Did you know there are vineyards south of San Francisco? Really, there are! Over 100,000 acres! That’s Napa and Sonoma put together. But it seems that, in some people’s mental maps, there is no noteworthy wine country outside of these two regions.
I make no contentions that Napa and Sonoma don’t produce quality wines. They do. I don’t argue that these regions don’t deserve their reputations. They do. However, when news reports about frosts and weather flukes as well as harvest updates omit mention of the Central Coast and call Napa and Sonoma the premiere wine country and when wine websites categorize Central Coast wines as “Other California Wine”, I am compelled to make a point of clarification.
The Central Coast is too important and produces too many high quality wines to be classified as “other”. “Other” implies obscurity and lesser significance. It implies a lack of established reputation. To use this terminology strips merit from the work of the countless people who make wines from the AVAs making up the Central Coast. It marginalizes a diverse region which produces a very large quantity of wine.
I would not be fair if I didn’t acknowledge that I am also critical of some trends and practices in the Central Coast. My top two are: excessive ripeness and planting certain varieties or clones in less-than-optimal sites – just because they are currently hip and the market is hot for them. But those are charges which may be leveled against any wine region on the planet these days (and while I do believe climate change is occurring, I feel that blaming the shift in style on that phenomenon is insulting to my intelligence).
The Central Coast appellation spans from the San Francisco bay to Santa Barbara County. It is home to more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes. From areas cooled by the marine effect off the Pacific Ocean to warm and arid expanses and toasty canyons, this “mega-appellation” grows a diverse array of varieties. The producers range from small, boutique wineries to large, commercial-scale producers. This makes the Central Coast a wine world onto itself.
The Central Coast produces fantastic chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Paso Robles is rightfully famous for its zinfandel and cabernet. With the rise in popularity of syrah, grenache and petit syrah, the southern portion of the Central Coast can be considered the Rhône of California. Let us not forget sangiovese, which does well in the central coast or the Iberian varieties. Vintners in the central coast are also exploring the latter with increasing zeal.
And don’t let anyone tell you that Bordeaux varieties don’t belong in the Central Coast. After all, the surge in planting of vines in Salinas Valley was a result of rising land prices in the North Coast. Producers and investors sought additional, more affordable regions to grow more wine grapes. Monterey county filled that niche.
Arroyo Seco can produce nicely structured cabernet-based wines which are true to varietal character (but if you like cherry or plum flavored cough syrup, you’ll be well served to take a pass). On the other side of the Santa Lucia Mountains, is Carmel Valley which also produces very nice Bordeaux-style wines. In the eastern half of the Santa Ynez Valley, cabernet, merlot, petit verdot and sauvignon blanc are well represented and produce damn good wines.
Napa’s and Sonoma’s strong brand equities are based in both quality of product and some well-done marketing. The respective growers’ and vintners’ associations of the AVAs making up the Central Coast need to step up their awareness and marketing campaigns. It’s obvious they have a lot of work to do in order to get their regions and their wines into the consciousness of the wine buying public.
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