The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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6 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 by Christopher Sawyer / photos by John Kaemmerling first press EACH DAY, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE driving along California's Highway 101 in Monterey County are rewarded with brilliant views of more than 50 world-class vineyards gracefully cascading down the east-facing slopes of the ominous Santa Lucia Highlands. Planted on a unique mixture of gravelly sandy loam and alluvial-based soils, influ - enced by foggy mornings, warm days and powerful afternoon winds and blessed with a long growing season, this dazzling tapestry of 6,100 acres of vines has become home to some of the top Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and cool-climate Syrah grapes grown in the United States. In many ways, the success of this region is even more remarkable when you consider that the first wave of these spectacular hill - side vineyards was planted only two decades before Santa Lucia Highlands became an offi- cial AVA in 1991. But now that the vineyards are established, the fun begins with a new generation of vintners, growers and talented winemakers who are working together to make world-class wines with fruit from this very distinctive appellation. For Jason Smith, President and CEO of Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines, it's a journey that started when his parents, Rich Smith and Claudia Alexander Smith, planted some of the first commercial vines on this rugged hillside in 1973. Over the next 20 years, the family would go on to establish a reputation for growing pristine fruit at their home ranch, Paraiso Vineyard, a magnificent 350-acre property located above the confluence of Paraiso Springs Road, Foothill Road and the nearby Salinas River, west of the small agricultural town of Soledad. Today, the Smith family farms 3,200 acres in Monterey County—800 of which are in the SLH. But in the early stages of their vineyard development in the 1970s and 1980s, most of the fruit was sold to vintners from outside the area. However, that started to change when the Smiths began to fine-tune the vineyard blocks with new clones, rootstock, tighter spacing and better row-orientation to improve the selection of the grapes on a yearly basis. As a result, in 1989 the family launched the SLH Monterey County brand; in 2014 the more approachable Monterey brand was created along with the premier luxury brand Alexander-Smith. "When it comes down to it, the philoso - phy behind our three brands all goes back to my parents and their belief in Monterey County fruit," says Smith, who officially joined the team after he graduated from college in 1992. "They always believed that the best way to showcase the inherent qualities of the grapes was to put the flavors in a damn bottle and show consumers outside the area what was really happening here." Talking 'bout my generations: At Paraiso Vineyard, Smith Family Wines President and CEO Jason Smith (right) and his wife, Creative Director Jennifer Murphy Smith, represent the second generation of the family since Jason's parents Rich and Claudia Smith planted the vineyards in 1973. Winemaker Justin Murphy represents the third generation. The new releases of the Alexander-Smith Chardonnay and Paraiso Estate Pinot Noir. Rugged beauty: the sweep- ing landscape of the famed Paraiso Vineyards, originally planted by Rich and Claudia Smith in 1973. Today, the vineyard is SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified.

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