Winemaking as Exploration
Every year at Pisoni, we honor the rugged, windswept slopes of the Santa Lucia Highlands where Gary first began planting grapes in 1982. From these vines we started crafting a singular wine which continues to originate from the oldest vines on our family ranch. For the last twenty years, however, we have celebrated our lasting connection to the land in two equally significant ways: not just with our flagship Pinot Noir, but also with Lucia, a label we created to affirm our roots to the appellation from which its wines derive. We began bottling Lucia Pinot Noir in 2000 with fruit sourced from young vines at Pisoni Vineyards and grapes harvested from the Garys’ Vineyard. Two years later, we began producing Lucia Chardonnay and Syrah as well.
From the start, all of us at Pisoni have viewed Lucia not merely as a complement to our Estate Pinot but rather as a collection of signature wines in its own right. In fact, we announce this with each variety and vintage by providing our signatures on the back of every bottle. Lucia not only speaks to our sense of place in the Highlands, but prompts our curiosity about what this land can do, encouraging us to experiment and innovate. Through Lucia wines, both Mark, our vineyard manager, and his brother Jeff, our vintner, are provided a broad canvas upon which to work.
Gary set this process into motion twenty years ago, developing and furthering his interest in Burgundian wines in the rugged Santa Lucia Highlands. These days, Mark and Jeff explore the possibilities of the distinct soils our family works within the appellation. “Lucia’s exciting because it allows us to work with different vineyards,” Mark explains. “One block at Soberanes Vineyard is particularly cold because it sits right up against the mountains. The river of cold air that flows across the land delays bud break there, so we prune that block last,” he adds. “When you’re out in the vineyard, you can see the vines growing and reacting differently depending upon where they’re located. Our palates tell us how distinct each of these wines are. But as a farmer, I get to see these differences first, in the ways the grapes grow and respond to the varied soils and microclimates. I let each unique site dictate how I tend to the vines rather than adopt a uniform formula for all our vineyards. I must constantly adapt and adjust my farming practices to each site,” he continues.
Lucia offers the Pisonis a way to express flexibility and range as farmers and winemakers. “When we first began assessing the soils at Soberanes Vineyard, we discovered an extremely rocky portion and immediately knew this would be an outstanding spot for Chardonnay. Many thought we were crazy to plant vines in all those rocks, but we knew the granite-laced soil would produce the type of energetic, mineral driven Chardonnays we wanted to create,” Mark indicates. “Our Lucia label has enabled us to try out different farming techniques in particular blocks and determine what happens when we do so. The vines at Soberanes, for instance, possess tighter spacing, which means there is less airflow and we have to be more aggressive with leaf-pulling.
“It’s fascinating to work from multiple vineyard sources,” Mark says. “At Garys’ Vineyard, we see shoots push much more uniformly compared to some of the other vineyards. Is it the age of the vines? The sub soil? Working towards answering these questions is something I really enjoy doing as a farmer.”
Jeff, Pisoni’s winemaker, agrees. “Lucia gives me lots to think about. I get to experiment with fermentation and blending across blocks.” The winery bottles eight different wines, which start with many more individual distinct fermentations. “We oversee sixty to ninety different lots in our cellar before we narrow down to the final barrels and blends. As a winemaker, I really like the challenge of this diversity. I end up encountering more scenarios than I would were I dealing with just one vineyard and one variety,” he concludes.
Lucia offers us a way to express our flexibility and range as farmers and winemakers.
Now as in the beginning, making wine is a journey for the Pisonis; a journey which includes not only fine-tuning and safeguarding well-established practices but also exploring the benefits of a wide range of innovative practices for Lucia-itself a label that has lasted. Gary made Lucia Pinot Noir his house wine years ago, joking that he wanted to drink it rather than sell it. But not just family find this wine a favorite. Critics have been following Gary’s craftsmanship with Lucia-and extending it to Mark and Jeff-for more than half the life of this label. “If you appreciate Pisoni wines, then you should know about Lucia,” Wine Spectator’s James Laube noted early on, designating Lucia Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir a “Top 100 Wine of the Year” in 2011. Wine Kingdom, the most famous wine magazine in Japan, followed suit, naming Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 one of the top 100 American wines. Jeb Dunnuck chose the 2017 Lucia Soberanes Syrah as one of his own top 100 wines of the year in 2019, a designation that would probably not surprise Matt Kettman of the Wine Enthusiast, who considers the Soberanes Vineyard “one of the appellation’s most esteemed properties.” The Wine Advocate, too, has honored the Lucia label by insisting that it “continues to be a source of incredible wines that always over-deliver.”
