Carl Kanowsky | Pisoni’s vision for vineyard management

Carl Kanowsky on Wine

Back in August, after visiting with Justin Smith at Saxum, Scott Hawley at Torrin, and the staff at Daou (which will be the subject of my next column), and indulging in the unique dining experience offered by Ian Adamo at Somm’s in Paso Robles, Terry and I drove north to Soledad to hike Pisoni Vineyards with Mark Pisoni. 

Mark is the dedicated, vibrant, highly skilled, and genuinely delightful viticulturist at Pisoni Vineyards, which is also home to Lucia and Lucy Wines. 

A scion of one of the godfathers of California pinot noir and chardonnay (his dad is Gary Pisoni, whom rumor has it took some unsanctioned cuttings from some of the most prized vineyards in Burgundy, France, to kick off Burgundian varietals here in California), Mark loves his work. He’s focused on growing outstanding wine grapes in a sustainable manner. He beams with pride in announcing that Pisoni was awarded the 2020 California Green Medal Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Award.  

Mark Pisoni. Photo by Carl Kanowsky.

Besides accepting awards, Mark lives his faith in sustainability. He’s very concerned about climate change and the impact it has and will have on all of us. He believes firmly that farmers can play a role in mitigating some of these consequences. “Farmers need to do more – conserve water, develop solar solutions, and trellis grapes in a more environmentally responsible fashion.”  

Mark does more than lip sync these attitudes. He’s dedicated 2 acres or more of valuable land to create a vineyard insectary, what he calls his “Bug Hotel.” The “Hotel” is a collection of a variety of plants set in an inviting environment to attract beneficial bugs, like lady bugs and bees. The more bugs the less need for spraying insecticides and fungicides. Mark is also an apiarist, cultivating his own bee hives and loving to share some of that deliciousness. 

After a thorough vineyard tour, Mark then poured four bottles of the fruit of his labors. Pretty damn tasty stuff, I’ll tell you. 

We started with the 2020 Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir, quite dry and very crisp. This salmon-tinted treasure features strawberry and citrus tastes with an excellent acidic balance. Terry’s comment, “Intense flavor.” We both rated it a 95, unheard of for us who tend to find most rosés pretty miss-able. Mark’s brother, Jeff (the winemaker), does whole cluster press and ages it in 100% neutral oak. 

Next came the 2015 Lucia Sobranes Chardonnay. Soberanes is the vineyard north of Pisoni and contiguous to it. Mark manages that one as well. An amazing wine, with a nose of lemon, grapefruit, allspice and banana. (How do you get all of that out of one fruit?) Thirty percent new oak, we loved the citrus and slate tastes and, again, the great acidic balance. 

We then jumped to the 2018 Lucia Soberanes Pinot Noir. This is all free-run juice that entices you with a delicious aroma. With an intense nose of strawberry and baking spices, the wine features a long fruit finish with strawberry notes. You can drink it now, but it will benefit from 5-plus years of cellaring. 

We concluded with the 2011 Susan’s Hill Syrah. Described on the Lucia website, “Perched on a small outcrop in the Pisoni Vineyard, Susan’s Hill is nestled in the mountains at the southern tip of the Santa Lucia Highlands.” The vineyard enjoys a high elevation, which is reflected in the wine, which is free-run juice and whole cluster fermentation. A well-structured wine, with layers and dimensions, the champions of Burgundy have also mastered Rhone. One treat for me with an excellent Syrah is the black pepper characteristic. This had that as well as the good, earthy aroma and tastes. A real treat. 

Mark, it was a joy to step into your world for a brief time. Thank you. 

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.   

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