Located in the northern Central Coast region of California and bordering the Pacific Ocean, Monterey County has proven to be a superb growing region. Well-drained soils along the river basins, consisting of gravel and loam, coupled with a cool microclimate (Region I) continue to yield grapes with high acid and intense flavors. Even though soils in the valleys have low water retention capacity, the region’s cool climate enables growers to apply only moderate amounts of water for irrigation and still maintain healthy vines.
THE MONTEREY CHALLENGE
There are specialized challenges for viticulture and enology in the Salinas Valley. Its rolling hills outline a patchwork of microclimates and there are five appellations – Monterey, Carmel Valley, Chalone, San Lucas, and Arroyo Seco. In general, the southern end of the Salinas Valley is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Gamay Beaujolais, and Sauvignon Blanc; the climate is warmer than the northern end. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most well-known varietals from the north, although there are proven exceptions (for example, good Chardonnay grapes are grown in the south).
The first large commercial vineyards in Monterey County were planted in the early 1960’s, replacing older crops of grain and oats. In 1970, there were only 3,500 acres of grapes in Monterey County; in 1987, roughly 27,000. Monterey County is one of the largest producers of quality wine grapes in the state of California. The biggest vineyard in the world is San Bernabe, 8,500 contiguous acres, located near King City at the southern tip of the Salinas Valley.
Several viticultural factors combine to produce the unique taste of Monterey County wines: a cool summer due to the maritime influence of Pacific Ocean breezes; a long growing season, with bud break usually occurring in March – though sometimes as early as February – and harvest stretching into October and even November; and light alluvial soils which give relatively low yields per acre. (Courtesy of The Monterey Vineyards, Gonzales, California)