The earliest vinifera plantings, in what was to become the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, took place in the 1790s, with the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries and conquistadors. The modern era, however, began in the early 1970s, with initial plantings by Rich and Claudia Smith at Paraiso, the McFarland family at Sleepy Hollow, Phil Johnson at La Estancia, and Nicky Hahn at Smith and Hook. Approved in 1991 as a unique appellation, the vineyards here are planted on the southeast facing terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. The vines' elevated locations take full advantage of the morning sunshine before the afternoon maritime breezes cool the vineyards. This climatic combination results in an especially long growing season, which allows the grapes to fully develop and attain maximum varietal potential. Ancient, glacial alluvial soils pair with ocean fog and breezes to create a true Region I climate. Cool weather-loving Burgundia varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flourish here; Rhone grape types emulate their French northern districts brethren, thriving in the Santa Lucia Highlands slightly warmer, more wind-protected canyons and slopes.
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