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Paraiso Vineyard: The backbone of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

Spanish missionaries at Mission Soledad first planted vineyards in the region now known as the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in the late 18th century. But winegrowing on the windswept terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range began in earnest in 1973 when Rich and Claudia Smith established the Paraiso Vineyard. Parasio is the tenth iconic vineyard to be acknowledged by the California State Fair as Vineyard of the Year.

The Smiths were among a handful of pioneering winegrowers in the region and their early successes enabled them to plant Paraiso to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. These original varieties selected by Rich Smith have now become hallmarks for one of the coolest climate AVAs in the state.

For the next sixteen years the Smiths focused on growing grapes but in 1989 they became vintners and bottled their first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the Paraiso Springs label. Referred to as the “home ranch,” Paraiso is home base for the company’s offices, shop, winery and tasting room from which they manage 3200 acres of wine grapes in Monterey County. With 800 acres under vine in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, they are the largest grower in that region.

Rich Smith has been an outspoken advocate for Monterey County viticulture and in 1991 he, Nikki Hahn and Phil Johnson led the effort that succeeded in establishing the Santa Lucia Highlands as an American Viticultural Area. His leadership efforts didn’t stop there; Smith held the office of President of the local Farm Bureau and the California Association of Wine Growers and was a founding member of many industry organizations.

Today, second-generation winegrower Jason Smith, President and CEO of Smith Family Wines, runs a fully-vertically integrated business that was founded on the Parasio Vineyard. “We’re growing fifteen different clones on our 350-acre home ranch estate vineyard: seven Pinot Noirs, five Chardonnays and three Syrahs,” said Smith. “As the demand for Santa Lucia Highlands fruit has grown, we’ve been the backbone of programs that make it possible for wineries to have SLH-appellated wines in their portfolios.”

The iconic Paraiso vineyard has been farmed for decades using the Sustainability in Practice program known as SIP. Rich Smith was early adopter of this rigorous vineyard and winery certification program and the Smith Family vineyards were among the first to be SIP Certified in Monterey County. Jason has continued those efforts and from 2013 the ranch has been solar powered expanding the company’s commitment to green practices.

Looking forward, Jason is focused on furthering wine quality for the Smith Family labels. “We’re working to identify cru-quality sites on the estate and vinifying different lots with a focus on single clones in a concerted effort to find the best of the best.” The future looks bright for the iconic Paraiso as Jason and the Smith family builds on his father’s legacy and advances the family’s stewardship of the vineyard.

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