Central Coast, California wine region

Central Coast, California
California’s Central Coast is a long sprawling region of about 250 miles running from San Francisco County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south.  Indeed it’s perhaps easier to describe what it doesn’t contain.  Napa Valley lies to its north, and it excludes the hot, dry, irrigated Central Valley further inland, source of most of California’s jug wine.
 
The Central Coast incorporates a number of different wine regions, many of which have their own AVAs.  At the northern end around San Franciso Bay lie Contra Costa, Alameda and San Franciso Counties.  Although historically important wine areas, blessed with an excellent Mediterranean-style climate and well-drained gravel soils, most of the vineyards have disappeared under urban sprawl.
 
Inland to the the southeast of the Bay the Livermore Valley has its own AVA, and until the Sixties was as important as Napa.  White varieties flourish here, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  South of the Bay, between Silicon Valley and the ocean, lies the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.  The coastal side, cooled by altitude, ocean breezes and fog, specialises in Pinot Noir, while the warmer eastern side produces elegant Cab, Zin, Merlot and Syrah.
 
Continuing south we come to the vineyards of Monterey and San Benito.  Monterey is a diverse area with some very large valley floor vineyards producing undistinguished wine.  However, it is cooled by sea breezes and in the right spots (e.g., Santa Lucia, Arroyo Seco, and Chalone) the cool temperatures allow for a long hang time and a late harvest, increasing flavour complexity.  Rainfall is low here, restricting yields.  Chardonnay and Merlot are the main varieties.
 
Further south still is Paso Robles, whose warmer climate favours red varieties.  It’s particularly famed for its big, juicy Zinfandels and latterly for red Rhône blends, though Cabernet Sauvignon is the most-planted variety.  Paso Robles marks the north end of San Luis Obispo County, again mostly planted to reds, but at its southern end is Edna Valley, where the character of the Central Coast takes another turn.  Here the influence is again from sea breezes and the fogs they carry, which give the region a welcome coolness.  Chardonnay dominates here.
 
Further south again, dryer but mostly even cooler, is Santa Barbara County.  Here the Santa Maria Valley can produce crisp and refreshing wines, thanks again to yet more fog which rolls into the low-lying vineyards.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the staple varieties.
 
Further south in Santa Barbara, close enough to Los Angeles to allow tourists to visit for the day, is the hot Santa Ynez Valley where Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah dominate.  And then at the southern end of the Central Coast strip are the cool Sta. Rita Hills of “Sideways” fame (spelt that way to avoid confusion with the Chilean producer Santa Rita) which produce mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, though increasing amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer can be found.

Decanting Club wines from: Central Coast, California

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