AVA GLOSSARY - Central Coast, CALIFORNIA

AVA GLOSSARY - Central Coast, CALIFORNIA

California’s Central Coast spans the coastline from San Francisco Bay in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. The region contains 40 AVAs, including Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Barbara. It’s planted to 40,000 hectares of vines with Chardonnay accounting for more than half of this. Most of the vineyards are located in valleys that are exposed to coastal influences in the form of morning fog and cool breezes.

Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981 and lies west of Silicon Valley. It spans over 130,000 hectares and is home to a varied topography ranging from high-altitude vineyards surrounded by redwood trees, sun-trap valley floor sites and more coastal lands. Elevation ranges from 100-1000 metres. Land under vine is just over 600 hectares.

The moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean provides a wide diurnal range and varieties planted span from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon. Confusingly, a portion of Santa Cruz County is included in the overarching Central Coast AVA, but the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is not.

Besson Vineyard, Birichino

Contra Costa

Contra Costa lies to the east of San Francisco Bay and is home to vineyards that are within smaller AVAs within the greater Central Coast AVA, as well as vineyards that are not incorporated into any AVA. The region enjoys a wide diurnal range and the soils are predominantly sandy. The region is famed for producing Rhône varietals and Zinfandel.

Monterey

South of San Francisco County and the Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey is a region expanded in the wake of Napa and Sonoma’s success, with the Salinas and Carmel Valleys planted extensively. The Monterey AVA gained status in 1984 and is named for the county it is within. It the largest AVA in the region and contains a number of sub-AVAs. Its land mass extends the length of the county and incorporates many climates, varieties and terrains. Elevations span from 0-700 metres.

A wide range of varietals are planted, from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, but Chardonnay accounts for over half of the plantings. To the north, cooler conditions prevail and include morning fogs and ocean breezes whereas to the southerly climate is much warmer, with summer temperatures often reaching close to 40 degrees Celsius.

Chalone

The Chalone AVA was recognised in 1982, a sub-AVA located in the Gabilan Mountain Range against the backdrop of the Pinnacles National Park. Its 120 hectares under vine are home to some of the oldest vine material in Monterey County.

The elevated position here – 365 metres to 700 metres – aids in providing a wide diurnal range. Soils range from coarse loam to limestone and granite. Rainfall is low, which, when combined with cool conditions and very old vine material, means that yields are generally quite low. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir do very well here.

Santa Lucia Highlands

The Santa Lucia Highlands is planted to just over 1900 hectares of vines, mostly on the terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range facing southeast, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. Elevations range from 100-700 metres. AVA status was awarded in 1991.

The climate is cool with steady temperatures, the vines see morning sunshine and cool oceanic breezes in the afternoon – giving a wide diurnal range and long growing season. Monterey’s greatest Pinot Noir expressions can be found here.

Paso Robles

This is a giant appellation covering almost 250,000 hectares, of which 16,000 are planted to vines. Paso, as it is often called, is divided into 11 sub-regions, with the westernmost parts cooled by the weather from the San Luis Obispo Coast. It is a large contributor to the state’s Cabernet Sauvignon harvest but has also become known for Rhône varieties thanks to notable producers like Tablas Creek, Bonny Doon and Alban.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara marks the southern end of the Central Coast AVA at Point Conception, where the California coastline takes a sharp turn and develops an east-to-west orientation. The parallel mountain ranges of San Rafael and Santa Ynez funnel a cool maritime influence inland up the valley. The inland Sierra Madre Mountains protect the region on a third side.

The climate here is remarkably temperate considering its latitude and rainfall is low. Santa Barbara contains seven AVAs, and although it has become well-known as wine region, Santa Barbara itself is a county rather than an AVA. The Santa Maria Valley sits alone on the northern end in the foothills of the San Rafael Mountains. The Alisos AVA sits in between the two mountain ranges, and the Santa Ynez Valley AVA holds the remaining appellations.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the landscape, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Syrah, Gruner Veltliner and Grenache also find success here.

Santa Ynez Valley

The Santa Ynez Valley is a long AVA, running east-west by the coastline (where it is cooler, and getting warmer as you move further inland). Established in 1983, it’s a large region, almost 17,000 hectares in size and holds the sub-AVAs of Santa Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Ballard Canyon and Los Olivos District.

The San Rafael Mountains are further to the north, where most of the vineyards are planted in the foothills framed by the Santa Ynez Mountains to the south. It’s a large region, with diversity in climate and soils and produces a range of varieties from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon.

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