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Stealth Grape Source: The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

It is no secret that a large majority of Carmel Village and Carmel Valley wine tasting rooms feature varietals sourced from the nearby Santa Lucia Highlands AVA (SLH). But despite the AVA’s bountiful presence in some of California’s most recognized wine labels, many imbibers are unfamiliar with this somewhat under-the-radar grape source.

Home to varietals such as Syrah, Riesling and Pinot Gris, SLH is most celebrated for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and is one of the most highly regarded California AVAs for the two varietals. A sub AVA of Monterey County’s Monterey AVA, SLH is 18 miles in length and 22,000 acres, much of it unplantable mountainside. 6500 acres are planted within its 50 vineyards, some of which reach up to 16,50 feet. Its location on the eastern slope of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, adjacent to the Salinas Valley, allows for one of California’s longest growing seasons. Cool Monterey Bay fog lowers temperatures, as does the strong daily winds that thicken grape skins – where flavor and phenolic components develop, creating more complexity, depth, and intensity. Low precipitation during harvest extends the growing season, yielding consistent, high quality fruit from vintage to vintage.

SLH winery members with Carmel Village tasting rooms include: Caraccioli, De Tierra, Hahn, Kori Wines, Manzoni, McIntyre, Morgan, Scheid, Talbott, Wrath, and Windy Oaks. SLH members with Carmel Valley tasting rooms include: Bernardus, Boekenoogen, Folktale, Joyce, and Rexford.

But Central Coast winemakers aren’t the only ones to covet SLH fruit. Many NorCal winemakers love the dark, brambly, and savory qualities that create layered and complex wines. Bibiana Gonzalez Rave of Cattleya Wines, based in Santa Rosa, sources Syrah grapes from two of SLH’s most popular vineyards: Pisoni and Soberanes, the latter being the site for her Cattleya ‘The Initiation’ label. “This AVA and this vineyard in particular were the sites of my initiation,” says Rave, who as a young girl dreamed of making wine. SLH is just a very unique place. I have a soft spot for SLH.”


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