom.


When thinking back on the day, the wines I most wanted to drink more of right then and there were the 2011 Manzoni pinot gris (not yet bottled) – dancing with bright zippy acidity, the 2011 McIntyre vin gris of pinot noir – a lovely, refreshing zinger of a rose – and the La Rochelle pinot rose, footloose and fancy free. They are go-to refreshers, always ready to please.

My top picks list reflects the wines that I’d want to sit down and have a much longer conversation with – the kinds of wines that like your favorite music artists, you never tire of, but don’t necessarily want to listen to all the time, so you can go back and visit them and discover new aspects to appreciate. I’ll start with chards.

2010 Pisoni/Lucia chardonnay, Soberanes vineyard – My friends and I kept coming back to this as our favorite chardonnay, delightfully minerally, elegant, light on its feet and lemon-fresh breezy in citrusy acidity.

display_1385ec55bf5df45d0afde4ac800b1de92010 Pelerin, Siera Mar vineyard chardonnay- An arresting chardonnay, with incredible depth and breadth, and a profound, texturally divine minerality from master vintner, Chris Weideman. This vineyard is impressive, and I wish I’d tasted more of its outcome. My friend Bruce did, and was delighted with all the examples.

2010 Wrath McIntyre vineyard chardonnay – As light and lovely as a white-gloved Blythe Danner, oozing white peaches and lime. Classy and classic. Nicely done, Sabrine.SabrineBottleMed

2010 Puma Road “Silver Cap” Vigna Monte Nero – a dead ringer for a classic Chablis, with a taught, taffeta like texture that asked for chilled prawns with lemon-caper mayo.  This, like the Mer Soleil Silver chard shows how naked chardonnay can show up for a photo shoot without feeling, well, naked.

The pinots were all so freaking good, it’s hard to choose favorites, especially since so many of them are so close, it’s like listening to barbershop harmony. In fact, pretty much everything I tried had an appeal on some level. I’d have to say Morgan, Talbott and Wrath have the deepest collections. Everyone in my group raved about the 2010 Double L pinot: without doubt, a standard of SLH measure.

SQSL08_webThe standout pinot of the day for me was the 2010 Sequana, mostly because it is just so different in its earthy savoriness. It’s like a brooding Marlon Brando in a room of suave and sophisticated Cary Grants and Rock Hudsons. I’m a sucker for its sinewey structure that’s laced with caraway, sage and the unmistakable salt-edged flavors of the Pommard clone. The 2009 Sequana is lovely also, with Asian spices and a bit more warmth.

prod_image1_31I was totally taken by the ROAR 2010 Garys’, a massively well-built AMG tuned Mercedes Benz, purring with dark energy and gobs of horsepower. Neck and neck with that would be the 2010 Pisoni/Lucia Garys’ iteration, laden with incredible pomegranate and dense chocolate brownie notes. More like a Bentley.

For sheer earthy, gutso, there’s the 2009 Wrath Tondre Grapefields pinot, as earthy as they come – a true Percheron among Arabians.  Or a V8 Challenger among Honda Accords. My friend Tracey fell head over heels for this, right before she fell head over heels for the 2010 Wrath Boekenoogen, yet unreleased, and quite frankly, a progressive fruit party in the mouth that just keeps going from one berry bash to the next.

RayFWLadiesOne of the most drinkable, food-oriented pinots is the 2010 Puma Road Vina Monte Nero pinot, absolutely rock solid, yet almost ethereal in its flowing bright red fruits and acidity. Classy and well priced at $30.  Ray Franscioni was grinning ear to ear as people walked away with wine in their glass, happily savoring it instead of using the dump bucket – the wines are seriously up, up and away.

ChrisWPoursPelerin’s 2009 Sierra Mar pinot, made by master vintner, Chris Weideman (left), spoke to me in that sultry voice, maybe Tracy Chapman, that rides the edge between soulful and pissed off. It has brilliant structure, great depth, and layer after layer of sweet strawberry jam counterpointing cranberry, pomegranate and currants. This is a wine to ponder.

Other wines that deserve mention are the 2010 Mansfield-Dunne from the Peterson Vineyard, owned by Scott Peterson, below. Good earth, good acidity, and a nice touch of sundried tomato and herbal notes. Solid.ScottPeterson

Also was impressed by the 2010 Kori from KW Ranch, formerly Fairview, which was deftly made by Kori Violini, in concert with master winemaker Sabrine Rodems, who showcased the fruit’s perfuminess and nicely rounded its tannins into a solid, approachable wine.