The Wines of Monterey County Including the Santa Lucia Highlands

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  • By Chris Costales
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The Wines of Monterey County Including the Santa Lucia Highlands

Ever since the padres came to California, wine has been central to the culture of Monterey County. And no other appellation in the county is producing more wines of the highest caliber than the Santa Lucia Highlands, especially for Pinot Noir.

High quality wines that over-deliver on their price will always be at a premium at our store, which is why I try to buy as much Santa Lucia Highlands wine as I can.  


If you haven’t experienced wines from this area in Monterey County, you are really missing out.  The larger and more well-known Monterey wine region with around 40,000 vineyard acres reaches more customers with well known brands such as J. Lohr, Bonny Doon, San Simeon and Hahn producing great and affordable wines from the area.  It is on the terraced east facing slopes of the Santa Lucia mountain range in Monterey though, that the wines truly begin to shine for me.

Here at the Santa Lucia Highlands, vineyards are planted in well drained granitic soil with low vigor that leave little energy for the vines to put toward anything but making high quality grapes for winemaking.


The area can be largely defined by the cool Monterey fog that rolls through vineyards along with constant driving winds that can reach up to 20 mph during strong gusts. These factors moderate photosynthesis and prolong the growing season. In fact, due to the delayed ripening of the grapes harvests here can be around three weeks after nearby areas have ended.


Together the fog and wind help drive the large temperature swings between the daytime high (around 85 degrees) and the nighttime low (around 35 degrees) can reach as high and 50 degrees. The juxtaposition of warmth and cool gives the wines of this region a rare combination of elegance and power. Retained acidity from the maritime Monterey bay influence is balanced with dense complex fruit intensity due to grape skins that thicken in response to the constant howling wind which also adds a slight spiced bitterness.


It should come as no surprise that the land here, so full of natural blessings, is also rich with some of the most talented quality focused winemakers.


Rich Smith and wife Claudia began planting their Paraiso Springs vineyard in 1973, some of the first of the area to recognize the potential of the region.  


Nicky Hahn is credited with the establishment of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in 1980 and the wines from the Hahn brand have done tremendous work in creating recognition of the region.


Robert Talbott owns the Sleepy Hallow Vineyard which is considered one of the “Grand Cru” vineyards of California.


Dan Lee of Morgan Winery has also been instrumental in transforming the region from relatively unknown to a leader in quality California wine during the late 1990’s.


If you haven’t had the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah from this region you are really missing out on some high-quality Californian wine. I hope you take the time to explore the Santa Lucia Highlands with us, we will have the bottles waiting for you if you do.

The following wines are selections I'm confident you'll enjoy while supplies last.  I'll be featuring them in my February 1st seminar at 7 p.m. on 7 Wines of Santa Lucia Highlands and more.  Cost is just $30 Call the store for reservations (562) 597-8303.



This beauty is from one of the coolest sites on the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia Range, and with the passionate Michael Thomas (owner and wine director) and Sabrine Rodems (winemaker) at the helm, these wines just sing! More than a simple Syrah, this siren of a wine is full of hedonistic aromas of fall leaves, fresh mountain cherry, roses, and minerals. This medium bodied wine stays at a solid medium body on the palate, and finishes with a nice grilled meat thing. Michael draws his inspiration from wines from the old world, and this truly shows his commitment. Serve with thick-cut pork chops, or lamb lollipops seasoned with rosemary and thyme.

$31.99 per bottle



This vineyard is located at the center of the Santa Lucia Highlands in the cool northern Monterey county. Maritime coastal influences combine with consistent high winds that thicken grape skins to produce a wine that is both bright and zesty yet dense with a rich concentration of ripe fruit. 50% new French oak barrels provides oak spice aromas along with 13 months of aging. Ripe cherry, strawberry, red plum and black cherry flavors are found here along with toasty vanilla and smooth round tannins.

$42.99 per bottle



Sourced from high quality vineyards throughout the region, including the Morgan families own organically farmed “Double L” estate vineyard. This vineyard faces east which captures the cool morning sun, so you can expect plenty of bright acidity to be found in the wine to balance the rich flavors and aromas of red raspberry, cherry and strawberry with cedar and dried herbs. 38% new French oak was used along with a year aging before bottling. A spiced element is found here due to the constant winds with gusts up to 20 mph which thickens the grape skins.

$31.99 per bottle




A wonderful Grenache (88%) blend with Mourvedre that is lively with fresh red fruit while still maintaining a rich depth. Sourced from 4 vineyards throughout Monterey County and made with destemmed fruit and cold soaked to enhance flavor. Bright red fruits dominate in this wine with raspberry and strawberry flavors along with pomegranate. This wine does have a mild weight to it from the addition of Mourvedre that adds complexity and keeps it from being too lean and tart. A great value wine for sure.

$13.99 per bottle



This will be the sixth vintage of the Beeswax vineyard Picpoul Blanc. Plantings for this grape are increasing across the U.S due to its wonderful naturally high acidity. Historically blended to freshen up wines in the Languedoc and Chateauneuf-du-Pape regions of France, this grape now has the full spotlight to shine all by itself in Monterey County. Expect a maritime saltiness element in the nose along with ripe melon and peach fruit. A subtle spearmint quality may be found also along with wildflowers. If you have never tried this grape before expect a combination of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on the palate.

$13.99 per bottle




$35.99 per bottle


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