Had the Monterey grape growers and wineries of the 1970s looked at the history of grape growing in the county a little closer, they may well have planted their Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the newly approved (July, 2006) San Antonio Valley AVA, located in the southern extreme of the county. This growing area was one of the first places in the United States to be planted with grapes, as early missionaries recognized that the region’s climate was ideally suited for producing wine. The original mission, San Antonio de Padua, established here in 1771, remains standing to this day, as a symbol of this region’s rich heritage and its significance in the history of California viticulture.
The climate in this bowl-shaped valley, bordered by the Santa Lucia Mountains in the west, is significantly warmer than more northerly Monterey AVAs such as the Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco. The region does enjoy some cooling effect in the morning from fog off Lake San Antonio and in the evening from Pacific Ocean breezes, but, in general, the climate here is more akin to Paso Robles to the south than the main growing areas of the central Salinas Valley.
Because of its warm continental climate and gravelly loam and clay soils, the valley produces exceptional Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. These, according to Elsbeth Wetherill of Escafeld Vineyards help “complete Monterey County’s ever-expanding pouring table”.
In the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia vineyards are small and few, yet the establishment of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands could bring much more.
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