The epitome of that nexus of quality and success in the wine business is reached when a winery can legitimately claim the right to being a particular region’s “benchmark winery”; the winery always producing the best wines in the region and doing so consistently across varietals and across vintages. These are rare establishments. Morgan Winery is just such a winery in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH).
Founded in 1982 by Dan and Donna Lee, Morgan is not only the benchmark winery of the stellar Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, it is one of the few “old timer” wineries in the region. But this works to its advantage. While SLH has attracted some of the state’s finest and most innovative winemakers to its cool hillsides, few have the experience with the region that has helped Morgan succeed.
If the proliferation of SLH bottlings makes it difficult to remember the “Morgan” name, then try to remember this: “Double L”. Double L is short for Double Luck, a reference to the Lees’ two twin girls. It’s also the name of Morgan’s stunning 60-acre vineyard set in the cooler, northern end of the SLH and where they grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes for a number of different bottlings.
The Double L vineyard, a 60-acre vineyard set in the cooler, northern end of the SLH and named in honor of the Lee’s twin girls, is the source for three of the winery’s seven single vineyard wines. The Double L vineyard is certified organic and home to six clones of Chardonnay and twelve Pinot clones, as well as an acre of Syrah. Many observers believe that this vineyard, first planted in 1997, is the primary reason that Morgan has risen to the top of what is becoming a crowded field of Santa Lucia Highlands-devoted wineries.
To truly understand the wines of Morgan, you need to understand the Santa Lucia Highlands. It is perhaps the coolest major wine growing region in America, with an average growing season temperature of only 75 degrees. Vines are planted on hillsides that run north and south and parallel to the Monterey coast line that is approximately twelve miles to the west, over a hill. The wind whipping down the Salinas Valley, that the SLH borders, has a tremendous affect on the vines. It thickens the berries’ skins, giving the wines tremendous concentration. The cool weather also provides the grapes a long time on the vines, leading to even more complexity and allowing for full ripening.
Having nearly mastered Santa Lucia Highlands winemaking, Morgan has accumulated accolade after accolade. Recently it bested all comers in a taste-off between California Pinot Noir and Red Burgundy. It has been named “Winery of the Year” by a number of critics. Morgan is that rare winery that has climbed the mountain and looks out on all competitors.