CENTRAL COAST AVA, a blanket American Viticultural Area (AVA) which stretches roughly 250 miles along the coastline of California, from San Francisco County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south, averaging about 25 miles in width. A very large AVA, the Central Coast encompasses approximately 6.8 million acres, of which 90,300 acres are planted to winegrapes. The region produces almost 15 percent of the state’s total winegrape production and is home to about 360 wineries. An area further south, loosely called the Southern California Region.
CENTRAL COAST AVA – SAN FRANCISCO BAY | The northern section of the Central Coast AVA includes: Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, and portions of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. There are around 6,400 acres of planted vineyards and more than 100 wineries, ranging from small start-ups to historic leaders of the California wine industry. Chardonnay is prominent with 1,600 acres. The most widely planted red winegrapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, 1,200 acres, and Merlot with 900 acres. Approximately one percent of the total state wine grape production comes from this district. Cooled by the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, the warm days and cool nights provide classic grape growing conditions. The primary soil type is well-drained gravel that reduces vigor in the vines and increases flavor concentration in the fruit.
CENTRAL COAST AVA – MONTEREY & SAN BENITO | Continuing south along the Central Coast AVA, Monterey and San Benito counties are the next two areas. Known for the rugged beauty of Big Sur, the charm of Carmel and the lore of Pebble Beach, Monterey County is also home to 39,300 acres of wine grapes and about 75 wineries and growers. Chardonnay is a very important variety, comprising 41 percent of total grape acreage in the county with 16,200 acres planted. The second largest variety is Merlot with 6,000 acres planted in the warmer, southern area of the appellation. There are roughly 2,600 acres of winegrapes planted in San Benito County and eight wineries. Together, the two counties account for 8.4 percent of the total state winegrape crush.
The climate of Monterey County reflects the cooling influence of the Monterey Bay and lack of abundant rainfall. There are enough warm days to ripen the grapes, however the marine influence predominates. Due to the cool growing conditions, harvest is typically two weeks later than other regions, allowing for a long season and slow fruit maturation. The steep slopes and rolling hills provide good drainage, and Monterey soil temperatures are cooler than other parts of the state, limiting crop size.
CENTRAL COAST AVA –SAN LUIS OBISPO & SANTA BARBARA | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties make up the southernmost district of the Central Coast AVA. There are 27,600 acres of wine grapes planted in San Luis Obispo County and 16,600 acres planted in Santa Barbara County, totaling more than 44,000 acres. Together they make up 7.4 percent of the total state winegrape crush. The number one wine grape variety in San Luis Obispo County is Cabernet Sauvignon with 8,600 acres. Merlot is second with 4,200 acres. There are about 110 wineries in the County. In Santa Barbara County, Chardonnay is the predominant grape with 7,100 acres, and Pinot Noir follows with 3,200 acres. There are almost 90 wineries.
The city of Paso Robles, situated 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, is in San Luis Obispo County, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The area is characterized by warm, clear days, generally unencumbered by clouds, fog or severe winds. Nighttime temperatures drop by approximately 40 degrees, cooled by a marine layer that moves over the region after sunset. Proximity to the ocean, orientation of the numerous canyons and valleys, and varying elevations produce diverse macroclimates, allowing production of both cool and warm loving winegrape varieties. There are four general soil associations, primarily formed from the weathering of granite, serpentine, shale and sandstone.
In Santa Barbara County, the north-south coastal range of mountains abruptly turns to run almost east-west for 50 miles, framing the valleys in a unique transit to the Pacific Ocean. This is the only stretch of land from Alaska to Cape Horn constituting an east-west traverse. The unique topography allows the flow of fog and ocean breezes to shape distinct microclimates and makes the region one of the coolest viticultural areas in California. However, warmer daytime temperatures in the inland areas allow a wide variety of winegrapes to be grown. Terrain and climates vary widely, from steep, wind-swept hillsides to rolling inland valley vineyards where summer temperatures often reach the century mark.
Oz Clarke 2015, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015), p76.