This fall, the Pisoni family invites you to celebrate the twentieth vintage of their signature Estate Pinot Noir. Like anything well wrought—a painting, a rock garden, a symphony—distinguished wine requires a great deal of thought and ample time to create. The backstory behind this latest release unfolds in three installments, all of which feature patience, perseverance, and perspective—and some moxie thrown in for good measure.
To understand how the 2018 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir came into being, cast your glance backward half a century to the seventies, when Gary Pisoni graduated from college. Though barely out of his teens, Gary had already begun thinking about himself as a vintner. The first stage of his research was particularly pleasant: tasting and collecting wine. Less easy, convincing his father that planting grapevines in the highlands above the farm was a good idea. The first few times Gary raised the subject did not go well. The family had bought a parcel of land in the Santa Lucia Highlands for a song—scrub land upon which they grazed cattle. Gary knew every inch of this rough ground, having helped his father take care of the cattle. “When I told my dad I wanted to grow grapes up there, he looked at me like I was crazy. In fact, everyone thought I was crazy,” Gary remembers. Despite this less than encouraging sign, however, Gary did not give up on his dream. Rather, he planted his first grapevines in 1982—when his parents were away on vacation. For close to a decade, Gary hauled water from the family’s vegetable farm on the valley floor up the steep hillsides to irrigate his young vines. To everyone’s surprise, they thrived—and this was well before the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA was even officially established. It wasn’t long before Gary, typically outfitted in a brightly-colored Hawaiian shirt, began driving people through the stunning blocks of the small vineyard, in the Jeep that became his signature vehicle.
The second stage of the long labor that has culminated in the twentieth vintage began in 1998. By this time, Gary had gained a reputation as a maverick farmer and vintner whose grapes were recognized for their high quality. He is famous for handshake grape deals, rather than written contracts (a tradition that still continues today). Gary had a special block of Pinot Noir that he did not want to sell. As harvest neared and so did Gary’s ambition for his own Estate label, the prominent vintner Mark Aubert offered to make the first couple vintages of wine until sons Mark and Jeff returned from school.
In 2001 Jeff graduated with an enology degree from the California State University, Fresno. By the following year, Mark had earned a BS in Agricultural Economics from UC Davis and a MS in Farm Business Management at Cornell. The brothers were fully prepared and committed to farming and making wine with the family.
Fast-forward to arrive at 2018, when this latest release of Pisoni’s Estate Pinot Noir was harvested, and you can see just how much continuity there is in the family’s way of farming. Gary’s parents purchased the ranch upon which their son planted grapevines. In turn, like their father before them, Mark and Jeff craft wine. The 20th vintage of Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir also offers illustration of the flexibility and foresight with which the family works to further agricultural, economic, and community sustainability. In order to maintain a wildlife corridor which helps keep the ecosystem a healthy one, Gary and his sons have planted only 35 of their 280 acres in vines. With the aid of the men and women who have for decades worked alongside him, Mark has increased the focus on sustainability by combining cutting-edge technologies with traditional farming techniques to tend the vines. To conserve water, a pressure chamber and a porometer continuously measure how much moisture each vine receives. Soil probes assess the level of moisture up to five feet below ground, while a Tule system of plant evapotranspiration helps maintain the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum.
Last but not least, the family keeps a beehive (whose honey is as beautiful a color as their Chardonnay) and cultivates an insectary under the careful supervision of Special Projects Manager Jazmin Lopez. Hummingbirds dart through blooms here and butterflies hover as beneficial insects keep pests at bay. At almost two acres, the insectary is one of the largest in the state of California. It is just one of the many ways—if a particularly beautiful example—of the work Gary began in the seventies and which culminates this fall in the 20th vintage of the Pisoni family’s well-wrought Estate Pinot Noir.
Pisoni Estate & Lucia Selections
The 2018 Pisoni Estate Chardonnay is an extremely limited four-barrel blend from this remarkable vintage. The unfiltered chardonnay possesses a greenish-gold hue, also an early indicator of the vibrance and energy within. A first impression is mouthwatering freshness as bright notes of white peach, honeysuckle and orange blossom leap from the glass. On the palate, the wine brings depth and complexity with stone fruits and lemon zest. A long finish and balanced acidity ensures a long life in the cellar. Low yields in this rocky site, native fermentation and eighteen months resting in the cellar bring together this beautiful wine.
As if a gift from Mother Nature herself, the 2018 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir was born from the rocky soils of Pisoni Vineyards in a magnificent growing season. Boasting a near-purple hue at its core, the tightly wound aromas leap from the glass when swirled. Violet, juicy plum and blackberry notes to weave together with more savory highlights of sage and graphite to form an intoxicating aromatic display. Perched atop 1,300 feet of decomposed granite soil, vines dig deep into the soil for nutrients, in turn providing fruit of intense, unparalleled concentration and structure. 100% native fermentation gently coaxes complex flavors of black cherry, rose petal, and clove, while a backbone of age-worthy acidity hints that this wine will cellar beautifully for twenty years.
Encompassed by a vibrant purple rim, the 2018 Lucia Susan’s Hill Syrah borders on jet black at its core. Beautifully expressive as it rests undisturbed in the glass, this classic Syrah transforms with each swirl as aromas of white pepper, orange peel, and crushed blueberry take flight. With each moment, flavors develop and evolve—hints of spice and fresh blackberry interweave with waves of smoked meats, cigar box, orange zest, and crushed plum. This wine is a snapshot of east-facing, high elevation slopes of Pisoni Vineyards, where rugged, granite soils and windy, coastal influence create a wine of precision and concentration. This Susan’s Hill Syrah was aged in foudre for 22 months. Pillared by persistent and fine-grained tannin, this wine is a baby with an aging potential of at least two decades.