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by Fred McMillin
for April 24, 2000

 

Highland Fling


Smith and Hook  

Prologue

"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?


Santa Lucia

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.


Cabernet Country

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.


The Threat

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
"Masterpiece Edition"—Smith & Hook Winery
Appellation—Santa Lucia Highlands
Rating—My tasters rated the previous vintage "SUPERB." We taste the 1996 blind next week, along with 19 rivals. We'll let you know how the Baroness does.
Composition—100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Oak—100% new American
Contact—Office of Vice President Marketing Jackie Hardman, (831) 678-2132, FAX (831) 678-2005
Price—$40 range


Postscript

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!

Credits:
They Left Their Mark, J.P. Dutton
California Place Names, E.J. Gudde

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created April 2000

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