Perched high above the Salinas Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands promises to become a crown jewel of California viticulture. The AVA has developed a reputation for producing wines with intense fruit character, combined with a graceful, often mineral-laden acidic backbone. Chardonnay is the region’s sparkling gem, representing over half of its production, although Pinot Noir is quickly establishing its own value. The AVA is blessed with quality-minded wineries and vineyards, combined with strong ties to some of the Golden State’s most prolific producers and distributors. Enjoying one of California’s longest growing seasons, vineyard coverage has grown to over 2,300 acres. This north-south oriented alluvial terrace benefits from well-drained granitic soils and shelter from the Pacific Ocean by the Santa Lucia Mountains. Yet the region benefits from cool morning fog and afternoon breezes, drawn into the Salinas Valley from Monterey Bay. The AVA officially starts a mere 40 feet above the valley floor, but vineyards can be found at elevations as high as 1,200 feet, where fog burns off much earlier than below. These higher altitude vineyards have the advantage of more direct sunshine. Coupled with the natural southeastern exposure of these vineyards, the Santa Lucia Highlands have a terroir unique for Monterey.
Since Thomas Jefferson first tried to cultivate European vinifera in Virginia, the state has been a decided piece of American wine country. Over the years better knowledge, equipment and materials have all contributed to an advancing wine industry, but the more recent decade or two has brought out the real potential that can be found.
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