What is it that makes a vintage distinctive?
Do particularly favorable weather conditions play an important role? Is collectible wine created by a hands-on vineyard manager upon whom no detail of sun, vine, and moisture is lost? Or is it the discerning vintner who coaxes a superlative taste profile into being?
“Weather, scrupulous farming, and expert winemaking all play their part,” Jeff and Mark Pisoni would answer without missing a beat, were you to ask them. Though the two brothers spend the majority of their days in separate counties—Mark checking the vines and fruit on the family’s Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards while Jeff supervises preparations for the harvest at the Sonoma county winery—the two always seem to see eye-to-eye.
“When I think about 2017,” Mark recalls, “I think about the fifteen inches of rain we had that winter. All that water was a refreshing arrival after a long drought. The vines’ soil profile was well-saturated and in a great position to start the vintage.” “I love this vintage,” Jeff agrees. “The tranquil weather resulted in a great growing season. The fruit saw a beautiful development of tannins and refreshing acidity. Plus, the wines have a sense of vibrancy and richness—almost as if the character of the wet winter carries through into the wine.”
Getting through harvest felt like a week-long sprint. I probably slept less those seven days than when my kids were born!Mark Pisoni
In 2017, winter, spring, and early summer, all were calm. Then, just as the family was starting to pick their blocks, a state-wide heat wave was predicted. During the week preceding harvest Mark had been tracking weather and assessing vine health in tandem with Jeff, who sampled the fruit frequently and measured its sugar. This “large data set,” as Jeff calls the information, helps inform the decision as to when to harvest. But, he continues, wine “is an art as well as a science. Flavor in grapes is super-complicated. We have all of our analysis, but we can’t determine harvest without tasting.”
“It’s very important in years like this to have great coordination with the winery and winemaker,” Mark notes. “I talk to my brother a lot about coordinating picks and tanks for harvest. This year, before harvest, I started each day at 11:00 PM. I would call Jeff at the winery, who would be ending his day. When Jeff woke up at 5:00 AM, my day was ending, giving us what felt like a 24-hour schedule.”
Grapes typically gain one percent sugar each week or two. During heatwaves, however, sugar can increase much faster. “Night-harvesting is our norm because we like to pick the grapes at their coolest,” Mark explains. “It’s imperative to do so in years like this one. Fortunately, in the Santa Lucia Highlands, we normally have temps at night in the 50s. It’s great for the fruit. The vines also get refreshed and rehydrate.”
But the heatwave was beginning to push up temperatures throughout California. “When the weather changes that quickly, there’s little room for second-guessing,” Jeff explains. “The weather had been so perfect leading up to harvest that we decided to work extra to catch it at that exact moment—and not risk losing it.”
. . . the wines have a sense of vibrancy and richness—almost as if the character of the wet winterJeff Pisoni
carries through into the wine.
In the blink of an eye, the brothers moved into high gear. “Mark worked many more hours over the next couple of nights to bring in the grapes before subjecting them to the heat wave,” Jeff remembers. “Getting through harvest felt like a week-long sprint,” his brother adds. “I probably slept less those seven days than when my kids were born!”
Nonetheless, hard work and perfect timing have their rewards. Jeff speaks for himself and his brother: “We feel that the results for the 2017 vintage are wonderful,” Jeff says, speaking for the entire family. “The wine has impeccable balance and structure for aging.” With his characteristic knack for high drama, their father Gary, who first planted their acreage in the Santa Lucia Highlands in vineyards, ups the ante: “I think this is the vintage of the century! But then again, I’ve been known to say this before!”
I think this is the vintage of the century! But then again, I’ve been known to say this before.Gary Pisoni
A careful selection of barrels from our high elevation site, the 2017 Pisoni Estate Chardonnay reflects the beauty of each carefully manicured block from which it came. Hesitant to unveil its full potential upon opening, this wine begins by showcasing notes of green apple and distinct mineral undertones. With a few swirls of the glass this wine unfolds gorgeous notes of baked apple, stone fruits, lime zest, and delicate white flowers. Spending 14 months in 25% new French oak gives this Chardonnay increased density and concentration on the palate, while fresh acidity acts as a pillar, ensuring graceful aging in the cellar.
A season fueled by refreshing rainfall early in the season, the 2017 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir is a breathtaking example of Pisoni Vineyards. Its strikingly dark ruby core acts as a curtain that draws open gracefully with each swirl in the glass. Waves of pure fruit offer notes of plum, crushed strawberries and black cherry and are delicately balanced with complex notes of black sage, violets and su bois, marrying distinct elements that form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. While the fruit was developing on the vines, cool, foggy mornings tempered sunny summer afternoons, preserving vital acidity while at the same time encouraging phenolic development and ripeness in the treasured clusters. This wine drinks beautifully now, but will continue reaching new heights for those who resist temptation over the next decade or more.
Inky black at the core and surrounded by a dark purple halo, the 2017 Lucia Susan’s Hill Syrah announces its presence emphatically without the slightest swirl in the glass. Powerful aromatics of blackberry, black pepper, smoky bacon fat, and fresh coffee grounds seamlessly transition on the palate, where they complement a complex, mouth-coating structure. Unique to this wine is its 14-month aging in a single French oak foudre, larger in size than conventional wine barrels, and whose influence adds depth and concentration of flavor on the palate before giving way to a long-lasting finish. As is common with the wines from the granite-laden soils and sun-drenched rows of Susan’s Hill, this wine’s youthful acidity and persistent tannin structure promise a decade’s long life in bottle.