If you’re fortunate enough to make a visit to the Pisoni family’s land, you’ll see the Santa Lucia mountains rising blue in the distance. Just below you, terraced blocks of Pisoni vines shape the foothills into a patchwork of leafy green. Pick a plum or apricot off one of the scores of fruit trees Pisoni’s vineyard manager Mark tends as you listen to him describe the ethos that guides his family’s stewardship of the land. “Across the seasons and over the years our ambition has always been to grow exceptional wine grapes,” Mark explains. “But developing the best possible fruit means taking care of everything on our land–everything from the soil to the plants to the beneficial insects and honey bees.”
“From the soil to the sun to the wind that rushes through here, everything is connected,” he continues. This all-encompassing approach has guided the family for generations, both as grape-growers and as winemakers. “This ranch has a special energy. Dad recognized it early on, and when I walk past the vines, I feel it too. It’s this energy Jeff captures in every bottle of our wine and which is is such a pleasure to share with others,” Mark concludes.
Our focus is on taking care of our community, and of life here in a large sense, which makes us all the prouder of our Green Medal award. . .Mark Pisoni
No wonder, then, that the family is especially honored and gratified at being recognized with a prestigious 2020 Green Medal award for Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership. The Green Medal confers four awards annually as a way to recognize farmers and vintners who foster and model practices that are environmentally sound, economically responsible, and socially equitable.
The Green Medal foregrounds the ways in which the Pisonis work to maintain healthy soil and to preserve their stunning acreage, most of which is left fallow to support biodiversity in plant species and wildlife. But the family has long adopted a multi-pronged approach to sustainability. They are committed to supporting their team, members of which have worked alongside the family for generations. There is also the drive the family puts into their charitable work, and to their championing of breast cancer research through their program with Lucy wines. A dollar from every bottle of Lucy sold is earmarked for cancer aid and research. The program has allowed the Pisonis to bring people together and to create community. “We’ve developed great relationships with amazingly strong women across the country,” says Mark.
The fact is, we want to make great wine not only today but long into the future. And sustainable farming allows us to do just that.Jeff Pisoni
“Many of our reviews are focused on the wine,” Jeff offers. “The Green Medal award shines light on practices that are part of our ongoing work but that don’t get talked about as frequently.” The insectary garden the family has established ranks high among these systems as an important means to work sustainably. Special Projects manager Jazmin Lopez explains. “Locating our insectary in the middle of the vineyard lets us attract all kinds of beneficial insects. We’re luring them by using all California native flowers, in order to enhance the biodiversity that is already part of the ranch.” This part of the ranch in particular frequently showcases biodiversity by making itself felt as well as seen. As Mark notes,
“When you walk through the garden, you hear as well as see its energy—its humming bees, its moving insects, the sense that these small creatures of earth and air are illustrations of our healthy ecosystem.”
In Jazmin’s capable hands, the insectary has grown from one to almost two acres. Jazmin also works as a beekeeper alongside Mark. Working with these pollinators is particularly important right now as development and climate change threaten bee populations worldwide. As a side benefit, doing so also allows the Pisonis to bottle extravagantly good honey each year.
Combined, such practices–responsibility to the community, environmentally sound practices, and fiscally sound ways of operating—add up to a real respect for the land, and for the people who take care of the ranch. “In this little corner of the world—a particularly beautiful one—we can make the right long-term choices to care for our ranches and the planet.
The distinctive energies created by the combination of soil and climate and vines on this portion of the Santa Lucia Highlands express themselves beautifully in the wines the Pisonis craft. It is just this vibrancy that Jeff captures in Lucy and Lucia wines as well as in the family’s Estate Pinot Noir. Each vineyard yields a particular kind of energy—for instance, Soberanes Vineyard. Jeff explains: “One of the outstanding features of Soberanes Vineyards’ specific geology and terroir is that its soil is very rocky. Our Chardonnays here are characterized by lots of minerality and a great deal of energy and freshness. The sense of place communicates itself in our Pinot Noir, too, has a lot of tension and acidity.”
Sustainable farming is not only the right thing to do, then, but also helps the family maintain the character of their terroir. “The fruit is more acidity-driven when we use sustainable farming methods,” Jeff concludes. “The tannin and the structure of the wine are more harmonious when we farm this way.”
