Farming Is What We Do. The alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. Every morning. Mark Pisoni needs his sleep. He hopes the diesel pump motor on the south side of his old farmhouse hums regularly throughout the night, while pumping well water to irrigate the vegetable fields of Pisoni Farms. If the pump randomly kicks off, the third-generation farmer wakes up with a start, as though he can no longer hear one of his children breathing.
Mark grew up on the Salinas Valley ranch, and he returned to it after earning a B.S. in Agricultural Economics from the University of California, Davis, and an M.S. in Farm Business Management at Cornell University. He (top row, left photo on next page) and younger brother Jeff—the Pisoni Estate, Lucia and Lucy winemaker—once played in the fields that he now farms. Some kids ride tricycles. Mark pedaled a little John Deere tractor, often hauling his sibling around in its trailer.
By 5 a.m. Mark leaves footprints in the fields. He walks the rows of vegetables in the steps of his late grandfather Eddie, who tilled the same soil and planted lettuce, broccoli, asparagus and other crops after establishing Pisoni Farms in 1952. A celery crop profit allowed Eddie and wife Jane to purchase the Santa Lucia Highlands property that their son Gary would transform into Pisoni Vineyards.
For years, grandfather and grandson would check the Pisoni Farms fields together before heading south along River Road, the two-lane strip of asphalt that hugs the bench land of the Santa Lucia Highlands. First they would stop at Garys’ Vineyard, and then they would wind up the mountains to Pisoni Vineyards at 1,300 feet above sea level.
There they shared more than a familial bond. Love for the land. Wisdom passed from generation to generation. And the conviction that there was nothing they would rather be than farmers.
. . . the Pisoni family, masters of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation . . .Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle
FARMING FOR QUALITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
The ghost of the Soberanes Vineyard gradually appears through the morning veil of fog that contributes to the cool Santa Lucia Highlands climate preferred by Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah varietals. Mark turns onto the dirt road for his daily inspection of the Pisoni Family’s newest vineyard project adjacent to the Garys’ Vineyard.
Mark hops from the pickup to begin his walk through the rows. It’s so quiet that he can hear the red-tailed hawk’s wings flap, as the raptor flies overhead in search of gophers.
The viticulturist digs his hands into the gravelly, granite-laden soil to check for moisture. Some depend on soil probes, weather forecasts and the data on their computer screens. But Mark prefers to trust his senses, particularly touching and seeing. His closeness to nature and familiarity with the land and vines allow him to make the best decisions every day—decisions that will affect the grapes and, ultimately, the wine crafted from them.
Rarely do back-to-back years provide such beautiful growing conditions as 2012 and 2013. A warm, dry spring combined with uniform growing days. No heat spikes. No unseasonal rain, although the California drought did pose challenges. Because the vintage could have been a generous one, Mark dropped fruit so the flavors of the remaining crop would be exceptional. The level of tannins was high, contributing to the structure and complexity of the 2013 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard selections, Lucia cuvées and Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir.
“I love what I do,” says Mark. “Every day I’m working with my family, the land, this environment. My favorite part is that we’re creating something special from this place and get to share it with others.”
After a long day in the fields of Pisoni Farms and the blocks of Garys’, Soberanes and Pisoni Vineyards, Mark returns to his farmhouse to unwind with his wife Quinn and children Davis (top row, middle) and Avery Ann (top row, right, with Mark). For relaxation and family time, they head outdoors to work in their garden and harvest whatever corn, tomatoes, carrots, beans or squash that might be ready to serve for dinner. After all, farming is what they do.
SOBERANES VINEYARD SELECTIONS
This was a beautiful year for the Chardonnay vines at the Soberanes Vineyard. Bright and vibrant on the nose, the wine gives a racy, pure and mineral-driven character true to the granite-laden soil where the vines reside. While swirling the glass, floral, citrus and light-passionfruit notes express themselves. On the palate, the wine has great depth that blends seamlessly with the long finish. The also-present vibrant acidity ensures a long evolution for those who decide to age a few bottles in their cellar, where the wine will age gracefully over the next decade.
A beautiful and expressive wine. Pure aromas of wild strawberry, lavender, rose petal and forest floor evolve from the crimson-colored 2013 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir. The wine possesses an exuberant nose with a high-toned character that further lifts the aromatics. The presence on the palate is open and expansive with fine-grained tannins reaching and coating the palate. We select specific barrels of the Soberanes Vineyard for how they showcase this property, and this wine is an excellent representation of the site, which yields wines of incredible elegance and intensity.
Intense and seductive, the 2013 Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Syrah is inky dark in color and explosive in aromatics. The drier season brought maturity earlier than normal for Syrah, allowing us to ferment with nearly 100% whole cluster fermentation (successful whole cluster fermentation requires the stems to be mature, as well). This builds on top of the normal floral and spice notes that are common for this site and brings violet, licorice, leather and spice notes to the wine this year. The palate is immensely structured and powerful with much concentration and tannin. The finish seems to evolve endlessly, and this wine will certainly be one to age for many years. Decant if opening when young.
SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS CUVÉES
Light green-gold with an unfiltered, slightly cloudy appearance, the Lucia 2013 Chardonnay begins with expressive and concentrated aromas of citrus blossom, lemon oil, stone fruit and the slightest vanilla undertones. The aromas then give way to a palate both full bodied and light on its feet. This delicate balance results from drier growing conditions giving concentration and cool weather that retains the wine’s freshness. This wine is the richer of the two Chardonnays in this release and will drink well over the next 5-7 years.
Sage and spice highlights uplift the complex aromatic blend of boysenberry and Bing cherry. The 2013 Lucia Pinot Noir is a blend of fruit from the Pisoni, Garys’ and Soberanes Vineyards. This vintage displays both intensity (energy and structure) and purity—a result of the drought conditions in California that brings concentration of flavor and strong, age-worthy tannins while retaining bright and fresh aromatics. The wine is a great representation of the versatility of the Santa Lucia Highlands, where the wines can both be intense and refined at the same time.
Bright and fresh. Wild strawberry, peach, watermelon rind and rose petals leap from the glass. The Lucy rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir using two different methods: A gentle whole-cluster pressing of the Pinot Noir clusters and also saignée (removing juice after the berries go to tank). This results in a surprisingly complex rosé. Fermentation is carried out in neutral barrels that are at least 10 years old, providing for the utmost purity in the wine and preventing any competition from the wood. The palate is crisp, fresh and ready to pair with a wide array of fun and serious dishes.