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Monterey County: a rainbow of microclimates



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Monterey County is one of the premiere destinations in California – but many people don’t think of it as a hot spot for wine. In fact, it is one of the state’s most up-and-coming regions, with hot days and cool nights creating the perfect growing conditions for a number of highly-sought-after grapes.

Compared to much of the state – where heavy commercial winemaker dates back to the mid-1800s – Monterey is a relatively young growing region. Serious commercial production did not begin until the 1960s – but in the intervening five decades the region has been home to some of the most dedicated, innovative winemakers in North America. Monterey winemakers like to boast that their region is comprised almost exclusively of premium soil types – most especially Lockwood Shaly Loam – and it shows through in the wines they produce, full of rich, layered complexity.

The appellation reaches from Moss Landing in the north-west at a south-westerly angle ninety miles to Bradley. Within that large swath of land are eight sub-appellations: Arroyo Soco, Carmel Valley, Chalone, Hames Valley, San Antonio Valley, San Bernabe, San Lucas, and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Chalone is the smallest of these appellations, comprising only a few small acres and a handful of vineyards.

There are more than 175 vineyards in Monterey County, ranging from small boutique shops to large-scale, higher-production establishments. Monterey County also provides a fascinating look at the effects of microclimates on grapes – the region ranges from quite cold in the far north (on the edge of where one can possibly grow most varietals) to quite warm in the far south. This allows for a wide range of varietal production, and also lets visitors choose one smaller segment depending on their tastes.

The Santa Lucia Highlands is likely the most well-known region within Monterey County, famed for its cool-climate pinot noir, which competes with the best wines of Mendocino County and Burgundy. Pinot lovers will want to start in the northern end of the county, and likely spend the bulk of their time up there. This is a wonderful trip in-and-of itself: Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its boutique shopping, beautiful resorts, and incredible fine dining; and the ocean views along the Monterey Coast are second to none.

For those looking for something different, Monterey County boasts almost everything. With its unique climate gradient, and experimental winemakers constantly trying out new clones and trellising models, the region has 42 varietals in full production. From well-known grapes like riesling, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot, to lesser-known highlights like muscat giallo, sauvignon musque, graciano, and valdiguie, there really is something for everyone.


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