In western Monterey County, the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA sits about an hour and a half south of San Jose. Naturally (as the name would suggest), this AVA is in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, nestled between those mountains and Highway 101, with the Arroyo Seco River bisecting the region.
With the Pacific Ocean just on the other side of the mountain range, this area is blessed with a cool climate, some fog, and long summers that don’t get ridiculously hot. By the same token, this region is challenged by poor soil.
This combination provides an ideal location for producing award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay, such as the fruit and wine from Pisoni Vineyards and Adam Lee’s (formerly of Siduri) latest project, Clarice.
While some wineries existed prior to the arrival of Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, the AVA’s claim to fame as a great province for Burgundian varietals really stems from their joint efforts. Gary Franscioni launched ROAR wines in 2001.
Mark Pisoni introduced me to Adam and Nick Franscioni, Gary’s two sons. We had a delightful time chatting at Hospice du Rhone earlier this year.
Adam is the vineyard manager and Nick the winery manager. They come from a line of Swiss-Italian farmers who from the beginning wanted to be in California.
The family has more than 400 acres in the area, but only a portion of those are suitable for grapes and avocados. The rest is too hilly or too water-challenged.
Nick talked about growing up on the ranch/farm, working the field being taken for granted and not having any close-by neighbors. That’s what drew him to USC and Los Angeles – to explore city life contrasted with farm life. After getting degrees in business and engineering, he did some consulting work.
Adam also went to school in Southern California, to University of San Diego, wanting to explore city life. Like Nick, he also entered the business world. But he missed the camaraderie, the fellowship that seems prevalent in the wine industry.
This is when Gary’s and Rosella’s brilliance as parents manifested. According to both Nick and Adam, their folks never pressured them to continue the ROAR legacy. Rather, they wanted their kids to return to Monterey County because they wanted to, because they felt a calling to the rural life.
Both Nick and Adam have worked in the fields and vineyards, as well as the administrative and management aspects of the wine business. In our discussion, they effortlessly switched back and forth from how often each grape vine is touched (every 12 days) to the overhead costs of operating a winery.
They clearly have a commitment to ROAR and to agriculture in general. Adam has worked in New Zealand and South Africa, where he’s learned some of the techniques from those locales that differ from what is usually done in California, such as co-fermenting different clones.
They acknowledge the advantages to having their vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Bud break for the vines is similar to Sonoma, because of the coastal influence, but, being south of Sonoma, they can have later harvests. And the dirt in Monterey County promotes a bit more acidity.
Based on our discussions, I think Adam and Nick will be with ROAR for the long term. I asked them about whether, after seeing other winemakers selling their wineries for big money (Adam Lee and Siduri or Michael Browne and Kosta Browne), were they tempted. Emphatically no, both said. They are tied into their land, their crafting of future elegant wines, and continuing the family tradition.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.