This report takes a look at the wines from the Pisoni Family Estate label, which up until this tasting, I was convinced focused exclusively on a single Pinot Noir from the Pisoni Vineyard. Imagine my surprise when a full-lineup of Chardonnay from the same Vineyard was set in front of me. Apparently, they’ve always produced this cuvee, yet it’s made in such tiny quantities, it’s never been released outside of their mailing list. While the Family produces numerous Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs from throughout the Santa Lucia Highlands, their Pisoni Family Estate label focuses exclusively on their Pisoni Vineyard.

This was an incredible tasting and both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are unquestionably some of the best coming out of California today.

Jeff, Mark, and Gary Pisoni

Jeff, Mark, and Gary Pisoni

The Pisoni Family:

One of the founders of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Pisoni Family first arrived in the Salinas Valley in 1952 when Jane and Eddie Pisoni began farming these fertile valley floors. It was their son Gary Pisoni who convinced them to plant grape vines on the hillside slopes of their estate in the early 1980s. Gray Pisoni is an undeniable bon vivant wild man who is as lovable as they come; if you haven’t taken his jeep tour of their Pisoni Vineyard, you owe it to yourself to immediately book a trip to California and experience this wild ride. However, please make sure your life insurance is up to date and don’t tell anyone I recommended it! Gary, along with longtime friend, Gary Franscioni, are the backbone of this incredible appellation located south of Monterey Bay.

The family thread is as strong as ever today and the farming and management of the vineyards (including numerous sites throughout the Santa Lucia Highlands, as well as acres and acres of vegetables) has passed to Gary’s son, Mark. Mark is the new breed of vineyard manager who understands grape growing with the goal of making world-class wines.  In addition, the winemaking is firmly in the hands of Jeff Pisoni, who earned his Enology degree from California State University at Fresno. He started out working with wineries throughout California (Peter Michael most notably) before becoming the head winemaker for his family’s estate. Both Jeff and Mark grew up surrounded by wine, vineyards and winemaking.

Santa Lucia Highlands:

The Santa Lucia Highlands (which is Spanish and pronounced lu- see -a) is located south of Monterey Bay, on the western side this southeast running valley. Open on the north to the Monterey Bay, this is a cold region covered in fog during the evening and mornings, and buffeted by strong winds during the day. While plantings occurred as far back as the 1790s, and to a greater extent in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 1982, and through the 1990s, when Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni began planting vineyards that the region achieved more critical acclaim. There are roughly 6,000 acres under vine today.

The climate is driven by Monterey Bay to the north, with a cool fog working its way down the valley each evening, and not receding until the next morning. The average temperature of each site is determined by how far south the vineyard lies; the farther south, the longer it takes the fog to roll in, and the sooner it leaves. In general, the southern sites show richer, riper profiles than those farther north.

Pisoni Vineyard

Pisoni Vineyard

The Pisoni Vineyard:

The Pisoni Vineyard is located on the southern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands and consists of roughly 45 acres of separate, small parcels ranging in size from a half-acre to upwards of 17 acres. This is not your easily defined, contiguous vineyard and is broken up and diverse, with the decomposed granite soils being the glue holding it all together. Granite is rare in California grape growing regions, yet it speaks clearing in all of these wines and makes this a truly unique site.

Jeb Dunnuck