Friday, September 16, 2022

Monterey County

Note: Evil (and costly) scammers are to blame for this blog showing up late in your in box.  The site has been down for a couple of days, while a scammer claiming to be Apple Security, did a job on my wife's and my computer.  But, we're least until the next hack.  

There was a time when wines carrying a Monterey County appellation were accused of having a bad case of the "Monterey Veggies."  Never mind that other Monterey wines, not made from grapes gown in the northern part of the county, Jekel Rieslings for example, were not vegetal at all. 

Northern Monterey, specifically Salinas, is known as the salad bowl of the nation, because trailing off to the east and west of H-101, are endless rows of lettuce, artichokes and other row crops. Some people claim that after the lettuce is picked and the plants are plowed under, the decomposing matter leaves a vegetal presence in the soil.  

Eucalyptus nuts and leaves

The same theory has been suggested (and scoffed at) for vineyards adjacent to eucalyptus trees. According to one theory, the eucalypt leaves and nuts drop from the trees and are mixed into the vineyard soil, giving red wines a "certain" eucalypt character.  The most noted example is Heitz Martha's Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

I asked Joe Heitz about that theory in the late 1970s and he scoffed, saying it was a lot of bunk.  "Years ago, I worked for a winery in the Central Valley and on hot days we had gondolas full of grapes parked under the shade of eucalypts. Eventually we processed the grapes along with the leaves and nuts and never picked up eucalyptus in the wines."  

A few months ago, I opened a 1999 Martha's Vineyard and thought it was one of the best Napa Cabernets I had tasted in years, but I didn't detect eucalyptus or even mint. 

The beautiful rainbow eucalyptus

Aside:  There is a sensory difference between the smell and taste of mint and that of eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is more menthol than mint, while mint is often like peppermint, which in turn is different than spearmint. For most wine consumers, arguing the differences is splitting hairs, but distinguishing the differences is important to wine professionals.

Monterey Sub-Regions

Today, Monterey is a vibrant wine region, with a handful of sub regions producing distinctive wines.  Gavilan mountains is home to the Burgundian-style wines of Chalone Vineyards.  The Santa Lucia Highlands has built a solid reputation for Pinot Noir, Carmel Valley leans more toward Cabernet Sauvignon.

The northern part of the county, mainly the Salinas Valley, is cool and often fog bound. The valley is open to the Pacific Ocean and as the temperatures cool, evening fog is drawn into the valley,making it difficult to grow wine grapes.  The opposite is the case in the south where daytime temperatures are higher and the area doesn't cool off in the evenings.

Note:  The following Monterey regions will include an AVA (American Viticultural Area) and the year it was granted.  Monterey has some of the oldest AVAs in the state.  There are nine Monterey AVAs; Chalone the first in 1982, San Antonio the most recent, granted in 2006.

Monterey AVA (1984) encompasses the entire valley, stretching from the cool Salinas Valley in the north to the hot southern end. The large appellation is composed of eight distinct wine regions, all but the San Antonio Valley, covered by its own AVA: San Bernabe AVA, Carmel Valley AVA, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, Arroyo Seco AVA, Chalone AVA, San Lucas AVA and Hames Valley AVA. 

San Bernabe AVA (2004) is at the southern end of the AVA. The are is dominated by the 13,000 acre San Bernabe Vineyard, the largest contiguous vineyard in the world, owned by Delicato. San Bernabe also supplies grapes to wineries throughout California.

Santa Lucia Highlands  AVA (1991) lies along the western side of Salinas Valley. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah are planted on elevated terraces and are protected from ocean gusts by the Santa Lucia mountain range.  Santa Lucia Pinot Noir is considered among the best in the state.  Look for Paraiso Vineyards, Hahn Estate, Morgan Winery, Mer Soleil. 

Chalone AVA (1982) is one of California's early success stories with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that looked tio Burgundy for style. High above the Salinas Valley in the eastern Gavilan Mountains, Chalone grapes get their energy and character from limestone soils and a cooler climate. In 1965, Richard Graff purchased Chalone Vineyard and employed oak-barrel fermentation and lees aging, then mostly unknown in the Golden State. Michaud Vineyard is the other winery in the tiny AVA. 

Arroyo Seco AVA (1983) is named for the dry wash in this part of Monterey.  At the center is Greenfield and Jekel Vineyards, a winery, as noted earlier that made its reputation on juicy Rieslings and later Chardonnay.  Those two wines are the flagships for Arroyo Seco.  Cabernet Sauvignon is less successful but does has its moments. Look for the appellation on Ventana Vineyards, J. Lohr, Kendall-Jackson, JC Cellars.

Carmel Valley AVA (1983) is a small AVA, about 10 miles inland from the city of Monterey.  The enclave is fashionable, with Clint Eastwood bringing fame, as  mayor, to the nearby city of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  The top wines are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, especially from Bernardus and Galante Vineyards.  Pinot Noir has seen some success, planted at the higher parts of the valley, mainly from Talbot Vineyards and Diamond T Vineyards.

Monterey County is vast and varied, with the popular touristy coastal Monterey City, Pebble Beach golf courses, Carmel and Big Sur.  Vineyards and wineries are spread out, but with a plan, winery visits can be rewarding.


Next blog: Australia Series: Tasmania, ACT, Queensland and more. 

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