“Our family has the opportunity to work with different vineyards in what we think is one of the most spectacular appellations in the country,” Mark winds up, speaking for the entire family. “It’s really special to be a farming and winemaking family in such circumstances.” Lucia wines let the Pisonis celebrate their home place all the more often.
Soberanes Vineyard Selections
Staying true to its roots, the 2018 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay showcases the work of vines pushing deep into the rocky, granite-laden soils of this site. Greenish lemon in color, this wine remains tightly wound when it first splashes into the glass. Notes of crushed rock and flint are present, but as the minutes pass, the wine truly begins to express itself as ripe pear, red apple, and citrus blossom fill the glass. A peaceful, uninterrupted 15-month aging on the lees took place in 60-gallon French oak barrels and a 320 gallon foudré, giving richness and volume to this wine. Fresh, balanced acidity disciplines and tempers its complex flavors , adding focus and intensity to this Chardonnay’s already extensive repertoire. Though the wine drinks beautifully in its youth, a decade of patience will demonstrate how beautifully this wine matures.
Classic Soberanes to its dark ruby core, the 2018 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir harnesses the rich, spicy, and floral notes for which this site is famous. Lush notes of black currant, black cherry, and macerated strawberry burst forth as this wine coats the palate, backed elegantly by savory notes of sandalwood, clove, and sage. With each successive moment that the wine breathes in the glass, persistent tannin from 10% whole cluster fermentation softens to velvet, contributing additional complexity and texture to the palate. Though this Pinot Noir will drink beautifully in its youth, early morning fog and brisk, windy afternoons have preserved its refreshing acidity, which will ensure a long, graceful aging in bottle.
Obscuring the bottom of the glass with a core dark as ink, the 2018 Lucia Soberanes Syrah boldly overcomes the senses as it fills the glass. Effortlessly balancing savory and fruity, this Syrah is full of black pepper, freshly cut cedar, and smoked meat followed by juicy blueberry, blackberry crumble, and violet notes. Thanks to ample whole cluster fermentation and methodically-selected 60-gallon French oak barrels successive waves on the palate add to an increasingly complex and textured mouthfeel. Aiming to delight in infancy as well as at full maturity, this wine’s acidity, preserved in the vineyard from cool, maritime fog pairs with soft, yet persistent tannin that will carry this Syrah into the next decade.
Santa Lucia Highlands Cuvées
A blend of 100% estate fruit, the 2018 Lucia Chardonnay is sourced from select barrels of the Pisoni and Soberanes vineyards. Combining distinctive characteristics from different vineyard sites, two characters become one as this youthful greenish-gold wine fills the glass. The higher elevations of Pisoni Vineyards add rich notes of baked apple, Bosc pear, and lemon curd, while the rocky, unyielding soil of the Soberanes Vineyard showcases signature notes of citrus blossom and wet stone. On the palate, complexity reigns as depth and nuance of flavor mingle seamlessly with bright, age-worthy acidity and a persistent, structured finish.
Stunningly pure in its infancy, the 2018 Lucia Pinot Noir barely contains its concentrated notes of raspberry, black cherry, and red currant but rather fills the air immediately as this wine splashes into the glass. Red berry flavors hidden within a shimmering ruby core give way to secondary notes of spiced plum, sage, and baking spice, adding extraordinary complexity to an already multi-dimensional wine. Hailing from three estate vineyards (41% Garys’, 32% Pisoni, and 27% Soberanes), this wine combines the best qualities of each site, staying true to the fog-laden slopes of the Santa Lucia Highlands from which it derives. Its concentration, complexity, and structure will stand the test of time.
Born from the cold and windy slopes of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the 2019 Lucy Rosé reflects a true sense of place as its pale grapefruit hue catches the light with each swirl in the glass. Just as sea meets land a short distance north, crisp notes of salinity and sea air mingle and dance with delicate aromas of fresh strawberry, orange peel, and peach blossom. Gentle pressing combined with minimal skin contact produces this rosé of distinct purity; one which, when paired with neutral barrel aging, creates additional texture that offers a complexity not available in most wines of its type. With bracing, refreshing acidity, Lucy is a wonderful accompaniment to flavorful foods and friendly conversation.