For years, the sleepy Santa Lucia Highlands, located in Monterey County, California, was home to cattle, sheep, horses and row crops. But in 1979, Swiss born Nicolaus “Nicky” Hahn and his wife, Gaby, changed all that when they purchased the Smith and Hook vineyards, located about an hour outside of the city of Monterey.
At the time, the land, which had previously been used for grazing cattle and horses, was a blank slate where Hahn saw amazing potential for vineyards.
In 1980, the Hahns released their first wine from Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH), and then just eight years later, he led a successful campaign to establish SLH as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). In 1991, Hahn and his neighbors prevailed and a new AVA was born.
Over the next 30 years, Hahn’s commitment to both the Monterey County and Santa Lucia Highlands wine industry deepened and intensified, bringing critical acclaim not just to his winery, but to the entire region, which is ideally situated near the tourist destination cities of Carmel and Monterey.
Today, Hahn Family Wines is now run by Nicky and Gaby’s son Philip. The estate sustainably farms 650 acres of estate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, where their pinot noir and chardonnay wines have garnered international attention.
And they take sustainability very seriously, making it an integral part of their farming and business practices, taking a long-term view by recognizing that taking care of the land is a responsibility that lasts well beyond the current generation but for generations to come.
It is an ongoing obligation that starts in the vineyards, but is also practiced in their winery, and even in their tasting room. From growing the fruit, to making the wine, to delivering their product to consumers, and even the well-being of their employees, the Hahn family has demonstrated their commitment to sustainability. As a result, Hahn Family Wines is one of the first wineries in SLH to have all of their estate vineyards certified under the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program and is recognized as a leader in the sustainability movement.
Lastly, the team at Hahn Family Wines is more like a family than a business. From the people who work in the vineyards, from the winemaking team to quality control, and even the people who work the bottling line, there is a sense of commitment dedicated to delivering the best quality wine possible for the money. And it shows in every bottle.
The SLH designation is used by Hahn Family Wines for wines made from grapes blended from their designated single vineyards. These wines are not just a wonderful value, but they also provide a glimpse into the Saint Lucia Highlands terroir.
The 2017 Hahn SLH Chardonnay is made using mostly fruit from the Lone Oak Vineyard and just a touch of new oak. The result is a wine that features lovely aromas of ripe pear and nectarine and a beautifully balanced mouthfeel featuring flavors of orchard fruit. A touch of guava slides in on the charming finish. Try it with soft cheeses and fresh fruit. $25
Another stunning value from the SLH lineup is the 2017 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir. In a word, this is a pretty pinot noir. The charming nose is full of aromas of baking spices and wild strawberry. In the mouth, flavors of red berry fruit, ripe strawberry and a touch of clove mingle together beautifully, supported by silky tannins and nice acidity. Perfect with duck or chicken. $30
Saint Lucia — for which the SLH region is named — was the patron saint of light, as represented by the crown of candles she wears in many traditional religious depictions. The Hahn wine program that features fruit from their single vineyards is called Lucienne, which is not only Nicky Hahn’s middle name, but also translates to “light.” A happy coincidence, indeed.
The 2017 Hahn Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay is one of the best values for a high-end chardonnay in California I have come across in a long time. Aged for 14 months in 45% new French oak barrels, it’s just enough to give this wine a pitch-perfect kiss of oak. Aromas of apple, nectarine and baked bread are enticing. The mouthfeel is beautifully balanced between the flavors of Gala apple, ripe pear and white nectarine and the lovely acidity that keeps the fruit lively and focused. Just a touch of toasty oak comes into play on the long and delightful finish. Pair this wine with sand dabs or flounder. $40
If Lucienne is light, the 2017 Hahn Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard is brilliant. There are only 1,100 cases of this amazing wine made, so start hunting it down now. Black olives and forest floor aromas waft up from the glass. Savory notes of dark fruit and dried sage attack the front of the palate while notes of black cherry and dark plum float on the long, elegant finish. A perfectly balance wine with an elegant structure. Grilled salmon would be happy to be in the company of this wine. $50
And be sure to listen to this week’s episode of The Vine Guy podcast