Like Mark, he looks across toward the blue horizon. “The fact is, we want to make great wine not only today but long into the future. And sustainable farming allows us to do just that.”
Soberanes Vineyard Selections
A defining example of terroir, the Soberanes Chardonnay is the textbook iteration of what this unique Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard can produce. Beaming from rim to core with a pale lemon hue, this wine displays bright notes of Meyer lemon and white peach on the nose, but it is the distinct undertones of wet stone and crushed rock that transport the senses to the rocky soils of this famed vineyard. Here, the vines struggle in the nutrient poor soils, creating depth of flavor and great complexity. Green apple, lemon curd, and crisp pear dance on the palate, pairing gracefully with texture and weight from undisturbed sur-lie aging of 15 months in French oak barrels and foudre. As this wine begins to breathe, the palate becomes broad and expansive, though focus is maintained by refreshing, balanced acidity.
Flowing from the bottle a dark ruby shade, the Soberanes Pinot Noir is a dazzling display of symmetry from this iconic site— each component in perfect equilibrium. Juicy aromatics of ripe raspberry and red cherry are countered flawlessly with elegant notes of Asian spice, wet earth, and hints of cedar. Native fermentations of each block, in open-top tanks, are meticulously managed to achieve perfect extraction of flavor, color and tannin. This extra care rewards as incredibly pure flavors of ripe plum, fig jam, and dusty black cherry coat the palate, while velvety tannin is partnered with fresh, vibrant acidity. This wine will age and maintain this balance for years to come.
A show-stopping example of the power, elegance, and finesse this legendary variety is capable of. True purple from edge to edge, this wine harnesses an array of pure, concentrated aromatics that burst into the air with each swirl. At its best when both savory and fruit notes are in perfect harmony, this Syrah attacks the senses up front with blackberry jam and ripe blueberry, balanced by complimentary flavors of smoked meat, graphite, and ground black peppercorn. Bridging the gap from start to finish, polished, fine-grained tannin from 100% whole cluster fermentation adds volume and immense texture to the palate, while bright acidity born from the cooling afternoon winds of the Santa Lucia Highlands cuts to the core of this wine, suggesting the 2019 vintage will live on in this bottle for countless years to come.
Santa Lucia Highlands Cuvées
Always a perfect pair, the Pisoni and Soberanes vineyards blend seamlessly to create the 2019 Lucia Chardonnay. In its infancy, this wine possesses a greenish lemon hue while catching the light of each swirl in the glass. The rocky, granite laden soils of the Soberanes Vineyard give distinct structure, with chalky, wet stone notes, backed by bright flavors of green apple and lemon zest. Not to be outdone, the Pisoni Vineyard, with its higher elevation, gives added richness and power to the wine in the form of ripe pear, apple crisp, and vanilla bean notes. Together, these sites create a wine with exquisite balance, purity of fruit, and a pillar of bright, focused acidity.
A stunning melange of three truly unique vineyard sites (52% Pisoni, 18% Garys’ & 30% Soberanes), the Pinot Noir exhales deeply as its ruby hue trickles down the side of the glass. Notes of spiced plum, black cherry and sage quickly fill the glass. This wine is initially tightly wound, but each passing minute allows for new layers and aromas to unfold. At first, subtle notes of dried raspberry and sous bois were most prominent, but time in the glass promotes the expression of richer, more powerful notes of black cherry, crushed strawberry, sandalwood, and baking spice. The trademarked coastal fog and stiff afternoon winds of the Santa Lucia Highlands provide the refreshing acidity necessary for a long life in bottle.
Shimmering with a pale salmon hue as it splashes into the glass, the 2020 Lucy Rosé is brilliance captured in a bottle. Pronounced aromas of macerated strawberry, fresh watermelon and nectarine give way to refreshing sea air, as if transporting the senses directly to the windswept hillsides of the Santa Lucia Highlands. On the palate, classic notes of peach, fresh citrus and bright red fruits speak to the minimal skin contact and gentle extraction of delicate flavors coaxed from each berry during careful pressing and slow, cold, fermentation. When balanced with the added volume and texture from neutral oak barrel aging, the crisp, mouthwatering acidity awakens the palate. This wine begs to be the refill of your next empty glass.