When I was a middle school student, I wrote a family history paper entitled All That Glitters Isn’t Gold. It was the story of my ancestor that made a fortune in vegetable farming – the hook was that we could achieve our dreams by growing unexpected harvests.
Last month I took my first visit to the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA of Monterey County, California. The appellation’s vineyards are planted along the slopes of the Santa Lucia Range as it spans lengthwise along the Salinas River Valley – an immensely fertile zone where much of America’s produce is cultivated. During my time there I was reminded of my old theme of success through our harvests; the abundance of life was around. Not far from the vineyards is the blue coast of the Monterey Bay, under which is one of the world’s largest canyons, home to a rich array of wildlife (as the locals say, the Pacific is part of the Monterey winemaking team).
It was this environment that drew Nicky (Nicolas) Hahn, of Hahn Family Wines, to not only grow grapes and make wine here from his Smith and Hook vineyards, but to establish the AVA. According to the winery, “It was Nicky Hahn who first suggested the designation Santa Lucia Highlands when proposing the twelve mile- long, raised benchland above the Salinas River for special consideration as a unique winegrowing district. In 1991, the Federal government approved the Santa Lucia Highlands as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA).”
Paul Clifton, Winemaker at Hahn Family Wines, shared with me the history that originally Smith and Hook vineyards were planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, a varietal that didn’t thrive properly in the cooler climate of the Santa Lucia Highlands. In fact, there were vintages when Cabernet didn’t even achieve ripeness. Nicky Hahn realized this deficiency, and in the early 2000’s replanted hundreds of acres with Pinot Noir, reshaping the winery and adjusting the overall production of the AVA.
Nicky Hahn’s contribution not only the AVA but to the American wine landscape is recognized for significance and influence this year. On November 9, 2017, Wine Enthusiast announced that Hanh is to be awarded “American Wine Pioneer” at its 18th annual Wine Star Awards, proof that following our own dreams of harvest also further the greater good.
According to Wine Enthusiast:
Experimentation and replanting projects continue, including recent tests of massal clonal field blends, and Hahn’s acreage has grown to more than 1,100 around the Central Coast. He was also an early adopter of the Sustainability in Practice program, which upholds stringent environmental and labor standards.
“I’d like to be known as a fair employer, and if you look at our employee list, many of them have been with us forever,” says Hahn.His colleagues are proud of Hahn.
“With Nicky’s intellectual and financial capabilities, he could have succeeded at anything he put his mind to,” says Jerry Lohr, founder of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, who was honored by Wine Enthusiast as its American Wine Legend in 2016. “I am so pleased that he decided to focus so much energy on his winery in Monterey, which played an important role in helping to put Monterey wines on the map.”
For his countless contributions to Monterey and, by extension, the wine industry as a whole, Wine Enthusiast names Nicolaus “Nicky” Hahn as its 2017 American Wine Pioneer.