Pisoni Pinot


pisoniPisoni Estate Pinot Noir ’16/’17/’19 (Certified Sustainable, using Organic practices)

The Santa Lucia Highlands of California’s Monterey County lie in what is often called “Steinbeck Country,” referencing the celebrated twentieth-century writer John Steinbeck. His novel, Grapes of Wrath, was published in 1939 and won both a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Price, and has become one of the most widely read and discussed novels on college campuses throughout the United States.  The title of the novel is an indirect reference to a passage in the Bible (Revelation 14:19-20) that speaks to deliverance from oppression. Steinbeck noted that the Santa Lucia Highlands “was like Heaven.” Others have tabbed it Eternidad Paraiso or eternal paradise.  

In 1982, Gary Pisoni, realizing that the Santa Lucia Highlands provide a heavenly setting for Pinot Noir, planted six acres of vines in virgin, well-drained, decomposed granite and sandy loam soil on his father’s 280-acre cattle ranch. He was not the first to plant vinifera grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The planting of wine grapes dates to the 1790s when Spanish missionaries arrived, while the modern era of winegrowing began with the plantings at Paraiso, Smith & Hook, Sleepy Hollow, and at La Estancia.    

Gary had come from generations of farmers who tended row crops long before he was born. Gary developed an interest in French wines while in college, reading any books he could find about Pinot Noir and studying Burgundy. When he graduated, he headed for Europe where he had his wine epiphany with a Burgundy from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.  Upon returning to the states, he was eager to find a way into the wine business. When he told his father he wanted to plant grapevines on the family cattle ranch, he was met with several objections, not the least of which was the cost. Gary countered to his father, “Have you ever been to a $250 lettuce tasting?”

His father relented and a famous vineyard was born. The original planting, located at 1,300 feet above the Salinas Valley at the southern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, consisted of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vines were originally irrigated with water trucks. It took ten years of witches and well drillers to tap into springs that the American Indians valued for their healing qualities and the Spanish used to irrigate their vineyards. Once a water source was located, an additional 40 acres of Pinot Noir were planted in several blocks ranging in size from .5 acre to 16.8 acres with different trellising and vine spacing, using both own-rooted and grafted vines.

The own-rooted Elias Block, consisting of 4.5 acres planted in 1995, is used for the estate Pisoni Pinot Noir that is known to Pinot geeks as “PisoniPisoni,” differentiating it from Pisoni vineyard-designated bottlings from other California producers.

The source of the Pinot Noir scion material in the Pisoni Vineyard is subject to much speculation. At least some of the cuttings have been long rumored to originate as “suitcase selections” from the La Tâche Vineyard in Vosne-Romanee, but other reports locate the source as a vineyard in Monterey County.  In any case, the Pinot Noir plantings have become known as the Pisoni clone or selection. Gary’s winemaker son, Jeff Pisoni, and viticulturist son, Mark Pisoni, created the Pisoni label, releasing the first estate Pinot Noir in 1998.

The Pisoni family’s goal: grow exceptional grapes to make exceptional wine. Wines made by the Pisoni family are bottled under the Pisoni Estate and Lucia labels. Gary and his two sons, Mark and Jeff, farm and produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah from their three vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands: Pisoni, Garys’ and Soberanes vineyards. These vineyards and wines represent an extreme commitment to farming and classical winemaking.

Gary Pisoni exudes passion for adventure, for family, for grape growing, for wine. He combines all of these by pouring his enthusiasm and energy into Pisoni Vineyards. Described as the new face of American Pinot Noir and Burgundian-crazy about his vines, Gary grows grapes using meticulous viticultural practices. Over the last 30+ years, he has transformed the mountainous property where his parents once grew vegetables, grazed a few horses and head of cattle into one of California’s most renowned vineyards.

We cannot guarantee the availability of specific vintages in each shop, but you are welcome to buy as much as you would like!

2016  97 points Jeb Dunnuck  “The 2016 Pinot Noir is another sensational wine from this Grand Cru terroir in the Santa Lucia Highlands. From broken granite soils and aged in 65% new French oak, it’s an elegant, finesse-driven example of this cuvée which tends to lean more toward a pedal-to-the-metal style. Classic crème de cassis, sous bois, violets, and rock, earthy minerality flow to a medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced, seamless Pinot Noir that, like the Chardonnay, is tight and reserved. Give it 2-3 years (this review was written in 2018), count yourself lucky, and enjoy bottles over the following decade.” 

95 points Vinous  Lurid ruby-red. Heady oak-tinged cherry and Chambord aromas are complemented by vibrant floral Asian spice and smoky mineral nuances. Juicy and sharply delineated on the palate offering concentrated red berry liqueur and rose pastille flavors that deepen steadily with air. Fine-grained tannins lend a gentle grip to the finish which hangs on with superb clarity and floral-tinged persistence.

2017  98 points, Jeb Dunnuck  As to the red, the 2017 Pinot Noir is a great example of this vineyard as well as the vintage. Lots of cassis, smoked earth, flowers, and ground herb notes define the bouquet. Medium to full-bodied, it has beautiful purity and elegance as well as ample mid-palate depth and concentration. California Pinot Noir doesn’t get much better, and this is capable of evolving for over a decade.

95 points, Wine Enthusiast   Dense and concentrated on the nose, this iconic bottling shows intense aromas of black cherry, sage, clove and cardamom. The tannins are fairly rigid at this young age, giving structure to the rich fruit and spice tones that are seamlessly integrated.
2019  97 points, Jeb Dunnuck Another beautiful vintage for this cuvée, the 2019 Pinot Noir shows a more elegant, pure, classic style than some previous years, which were slightly richer and more bombastic. The 2019 reveals a medium ruby/purple hue (it’s semi-opaque) to go with a gorgeous nose of ripe cherries, raspberries, and blueberries, followed by classic Pisoni minerality, brambly herbs, violets, and forest floor. As always, this site imparts an incredible sense of rocky, mineral-like nuances, and there’s a liqueur of rock-like sensation on the finish. It needs an hour in the decanter if drinking any time soon and will have 15-20 years of prime drinking.

96 points,  Wine Enthusiast  This bottling manages to pack dense power into a silky, complex package. Aromas of baked cherry, brown sugar, French toast spices and generous oak make a sumptuous, luscious nose. The palate hits with firm tannins, then opens toward those lush blackberry pie and clove flavors, with mace lingering on the impressive finish.

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