North America

Central Coast

  • The Central Coast is a vast stretch of the state separated into some twenty different regions, each with widely different characters. The first group of AVAs is those around the southern and eastern edges of San Francisco.

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  • Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara
    East of Oakland, Contra Costa County has some parcels of very old vine Zinfandel and Mourvèdre, but little commercial production takes place here. Just south is Alameda County, where the Livermore AVA is located, with its rocky soil suited to Bordeaux varieties. The climate is a cool Region III because of the cool breezes that come in from the San Francisco Bay. South of Alameda County is Santa Clara County, and the Santa Clara Valley along the western edge of the County was a well known source for a large value wine producer. In the south of Santa Clara Valley is the cool climate San Ysidro AVA.

    Santa Cruz Mountains
    To the west of Santa Clara is the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, a high-elevation region (minimum elevation is 1000 ft) with a climate that is mainly Region I. Some sites are exposed to breezes from the ocean, while others get warmer air from the Santa Clara Valley. This is a fairly old region, established in the mid-19th century, and home to the legendary Ridge Monte Bello vineyard, originally planted over 100 years ago. In the mid-20th century, the region was rejuvenated through the efforts of a few producers. Finally, a relatively minor subregion within the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA is the Ben Lomond AVA, located near the town of Santa Cruz.

    Monterey is a fairly recent vineyard area, long dominated by jug or so-called generic wine. Many vineyards are now being planted and old ones replanted for quality wine production. Since the northern part of the area has a cool Region I climate and is exposed to heavy maritime influence from the ocean, this region produces better white grapes than black ones. High winds can also keep grapes from ripening and much of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted here can give wine with the bell pepper greenness of unripe fruit.

    Arroyo Seco
    Monterey is a large AVA, and two of the quality foci are the Arroyo Seco AVA, with sandy, rocky soil and the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, located on the alluvial fans on the western side of the Salinas.

    Carmel Valley
    West of the Santa Lucia Highlands is Carmel Valley, producing mainly red wines. The vines produce fairly small berries, giving deeply colored, tannic wines similar in some ways to Napa fruit.

    On the other side of the Salinas lie Chalone AVA and a cluster of AVAs in San Benito County: Mount Harlan, Paicines, Cienega, Lime Kiln and Pacheco Pass. Chalone has a fairly warm Region II climate and high elevation vineyards (1,800 ft.) in the Gavial Mountains. Finally, in the southernmost part of Monterey County is the AVA of San Lucas, which is a very hot Region IV vineyard, producing fairly industrial wine.

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  • San Luis Obispo
    South of Monterey County is San Luis Obispo County. In the north of this county lies the AVA of Paso Robles, a fairly warm AVA that covers a lot of ground. This climate ripens grapes extremely well, and produces friendly wines that are full bodied, alcoholic, with soft acidity and supple tannins. Syrah, other red and white Rhône grape varieties and Pinot Noir perform very well here. The climate is hotter and drier on the eastern side of the AVA, while the western side (known as the Santa Lucia Mountains) is cooler. It is divided into several subzones, but the only separate AVA is York Mountain to the west. It is a very small AVA (30 acres), with a very cool, wet climate.

    Edna Valley
    To the south, the Edna Valley has a much more pronounced maritime influence because of its east-west orientation, with breezes from the Pacific cooling the temperatures to those of a Region I climate. Because of the ocean and the sheltering mountains surrounding it, humidity in the Edna Valley is fairly high, causing botrytis to affect the grapes in many years. Southeast of Edna Valley is Arroyo Grande, another cool Central Coast AVA.

    Santa Barbara
    Santa Barbara County is a very cool area, due to the fact that the shoreline swings east for fifty miles as do the Santa Inez and San Rafael mountain ranges. This provides a cool summer and a warm winter, leading to early bud break and a long growing season. The most successful grapes in this climate are generally Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The fruit profile is marked by a tropical character and sometimes a touch of botrytis, with crisp acidity.

    Santa Maria
    Within Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley is very typical of this character. Located in the northern part of the county, the valley is protected by Sierra Madre foothills to the northeast, while being open to maritime influence.

    Santa Ynez
    South of Santa Maria Valley is the Santa Ynez Valley. Here 1,500 acres are planted on the south side of the San Rafael Mountains in a climate much warmer than the Santa Maria Valley. Here the specialty is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the western, maritime-influenced end of the AVA, and Rhône varieties at the eastern end of the AVA as the maritime influence declines and the elevation climbs from 200-1,500 ft. Between these two areas lays Los Alamos, an area dominated by big players but lacking an official designation.

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