Discovering The Future of CA Wine in Monterey

It’s always exciting when you get to discover a wine growing region up close. I had that opportunity this weekend when I was given a guided tour of parts of the Monterey appellation and the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation.

Years ago Monterey got a bad reputation for Cabernet. U.C. Davis announced that it was perhaps the best region in California for growing wine grapes. Well, they planted them…unfortunately they planted Cabernet and in the wrong place. What we got was weedy, under ripe red wine. It was nearly universally panned and Monterey’s reputation took a dump.

However, that didn’t stop a number of pioneers from taking a closer look at the region and identifying those varieties best suited for its different terroirs and microclimates. What emerged was a series of very promising Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from what is a region that offers a very long growing season.
Wark Communication’s client had a great deal of experience in the Monterey region before being asked to begin a winery. She had made some great Pinots while working for another winery earlier in her career. She sees the Monterey region as being extraordinarily similar to New Zealand.

The Santa Lucia Highlands is located on the western side of the Salinas Valley. Most of the vineyards sit on benchland, protected by the steep highlands from the sometimes monstrous winds that can sweep through the valley. Many of the vineyards also sit above the fog line. The appellation rise from 40 feet above sea level to over 1200 feet.

Three vineyards in particular have helped define the Santa Lucia Highlands as one of the top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producing areas in California: Pisoni Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard. Searching through Robert Parker’s reviews, over 85% of the wines reviewed from the Santa Lucia Highlands come from these three vineyards.

There are a LOT of vineyards in this neck of the woods. A huge amount of them are owned by large corporate concerns that feed the grapes in to "Coastal" winemaking programs that pump out $7 to $10 a bottle wines. However, a number of artisans are looking to Santa Lucia Highlands for grapes that are carefully tended by conscientious grapegrowers. Many of these artisan wineries are not from the Monterey area. They are simply buying fruit, not growing it.

Our client is one such artisan. However, she has her sights set not just on Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands but from a number of small, carefully tended vineyards throughout the Monterey area. Some of the vineyards she’s identified for her new project are in pretty remote areas. But the key is that they are farmed by those who are dedicated to producing grapes for people just like her.

Monterey is one of those fast developing areas of California that will be better defined in a decade or two after a number of other small wineries and artisan grape growers help flesh out the meaning of its climate and soils. The interesting things is just how fast this will happen. Winery and vineyard associations will help do the work of explaining Monterey. Tourists who flock to the region will discover its wines and make their way inland to check out the wineries first hand. This will in turn lead to the development of new tasting rooms for visitors to frequent. This will lead to even better reason for people to head to Monterey.

My guess is that a number of the new wineries that settle in the Monterey area to take advantage of the magnificent fruit will set down roots the same way our client has, in the quiet, out-of-the-way comfort of a warehouse. There reputations will grow in similar ways…..locals buying the wine, tourists tasting them, good reviews of the wines, then the high-end wine drinkers and first adopters will move in to "discover" them.


Posted In: Terroir


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