Monterey County American Viticultural Area (known as “Santa Lucia Highlands”) are ideally suited for Pinot Noir. These vineyards are planted on the southeast facing terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountains, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. Ancient and light well-drained soils pair with maritime influences create an optimal region 1 microclimate for Pinot Noir.
The potential of Monterey County as a wine producing area was not realized until the early 1960’s. During this time a study conducted by the University of California at Davis ranked Monterey County among the top areas in the world for growing premium varietal wine grapes. As a result, the area’s acreage grew substantially. Currently, the county’s wine industry boasts over 40,000 planted acres of premium wine grapes. This makes Monterey County one of the largest premium grape growing regions on the continent of North America. The county is blessed with an extremely long growing season. Grapes here, on average, enjoy an extra 45 to 60 days of developing on the vine every year when compared to other northern viticultural areas. The varying climates allow for roughly forty different grape varieties to thrive.
Santa Lucia Highlands
This bench land runs along the west side of the Salinas Valley above the valley floor, between the City of Gonzales and the Arroyo Seco canyon. A fault line divides the valley floor and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Its southeast facing slopes allow the highlands to take advantage of the morning sun. Sitting above the valley fog that shrouds the Salinas Valley each morning during the summer, long cool days characterize the area.
More than 200 years ago Franciscan friars at the Spanish mission of Soledad planted the first wine grape vines in what is now the Salinas Valley. The area occupied by the Sarmento Ranch Vineyard was once part of the Soledad Mission Ranch. When the Mexican government secularized the religious missions and divided up the church’s land holdings in the 1830s, part of the land went to the Sarmento family, which still owns it today. The vines planted by the friars vanished in time and it wasn’t until the early 1960s that vineyards reappeared, with growers experimenting by planting just about every grape variety. Experience proved that the cool-loving Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produced exceptional fruit in the cooler, northern part of the valley. Smith was one of the first to recognize the potential of the Santa Lucia Highlands, planting vines here in 1973, although the area wasn’t designated an American Viticultural Area until 1992.