Ample rainfall, a gorgeous spring, and a tranquil summer culminated in a truly marvelous 2019 vintage. Gary often raises a glass to a new release by calling it the 'vintage of the century,' and this year makes good on his claim. But he’s only partly joking, since the Pisonis are quick to learn more each year from the land while remaining constant in their dedication to craft.
Pisoni Vineyards sets the bar so high for crafting distinguished wine that Gary Pisoni has been known to say that every new year produces the “vintage of the century.” But the 2019 vintage is truly superlative–even by the discriminating standards of Gary and his sons Mark (Pisoni’s vineyard manager) and Jeff (its winemaker). Nature set the scene in 2019 by providing generous rainfall well into spring and slow, steady growing conditions in June, July, and August. May was wet, windy, and cool, and Mark and his team tended to the vines with extra care after they flowered, spending additional time on canopy management and guarding against mildew and botrytis which wet, cool temperatures encourage.
The rain culminated in a gorgeous spring at Pisoni Vineyards. Like the vines, the cover crop flourished, with rye carpeting the ground, the wheat-like stalks of blando brome rippling in the breeze, and crimson clover dazzling onlookers with its fuchsia-colored blooms. Other species flowered extravagantly, too, and the honeybees in the Pisoni’s two-acre insectary produced excellent honey.
Later in spring and throughout the summer, the weather leading up to harvest was “just what we like to see for encouraging acidity and tannin concentration,” Jeff explains. With its fine, long-grained tannins and refreshing acidity, Pisoni’s 2019 Estate Pinot Noir provides spectacular illustration of this brilliant vintage. Black cherry, orange peel, and spiced plum harmonize with notes of clove and damp earth in this intensely-focused and most vibrant of wines. Pisoni’s 2019 Estate Chardonnay evokes the beautiful terroir of the Santa Lucia Highlands, which the family farms in its own special manner. White peach and citrus peel interweave with subtle notes of crushed rock and fresh sea air, conditions that recall this wine’s high elevation origin and the work the vines must do to fruit as their roots search for water and nutrients in the heavily granitic soils of Pisoni Vineyards.
But all three of the family’s Fall releases–the 2019 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with the 2019 Lucia Susan’s Hill Syrah, whose aromas of crushed blue fruits and dark chocolate carry something of the winds and fog that helped call it into being–are excellent wines that will age well into the next decade.
You would do well to stock up on these bottles, for their own sake as well as for the fact that next year’s vintage, due to wildfire in the AVA, won’t feature any reds. Upholding its exacting standards, the family chose not to craft any Pinot Noir or Syrah from the 2020 vintage.
The fact is that working with the land means experiencing difficult years alongside beautiful ones. With each succeeding vintage, Mark and Jeff learn something new as farmers and winemakers. These days, Mark must add fire watching to bee-keeping as he farms the family’s blocks. “We can’t expect to have a good yield every year,” he explains. Here as in Europe, yield varies immensely from vintage to vintage. Even as California experienced widespread fires, France recently suffered a frost event that significantly diminished the fruit.
Such year-to-year variation is only one of the reasons the Pisonis maintain a large wine library. (Gary jokes that while his sons have added to the impressive wine library he built, they haven’t given him a library card!) But there are other excellent justifications for collecting wine. For one, the act of collecting offers its own reward. Possessing the capability to open a favorite bottle at will also makes a wine library attractive. Holding on to a number of different bottles provides you room to exercise your wine judgment and educate your palate by tasting a range of wines at distinct stages in the aging process.
Mark and Jeff practice great vigilance on the family’s acres. But alongside this effort to nurture Earth’s resources, they also experience the extraordinary pleasure of crafting the best possible wines, year after year. For Jeff, working the same land for a long time means harboring a wealth of memories about the place, memories layered one upon the other even as the best wine itself unfolds layer after layer on the palate.
And in the end, it’s pleasure the family cultivates, whether the yield is generous or smaller than average. Mark sums up this satisfaction for the entire family: “it’s wonderful to bring joy to people’s lives by sharing our wine with them.”
Pisoni Estate & Lucia Selections
The result of another spectacular vintage in the Santa Lucia Highlands, the 2019 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir harnesses each of the most desired characteristics from this legendary site in beautiful, delicious harmony. Concentrated aromas of crushed black cherry, fresh violets, and orange peel burst from the surface of this deep ruby colored wine and immediately fill the air. With time, savory notes of baking spice and black tea lure the senses. The high-elevation and granite-laden slopes of the vineyard produce intensely focused and pure flavors of spiced plum and strawberry compote, forming a delicate balance with intriguing notes of clove and damp earth. The prevailing winds and coastal fog create an unmistakable vibrancy in the wine. This refreshing acidity, paired with long, fine-grained tannin on the finish ensures that this wine will continue its stunning display well into the next decade.
The culmination of exhaustive and meticulous tasting of each block from the Pisoni Vineyard, the 2019 Pisoni Estate Chardonnay is a representation of what is achieved when the finest four barrels come together to form a wine with an unparalleled sense of place. Beaming with a vibrant greenish-yellow core, this wine comes to life as it splashes into the glass. Aromas of white peach, baked apple and citrus peel mingle with subtle notes of crushed rock and fresh sea air. As if speaking directly from the high elevation rows of this famed site, the voluminous flavors of pear tart, spiced apple and lemon meringue speak to the constant struggle of each vine to find water and nutrients in the granite laden soils. On the finish, a delicate tension is reached, as rich, layered flavors and stunning complexities from 14 months in 50% new French oak are harnessed seamlessly by fresh acidity and incredible length on the finish.
Born from vines in the northern most block of the Pisoni Vineyard, the 2019 Lucia Susan’s Hill Syrah is a gorgeous representation of this fabled French variety grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Covering a wide range of color from deep purple at its edge to near black at its center, this Syrah fills the air after its first pour. Aromas of blueberry pie, fresh cut cedar, and star anise gain depth with each swirl in the glass, as hints of fresh violets and white flowers lend added complexity. Unmistakable purity on the palate in the form of crushed blue fruits and dark berries give way to distinct flavors of spiced plum and dark chocolate. Native fermentation with 50% whole clusters followed by a 20-month extended slumber in a 300 gallon French oak foudre gives this remarkable Syrah countless layers and provides a backbone of seamless tannin that suggests this wine will still amaze two decades from now.