As far as California wine goes, Napa and Sonoma get most of the attention. The wines from those hot areas can get really saturated with fruit, so I actually always try to seek out California’s lesser known areas that have cooler climates. I love Pinots from Mendocino and white Rhône varietals from Paso Robles, but hadn’t been to a few of the areas along the Central Coast.
The Central Coast AVA has 30 sub-AVAs in its 250 miles, all along the Pacific Coast from San Francisco Bay to Santa Barbara. It produces 15% of California’s winegrapes and overall it’s largely Chardonnay and Pinot Noir territory, but they were surprisingly restrained and incredible values – two good things to remember the next time you’re looking to buy either of those varietals.
Here are the places we hit up and a few fun facts I learned along the way.
Wine is a huge part of Santa Barbara, with 7,529 acres dedicated to Chardonnay and 5,561 acres for Pinot Noir. It’s a mix of cold and warm climates which can produce some great grapes. And yes, this is the gorgeous area from Sideways with wine spots that include the more urban ones (Santa Barbara, Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, and Lompoc) and then more rural ones in the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys.
We went to Bridlewood in Santa Ynez, an old horse farm that makes mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but has a whole buncf of other varietals too that I loved tasting though. We started out with a sick cocktail hour spread and I really liked their delicately fruity Viognier with everything (and yes, I pretty much tried everything you see on this table).
At dinner we had a really insane BBQ – what the cattle ranchers there traditionally eat – and the hands-down winner with the tri-tip was the juicy blackberry Zinfandel.
san luis obispo
SLO, as they call it, spreads out from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, so it gets a lot of marine air blowing in and cooling it down. Here, growing grapes goes back to the 18th century when the Mission San Luis Obispo was founded in 1772 and the padres grew grapes for sacramental wines. That’s a long time to be making wine in the area, and they’re getting it right.
We hit up the Edna Valley AVA, which is the coolest winegrowing region in all of California from all of that cold ocean air. Edna Valley Vineyard is just a few miles from Pismo Beach, an adorable little town I really only knew from the movie Clueless when they did a food drive for the Pismo Beach disaster.
Chardonnay was the first variety planted in the Edna Valley and is what really got the area known, so no shocker that we tasted a whole bunch of them. My favorite by far was the 2014 Edna Valley Heritage Chardonnay – very clean and bright but still tropical and creamy with a tangy dried lemon peel on the finish. This one is $30, one of their more expensive Chardonnays we tasted but a bargain if you compare it to what you often pay for ones from Napa and Sonoma.
At lunch we also sipped through a few barrel samples from different Chardonnay clones. Barrel samples are very young and usually raw, but it was still fun to taste through the variations and grow an even deeper appreciation for winemakers’ skill in being able to tell how to blend all of these different clones to create one smooth wine.
Later we went to an abalone farm and we had the 2016 Edna Valley Vineyard California Rosé. They make theirs out of the traditional Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (often called GSM for short) but also add some Tempranillo which makes the acronym TGSM. The winemaker Matt Steel likes to say it stands for “That’s good shit, Matt!” (In more proper company he’ll change the S to “stuff” – if he must.)
For dinner, we went to Grover Beach for a gorgeous sunset seafood boil and bonfire with all the Edna Valley wines. The crisp Sauvignon Blanc was great with the seafood and salad, but once you start dipping the lobster in butter it was good that some Chardonnay was on hand too.
santa lucia highlands
Within Monterey County, the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is my favorite wine area on the coast because the Pinot Noirs are more elegant and subtle.
We hit up the Talbott tasting room and tried their three lines of wine: Kali Hart (fruit-forward with subtle oak), Logan (balanced fruit and oak), and Sleepy Hollow (the “winemaker’s interpretation of the vineyard” that uses oak and sur lies aging but still lets the fruit shine).
At dinner, we went to La Bicyclette in nearby Carmel and had the 2014 Talbott Logan Pinot Noir and the 2014 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir. I normally wouldn’t choose Pinot for pizza but out of the ones we had on the table the Logan had lots of heavy fruit and a hint of mushroom on the nose and was actually pretty good with my pepperoni!
For some awesome non-wine activities we did on the Central Coast, head over to escapefriend to read all about where to eat, drink, stay and play.