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The Wines of the Monterey County

Monterey County, located along California's central coast, is renowned for its diverse and high-quality wine production.

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The region's wine history dates back to the 18th century, but it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that Monterey County truly began to establish itself as a significant wine-producing area. The region benefits from a unique set of geographical and climatic conditions that make it particularly suitable for viticulture.

Monterey County's wine-growing regions are influenced by the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean, which help to create a longer growing season. This extended season allows grapes to mature slowly, leading to more nuanced flavors and aromas. The county's topography is varied, including valleys, mountains, and flatlands, which contribute to the diversity of microclimates and soils. This diversity allows for a wide variety of grapes to be grown successfully.

"If a vintage-dated wine lists a specific AVA, 95% of the grapes must come from the stated year. For wines labeled with a state or county, the minimum is 85%. All wines listing a varietal designation must be made from a minimum of 75% of the stated grape variety."

Monterey County is particularly known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which account for a significant portion of its wine production. However, the region also successfully grows a variety of other grape types, including but not limited to Syrah, Merlot, and Riesling. The diversity of climates within the county's AVAs allows for this wide range of varieties to flourish.

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Monterey County is home to several American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), each with its own distinctive characteristics.

The Santa Lucia Highlands are renowned for producing exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, thanks to the cool, maritime influences from the nearby Monterey Bay. The region's elevated terraces and slopes provide an ideal terroir for these grape varieties, allowing them to develop complex flavors and aromas. Winemakers in the Santa Lucia Highlands are known for their meticulous vineyard management practices, which contribute to the high quality and distinct character of their wines.

Here are a few more important AVA's of Monterey County:

  • Arroyo Seco: Renowned for its Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir, with grapes grown in rocky soils that stress the vines, leading to more concentrated flavors.

  • Carmel Valley: A warmer AVA within Monterey County, well-suited for growing Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as other warm-climate grapes.

  • Salinas Valley: The backbone of Monterey County's wine region, where a wide variety of grapes thrive, from Chardonnay to Syrah, benefiting from the region's cool fog and strong winds.

The region is a popular destination for wine tourism, offering numerous tasting rooms and tours that showcase the beauty of the area and the quality of its wines. Visitors can enjoy the scenic views, taste a wide range of wines, and learn about the winemaking process from local experts.

Monterey County's wines are celebrated for their quality, diversity, and the region's commitment to sustainable viticulture. Its unique climatic conditions and varied terrain make it an ideal location for producing a wide array of wine varieties, making it a must-visit destination for wine enthusiasts.

Why does Chardonnay and Pinot Noir often grow alongside each other?

These fine wine grapes often grow together for several reasons related to climate, soil preferences, and historical wine production practices. Both grapes thrive in cooler climates, which help to maintain acidity levels in the grapes, essential for producing balanced and nuanced wines. These varieties benefit from the cooling influence of nearby water bodies, fog, and breezes, conditions often found in regions like Burgundy in France, parts of California, and New Zealand.

The tradition of growing these varieties together dates back to the Burgundy region of France, where both grapes are integral to the region's winemaking heritage. Pinot Noir is used for red Burgundy wines, while Chardonnay is the grape for white Burgundy. This historical precedent has influenced winemaking practices in new world wine regions, where producers aim to replicate the quality and style of Burgundian wines.

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