As befits a family whose ecologically-minded approach in vineyard and winery has earned them multiple honors—in the last two years alone, the title of Winemaking Family of the Year, an Achievement in IPM award, and a California Green Medal for Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership—the Pisonis have long understood that creating and sustaining healthy soil is not only crucial for keeping vineyards healthy, but an important factor behind their beautiful fruit and the gorgeous wines they cellar and bottle.
Winemaking starts in the vineyard, but soil is the vineyard’s literal and metaphorical foundation. “Our soil is alive,” says Mark, the family’s vineyard manager. “When you dig it smells fantastic and you come across earthworms and see the roots growing. The smell we associate with dirt is a sign the soil is healthy.” What Mark smells in the soil is produced by its microbes. These microorganisms help farmers and vintners do their own work, by breaking down plant nutrients like carbon and nitrogen and making them available to the vines, explains Jeff, Pisoni’s vintner.
There’s a lot farmers can do to maintain soil health on their land. “Regenerative farming”—an approach that favors conservation and rehabilitation and that pays close attention to soil health—has recently become more widely known, Mark says. This is a good thing. But if the label is new, the Pisonis have been practicing these methods for years: composting, keeping tilling to a minimum to sequester more carbon and to avoid erosion, mechanical and hand weeding instead of herbicide, mulching pruning cuttings so that they become part of vineyard soil, decreasing soil compaction by limiting passes with tractors, and planting native cover crops.
If you want to craft distinguished wine, look first at the soil in which you plant your vines.
Composting is a case in point. Jeff describes the process. “You start with pomace—the skins, seeds, and stems leftover from the fermentation—add green waste like lawn clippings and other plant debris, add manure (in this case, Mark trades a truckload of manure for two bottles of wine from where his daughter takes horseback riding lessons). This all creates a favorable medium over time for microbes.”
Composting works toward sustainability not just in the short term, for a particular growing cycle, but across the years, and this is especially important in the very poor soils we farm. Composting slowly releases nutrients, improves the soil structure, decreases vine water usage, removes carbon from the atmosphere and all this helps promote a healthier vine that resists pests and disease. Compost even improves the health of wine itself. Healthy soil creates healthier fruit that is more hospitable to the native yeast that carry out the fermentation. Just as the aroma of the soil tells you that the soil is healthy, the rich, heady scent of the must in a wine tank lets you know that fermenting is going well.
Working to conserve water, to maintain soil health, to keep the land thriving for generations: all of this requires faith in the process, lots of hard work, and a great deal of creativity and thought. It also demands unceasing attention. All in a day’s work for the Pisonis, who “aim for what’s best for our ranch,” as Mark points out.
And the wine itself? Jeff sums up: “The 2021 lineup of wines for this release is spectacular, with layers of complexity, concentration and bright acidity. Our Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay is full of minerality, the Pinot Noir possesses exuberant floral notes and the Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir continues to be a remarkable well-rounded wine for all occasions. We’re really excited about this vintage.”
Entirely estate-farmed and sourced from these premier vineyard sites within the Santa Lucia Highlands, the 2021 Lucia Estate Cuvée of Pinot Noir represents our continued dedication to excellence in farming and winemaking. A sumptuous blend of 60% Pisoni Vineyard, 23% Garys’ Vineyard, and 17% Soberanes Vineyard, this wine offers up enticing aromas of strawberry compote, juicy cranberry, sandalwood, and black tea leaves, all contained within the embrace of its deep ruby hue. Carefully monitored fermentation temperatures and methodical extraction techniques have produced a wine of remarkable depth, concentration, and complexity. Layers of black cherry, Mission fig, spiced plum, and berry crumble provide a stepping stone for more subtle hints of fresh sage, clove, and vanilla bean to make their voices heard. A true snapshot of these wind-swept vines, this Pinot Noir finishes with vibrant acidity and a distinct, yet noticeably approachable structure. Don’t be surprised to see this wine continuing to amaze for years to come.
The Lucia Estate Cuvée Chardonnay is always a unique opportunity to showcase the harmony that is created by blending lots from two vineyards. This wine’s impressive richness is first detected through notes of spiced red apple, honeysuckle, peach blossom, and crème brulée as they escape the confines of the glass. As this cuvée graces the palate, the 58% Soberanes Vineyard component shines with mineral driven notes of crushed rock and citrus flavors of lemon peel, while the Pisoni Vineyard 42% makes its mark with a phenolic texture and concentrated notes of Bosc pear and white peach. This balanced Chardonnay finishes spectacularly with crisp acidity, hints of toasty brioche, and undeniable texture from 10 months of aging in 35% new French oak.
SOBERANES VINEYARD SELECTIONS
The distinctly rocky soils of this classic Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard shine again; this time in the form of the 2021 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay. Packed within a pale lemon hue and tinges of youthful green, this wine offers brazen aromas of lime zest, crisp pear, and stone fruits up front while undertones of marzipan and chalky minerals develop as moments pass. On the palate, this Chardonnay is driven by striking notes of lemon meringue, red apple, and a hint of toasted vanilla bean. Enjoy over time as subtleties gain depth and power. The wine culminates in a textured and long finish that is carried along by vibrant acidity.
With a deep ruby core that borders on shades of purple, the 2021 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir is quiet in its youth, and the aromas slowly emerge from newly poured glass. As each fleeting moment passes, this wine’s tight profile begins to loosen and reveal waves of aromas. Notes of spice, sandalwood, and vanilla unfurl to reveal sumptuous notes of plum, raspberry, su bois, and floral hints of rose petal. Red berries and black cherry flavors provide a rich, luxurious mouthfeel, while rustic undertones of dried herbs, black tea, and spice from 34% whole cluster fermentation create an experience that is full throttle, yet restrained and elegant all at once. The slow fermentation with exclusively indigenous yeast is partly to thank for the superb purity or fruit and structure. It is the foggy and wind-driven influences of the Santa Lucia Highlands that provides the fresh acidity to ensure this wine will age beautifully into the next decade.
Staking its claim as an immaculate representation of the new world, yet harkening back to its ancestral old-world roots, the 2021 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Syrah is a harmonizing display of this variety. The explosive profile bursts from the bottle immediately upon removing the cork and amplifies as this deep purple wine splashes into a glass. The aromatic intricacies are woven around notes of macerated blueberries and blackberry compote paired with a perfume of anise, violets, and fresh herbs. Coating the palate, this Syrah manages an unmistakable concentration and an undeniable elegance. Berry cobbler, new leather, toasted vanilla bean, and olive tapenade flavors gain momentum as the wine takes each breath. Vibrant acid and firm tannin from 100% whole cluster fermentation proclaim this wine’s youth. Drink now if you must, but patience will reward those who can resist the temptation of early enjoyment.