A Pinot Noir That’s Actually Worth the Fuss

Getting Into the Santa Lucia Highlands

BY // 09.26.17

Oh, Pinot Noir, you can be so finicky, so maddening. Your thin skin causes so many problems, and the way you cluster makes us cry. We try to treat you with care, of course, because what is made from you can be oh so delicious (but then there’s also the overly sweet and cloying versions of you … we’ll mention no names). When you’re good, you’re very good, however, and we love to drink you.

This week, a bottle of Pinot Noir made its way to us, a bottle that we enjoyed one evening with a meal starring duck breast and chanterelles; it was a combination that won us over. On the nose, the 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands from Luli Wines was full of rich, deep berry — blackberry and raspberry dominate — and earth. We opened the bottle and tasted while the mushrooms sautéed, and that taste told us the Luli was a winner.

Jeff Pisoni is the winemaker here, and his touch is evident. He comes from good stock, and a storied family of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Here’s Pisoni answering a question from IntoWine: “When it comes to winemaking, what’s one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?”

One thing we always wish we had more info on is exactly which clones and rootstocks — and combinations of — are best to plant. After planting vines, one has to wait three to four years for the vines to bear any fruit. Then another two to three years of time making the wine before being able to evaluate which vineyard blocks are the favorites. We are lucky that our father started with a very good clone of Pinot Noir, yet we constantly use new clones and selections. As you can imagine, this process takes a great deal of time, sweat and investment — and you want to have as much information and experience as possible before planting. When we plant a vineyard block, we don’t just think of it as a simple planting but at least a 50-year commitment.

Pisoni has created, in collaboration with Sara Floyd, a master sommelier, a very good California Pinot Noir in the $24 price range. The tannins are firm, the finish is well structured, and it’s a pleasure to drink (not a bad thing, no?). Ten minutes or so in the glass and the Luli developed some pronounced peppery notes, but what struck me here was the balance. I’m talking tannins, acidity, and fruit, all harmonious.

If you like Meomi, this one is perhaps not for you, but I urge you to give it a go. Everyone else, same goes for you.

Holiday Gifting

  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Nocturne Studio
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Casa di Lino
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch


Jeff Pisoni knows the Santa Lucia Highlands. (Courtesy Pisoni Vineyards)

Our duck was served with a simple sauce of cream, butter, and shallots, and the Luli had no problems with it. The earthiness of the chanterelles fared just as well, and I would be more than happy to pair the wine with hamburgers, pasta with a meat sauce, or sausage.

Hand-sorted fruit produced 7,200 cases from multiple vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. No fining or filtration; neutral French oak and native yeasts, and a dry growing season were at play in the 2014 Pinot Noir from Luli, whose alcohol is at 14.1 percent. Clones are Calera and Pommard, and this vintage is drinking well now.

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