Central Coast

The expansive Central Coast counts Monterey, Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills among its numerous AVAs. Although this widespread region may seem disparate, the Pacific Ocean’s influence creates a commonality among many of these coastal regions.

La Crema’s Craig McAllister draws several comparisons between the extreme Sonoma Coast and Monterey. “The wind really howls down that valley off of the Monterey Bay and then cools down what can be pretty extreme daytime temperatures,” he says. “We get a mix of fog and wind, and between those two there, it really does depress temperatures,” leading to a long growing season, bright acidity, and well-developed fruit flavors. Soils, like in his Sonoma Coast vineyards, are well-draining, loamy soils. “Again, relatively low vigor, relatively low-nutrient status on soils there, free-draining, and ideal for growing Chardonnay.”

In Santa Maria Valley, the wind that comes through the east-west transverse mountain range from the ocean, as well as the fog, creates what Cambria winemaker Jill Russell calls their “refrigerated sunshine.” The cool climate reveals itself in the wine’s bright acid and citrus fruit flavors, but Russell notes it brings out new layers when working with the fruit in Cambria’s Katherine’s Vineyard. The site was planted in 1971 and the thriving older vines produce complex grapefruit and lime flavors, along with what Russell calls a “fleshy” texture. Among other varieties planted in the vineyard, “I’m actually picking the old vine Chardonnay last, because they really hang on with the cool weather,” she says.

Although Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton and diatom draws influence from Japan into winemaking — the reverence for raw materials, the imperfectly perfect concept of “wabi-sabi,” for example — Sta. Rita Hills terroir remains his North Star when crafting Chardonnay. Diatom is an homage to the “physical landscape, this diatomaceous earth that we have here,” he says. “It’s white, chalky and kind of lunar-looking. To have a mine in the area – it's a really unique thing.” For both Brewer-Clifton and diatom wines, the cooling effect from the Pacific winds and fog allows him to pick quite late; the interplay between the ripe fruit and the “salty, margarita-esque” qualities creates unique tension and what Brewer calls a “bass-treble, teeter-totter,” balance to the wines.