Jeff Pisoni, the winemaker at Pisoni Vineyards is our guest today on California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger. Pisoni Vineyards is located in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County. Jeff describes going to Fresno State to learn enology but learned the craft and the artistic side of winemaking from his father. He was always fascinated by winemaking and the complex interaction between vines and the wine, while his brother was focussed on the farming. They share and balance their specialties.
Dan Berger says that this is an interesting moment because winemakers are making wines beside Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There used to be some Riesling in the area and there is so little now. (Dan Berger is a huge Riesling fan.)
Pisoni Vineyards is located in the Santa Lucia highlands in Monterey County. The wind coming off the ocean is cold because of the depth of the trench off the Monterey coast. This makes the Salinas Valley the lettuce capital of the world, where they have more days under 70 degrees in Summer than anywhere else in the country. This same weather is ideal for cool climate grapes at higher elevations. It’s a rustic agricultural area, without a lot of tasting rooms.
First they taste a Rosé from a wine brand of theirs called Lucy. It is whole-cluster pressed Rosé, which Dan Berger compares to a sparkling Rosé without bubbles.
Next they taste a white Alsatian blend, made of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. In the early days of planting in Monterey County, these varietals were planted although others are more well-known. Dan Berger says you can taste both varieties, some anise from the Pinot Gris and steeliness from the Pinot Blanc. You might wait a year and these flavors will mature.
A Family Operation
Jeff Pisoni and his brother Mark and his father Gary all run the family operation. His grandparents started farming and made home wine, but his father planted grapes in 1982 and his passion for wine started as a collector in the 1970s. He just wanted to make wine and jokes that he planted the vineyard because he was drinking his wine collection too quickly. Jeff learned hillside viticultural techniques in Europe. He tried six dry wells before he found enough water for the vineyard. When his father planted grapes in these locations, people were skeptical. Dan Berger says it takes a crazy pioneer to do what he did. Jeff and his brothers grew up around the lettuce fields. He was interested in the science and chemistry and took a degree in enology at Fresno State and he learned the craft from his father.
Dan Berger mentions that there used to be some Riesling in Monterey County and it would be a good place for it still today.
When Jeff was fresh out of college, they were working with a winery that helped them make wine. He knew he needed experience and stayed in the area so he could learn from the wine community around him. Also, there were a lot of refrigerated trucks around for the vegetable business, which they used to bring the grapes to the winery in Sonoma County. Also, all the cork and glass suppliers are all in the area. They have a facility in Rhonert Park, custom built to their specs.
The last wine tasted is a Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir. Jeff’s father Gary Pisoni was planting Pinot Noir while others were still planting Cabernet in Monterey County. Dan Berger says the key thing with Pinot Noir is to pick at the right date, not too early or late. In Santa Lucia Highlands, with all the wind, you have to walk the vineyard twice a day, in order to get the harvest date right.