Ever reliant on capricious Nature, farmers and winemakers understand firsthand our interdependence with our environment. But being reminded of our reliance on the ecological and biological as well as upon wind and weather brings its own satisfactions, as Mark Pisoni, the family’s vineyard manager, and his brother Jeff, Pisoni’s vintner, will be quick to tell you. Mark is a hands-on “plant whisperer” who finds in the unfurling of grape leaf and new broccoli shoot alike lessons in how organisms thrive in their environments despite flux, change, and what can feel like disaster. Jeff follows suit. Pragmatic but positive, he sees the world through rosé-colored glasses. Farmers and winemakers are perennial optimists. “We’re always looking to next year, to more rain, a better crop,” Jeff notes in a recent Santa Rosa Press Democrat interview. Mark, who tends to the family’s Salinas Valley vegetable farm when he is not gauging the growth of the vines planted in the Santa Lucia Highlands above the Valley floor, takes heart these days from the fact that the Pisonis are among the Salinas Valley farmers growing the produce that is being trucked across California and beyond and which helps us all maintain healthy immune systems. As farmers, both he and Jeff keep both eyes on soil and weather indices and remain ready to adjust or fine-tune practices in farm and vineyard as well as in the winery.
Every vintage tells its own story; the narrative of the 2018 vintage is a story in appreciation and patience, one of slow ripening. Sustained, even ripening is excellent for grape growing. The longer stretch of time before harvest let Mark spend more time assessing the fruit and allowed his crew to continue walking through the vines to check the clusters. The length of the harvest was equally impressive, permitting the family ample time for harvest decisions. The pinot noir harvest from Pisoni’s blocks in all of its vineyards—Pisoni, Garys’, and Soberanes—stretched from first pick on 9/12 to last pick on 10/8 for a close to month-long spread. “In years like this one, we see a lot of phenolic development in the fruit; the tannin from the skins and seeds, that is, which provide wine with its depth of flavor and texture,” Jeff explains. The result is a vintage that will be particularly ageworthy in the cellar. Both of these releases from the Garys’ Vineyard, the Lucia Pinot Noir and Syrah are remarkable in their beauty and depth.
Regardless of occupation, all of us know that there are instances when it is better to yield to the course of nature than to battle it. Farmers know they must be flexible, because the capability to respond to the particular conditions of a year’s growing and harvest season require this. Often, slow and steady wins the race. How appropriate this adage seems in the current moment, as the world copes with a pandemic. As farmers who must demonstrate resilience every season, we feel particularly well-suited to acknowledging the challenges nature sometimes poses even as we maintain faith in Earth’s ability to renew itself.
Garys' Vineyard Selections
True to form, the 2018 Lucia Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir yet again stands up to meet its lofty reputation as one of the most highly regarded sites for Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Starting in the glass with an unyielding dark ruby hue from its rim to its core, this wine flaunts its youth with aromas of black cherry, ripe plum, and citrus blossom. Taking advantage of a near perfect growing season, the vines ripened their clusters slowly and consistently, setting the stage for a wine of notable purity, complexity, and structure. Dark berry and graphite notes weave together with bright, lively acidity and soft, supple tannin to form a final seamlessly integrated finish. A remarkable combination of meticulous winemaking in an ideal vintage, this Pinot Noir is wonderful at the moment, but will age gracefully for years.
A shimmering darkness at its near black core, the 2018 Lucia Garys’ Vineyard Syrah exudes richness. Classically Syrah in every aspect, this wine strikes a powerful balance in both purity of fruit, and dried, savory notes. With each swirl in the glass, blueberry and blackberry tart rush forward, opening the door for complex notes of licorice, clove, and new leather, to deliver a flowering bouquet of concentrated aromatics. Ample use of whole clusters during fermentation combined with aging in 132–gallon puncheon barrels adds structure, and well-integrated tannin to an already age-worthy wine. Not to be outdone, fresh, vibrant acidity born from the fog-drenched Santa Lucia Highlands provides a long finish to every sip.