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Copyright © 2016
by Fred McMillin
"At its best, Santa Lucia Highlands fruit can show both great richness and a cleansing acidity."
...Steven Brook, The Wines of California
The Rest of the Story
Winemaker Art Nathan certainly picks the best from the Highlands. Out of something like 200 barrels of Smith and Hook 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon, he selected the 18 best which in time became 417 cases of our Wine of the Day. But first, what are these Santa Lucia Highlands?
Saint Lucy of Syracuse is a saint from the early day of Christianity. Now, let's go back to 1769. Gaspar de Portola leads his dragoons from Baja California north to found the first Spanish settlement in what is now the State of California. On his way to discover the Bay of San Francisco he encountered "a very high, rough and long" mountain range starting near San Luis Obispo and running north nearly to what will be the city of Monterey. He names it Sierra de Santa Lucia.
Near the northern end of the range, on the east side (which is the west side of the Salinas Valley) is a 22,000-acre flatter region, 1,200 feet above the valley floor...the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Twenty five years ago U.C.-Davis predicted that the Highlands would become great Cab country. So Smith and Hook started a Cab-only winery, planting Cab clones selected by the eminent Dr. Robert Goheen.
If Cabernet Sauvignon doesn't ripen adequately, its wine usually has an unpleasant vegetable flavor. (I've had cold-country Cabs that tasted like 100% green bell pepper.) On the fog-bound valley floor you can get the veggies. But the Highlands are above the fog, and the fruit ripens nicely. In fact, the harvest date for today's wine was September 25, 1996. Art tells us that's the earliest harvest in the history of the vineyard. Here's the result.
Our Cabernet of the Day
1996 Baroness Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
About that Monterey fog, back in 1879 a famous visitor tired of it, so he "rode up into the Santa Lucia Mountains. He slept out under a tree for two nights." Luckily, some goat herders then came by and found him in an alarming "stupor." They may have saved the life of...Robert Louis Stevenson!
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This page created April 2000