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Santa Lucia Highlands Begins 2016 Harvest

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S.L.H. Sparkling Wine Producers Kick-Off Crush With “High Expectations” For The Vintage.  

Santa Lucia HighlandsMonterey County, CA:  The 2016 wine grape harvest in the Santa Lucia Highlands is under way, with artisan sparkling wine producers picking Pinot Noir off various S.L.H. vineyards for their méthode Champenoise – style releases.

Unofficially, the first Highlands’ grapes for the eventual 2016 vintage arrived at 9:00 a.m. on August 9th at Ray Franscioni’s Pessagno Winery. The several bins of Pinot Noir clone 777 off the nearby Loma Linda estate are destined for a new sparkling program under Ray’s Puma Road label. Teresa Franscioni commented that “this is the third year picking for our, as yet, “in-house only” sparkling wines. The base wines are sensational; I can’t wait for our first release.”

Several hours later, Caraccioli Cellars’ night harvest got under way on their well-known Escolle property in the Highlands. This will be Caraccioli’s tenth crush for their highly-rated bubblies. Scott Caraccioli explained that “We began at midnight hand-picking Pinot Noir off Escolle’s D-9 block. We started in the dead of night so we could get all the fruit off by daybreak, which keeps the clusters ideally cool. The initial press showcased powerful clean fruit-complexity with ideal acidity throughout. As our testing indicated, there were no signs of smoke issues from the fire on the coast. We’ll be pulling the next four nights for our sparkling program; I have very high expectations for the ’16 vintage.”

Caraccioli Pinot Noir

Night harvesting Caraccioli Pinot Noir at Escolle on August 10.

Winemaker Tom Stutz has, for several vintages now, used grapes from the McIntyre Vineyard in the S.L.H. for a top flight Blanc de Noirs under the La Rochelle brand – going forward, the wines will come under the “La Vie” label.  Tom anticipates getting Pinot Noir from McIntyre’s Block 4 on Saturday or Monday. “Forty-four year old vines; quality looks great, although bunch counts are light. Should be another typically good year in the S.L.H.,” comments Mr. Stutz. Winegrower Steve McIntyre also uses the vineyard to supply fruit for his own label’s “l’Homme Qui Ris” release.

The majority of Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards and producers will begin picking Pinot Noir in early September for their still wines. S.L.H. winegrowers polled agreed that while it looks like another “light year” in terms of crop loads, they are very happy with the slowly developing ripeness and maturation of flavors and expect “a very high quality harvest” across the appellation.

The Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the crown jewels of California viticulture, growing and producing some of the state’s best cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The appellation encompasses more than 6,500 acres of prime vineyards, planted on the elevated terraces and alluvial fans of the Santa Lucia mountain range. The area’s unique character was recognized with official A.V.A. status in 1991; 2016 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the S.L.H.’s designation.

Formed in 2005, the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans is an association of vineyards and wineries that grow grapes here or use this region’s fruit to craft their wines. The group’s online home is SantaLuciaHighlands.com

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