Assembling Lucia Wines has nothing to do with assembly-line practices. Henry Ford could produce a Model T in 93 minutes. His practices of division of labor, repetition and mechanization are cost effective and efficient. But Gary, Mark and Jeff Pisoni work together as a team dedicated to handcrafting their wines. The 2012 Lucia Soberanes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah and the Santa Lucia Highlands cuvées took two years in the making.
A truism rather than a timeworn cliché, winemaking does begin in the vineyard. Every day, Mark walks through the blocks, examining the vines as though they were his two small children. He looks at their growth, balance and cluster development. During the summer, the viticulturist checks stress levels by observing a leaf blade’s angle to the sun and its shade of green. Mark pinches the grape berries between his fingers to note the tension in their skin, monitoring their ripeness. He and father Gary (left) smile about the balanced vines of the Soberanes Vineyard, a result of their diligent care and Mother Nature’s consistent weather patterns in 2012, which allowed the grapes to glide into a ripeness zone of harmonious sugars, acid and tannin.
On a harvest morning, Jeff joins his older brother in the vineyard. The winemaker tosses grapes into his mouth, biting down on the seeds to taste tannin development. Crunchy seeds are a good sign, as they won’t impart bitterness to the wine, and so is the deep crimson color staining Jeff’s fingertips when he squeezes the grape skins.
There’s no instruction manual that tells the Pisonis when the vines need water, what a wine grape should taste like when ready for harvest or when to drain a tank of Pinot Noir (cover). Their decisions are intuitive and informed by experience. And all three agree that the 2012 harvest was spectacular in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
DESPITE THE INTOXICATING PERFUME OF THE WINERY, Jeff always stays focused on the cues emanating from the fermentation tanks. The aromas alone give early indicators of potential blends, and the winemaker notes and remembers the heady scents of particular lots throughout the year.
Sight, taste and sound partner with smell. Jeff gauges the progress of the fermentation by gazing into a tank and observing the color that has seeped from the berries. He constantly tastes the individual lots, which consist of three to four tons of grapes fermented together from one vineyard area. Once the winemaker transfers a lot from a tank to six to eight oak barrels, he begins to develop a personal relationship with each one. Wine in one barrel might taste really good immediately, and wine in another might come around slowly or not shine at all. Jeff also listens to each barrel, placing his ear against the bung to eavesdrop and hear the snap-crackle-pop of the fermenting wine. He tempers his sensory observations with scientific testing. All the while, he takes copious notes and ponders over selections for the final blend.
Eventually Jeff combines samples from the barrels and lots in composite bottles for blend trials that continue for months. He sits down with Mark and Gary to taste, discuss and decide upon the best blend for each Lucia wine. Sometimes they agree. Sometimes they disagree—and defer to the winemaker’s expertise.
The wines are gently transferred, one barrel at a time (top), to a stainless steel tank for blending. Then two years of anticipation and hard work are bottled in a single day.
Whether in the vineyard or the winery, the personal touch requires more work and attentiveness than if employing more mechanically efficient methods. Gary, Mark and Jeff may not be able to produce a Lucia wine in 93 minutes, but they might sit in a Model T—parked on a dirt road near their beloved vines—and sip from their 2012 vintage for that length of time, while thinking about the two years it took to get there.
SOBERANES VINEYARD SELECTIONS
A pure and laser-like focus directs a channel of fresh lemon peel, crushed stones and citrus blossom. On the palate, the wine shows the elegance and texture we love from this vineyard: an initially broad profile that converges with the natural acidity to a tight finish. The Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay inspires food pairings with its vibrant finish that carries on throughout the palate. Aspiring for purity and like all Lucia wines, the Chardonnay is unfiltered and may show a slight sediment.
Floral and vibrant, the crimson-tinged Pinot Noir from the Soberanes Vineyard exudes the enticing aromas of a flower garden. It’s not easy to find wines that are predominately more floral than fruit, but the Soberanes Vineyard selections exemplify this—lavender, violet and rose petal—with a spice rack of undertones. A broad and lengthy palate ensues with strikingly strong tannins for structure, indicating the aging potential of the wine.
A striking and pensive wine, the Soberanes Syrah shows an intimidatingly deep, opaque color but with such a delicate purple rim, as if to hint of the seductive fragrance to follow. The wine is exceptionally floral and perfumed with rich violet and blackberry essence. The palate has broad and powerful depth, yet a unique way of carrying such concentration without being heavy. A seemingly infinite current of texture flows on the palate.
SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS CUVÉES
Green/gold in color and generous with its aroma, a consistent character of the 2012 vintage, the Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay is open and expressive with a complex array of bosc pear, jasmine, green apple and brioche. The palate is broad and approachable with notes of white peach that unfold into a long finish. This wine is a blend of fruit from the Pisoni and Soberanes vineyards.
This wine is a great example of the remarkable 2012 vintage. The aromas leap from the glass, enveloping the taster with a rich and pure bouquet of fresh fruit laced with soft notes of Earl Grey tea and spice. With fruit from the Pisoni, Garys’ and Soberanes vineyards, the Lucia Pinot Noir possesses a harmonious balance between the deep concentration of flavor and the firm tannin and acidity, ultimately showing the potential to cellar and develop for many years.
Light strawberry in color, the 2013 Lucy Rosé is fresh and bright with highlights of rose petal, near-ripe strawberry, orange peel and seashells. The palate is crisp with refreshing acidity, indicating a wonderful pair with a wide variety of dishes and occasions. Enjoy chilled.