GOING COASTAL – CALIFORNIA

GOING COASTAL – CALIFORNIA
By John Wilson

Its not all about the sun. Our image of California is formed by cowboys riding horses through arid deserts and the sun-kissed beaches of Los Angeles. Yet much of the state is very different and many of the Golden State’s best vineyards are distinctly chilly. The Coastal Regions of California together cover some seven hundred miles of coastline. Add in the valleys running eastwards from the sea, and you have a multitude of climates, soils and grapes. They all share some clear characteristics. Despite running almost as far south as Los Angeles, most vineyards enjoy a more temperate climate, influenced by the sea and the fog that rolls in every evening and slowly burns off the following morning.  Broadly speaking, this is cool climate territory, the complete opposite to the hot sunny vineyards of the Central Valley. Summer temperatures are cooler, and winters tend to be milder.

While the State’s first vineyards were planted by Franciscan monks along the coast, most vineyards are more recent, with many dating to the boom in the 1990’s. Coastal is home to some of the most spectacular scenery, whether along Highway 101 running south from San Francisco all the way to Los Angeles, or travelling north along the stunningly beautiful coastline, or through the verdant countryside and giant redwood forests in Russian River and other valleys.

The Central Coast is very large, running three hundred miles south from San Francisco as far as Santa Barbara. The cooler parts provide perfect conditions for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon. Warmer climates are more likely to produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The North Coast is even bigger than the Central Coast, taking in many of the best-known names of California, including the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. However, the term is generally used to indicate cool maritime regions. Again, this is where most of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is produced.

Californian wine has expanded and changed hugely over the last two decades. These days, Chardonnay is far more subtle and balanced than in times past. The cool coastal climates produce wines with a refreshing acidity, balanced nicely by stone and orchard fruits. The oak is still there in some, but generally used in the most subtle manner. In Hanzell vineyards in Sonoma, you will find the oldest Chardonnay vines in California. Pinot Noir was given a huge boost by the 2004 movie Sideways. However, cooler sites in the Anderson Valley, Carneros, Russian River, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Mountains, San Luis Obispo had already been producing great Pinot Noir for a several decades. Don’t expect them to taste like Burgundy though. Californian Pinot Noir has a distinct character and style of its own. Those from the coldest vineyards are wonderfully refreshing and piquant; those from warmer regions are richer with lush dark fruits. As in Champagne, both varieties combine to make some very high quality sparkling wines.  It is hardly surprising that a number of French Champagne houses have based their operation in the Coastal regions. It isn’t all about these two varieties though. This is one part of California that has the climate to produce everybody’s current favourite, Sauvignon Blanc. Syrah in these parts offers a great combination of a Rhône-like elegance with soft dark fruits.  Lastly, many of California’s most elegant Zinfandels come from Sonoma, Santa Cruz and elsewhere running along the coast.

Its not all about the sun. Our image of California is formed by cowboys riding horses through arid deserts and the sun-kissed beaches of Los Angeles. Yet much of the state is very different and many of the Golden State’s best vineyards are distinctly chilly. The Coastal Regions of California together cover some seven hundred miles of coastline. Add in the valleys running eastwards from the sea, and you have a multitude of climates, soils and grapes. They all share some clear characteristics. Despite running almost as far south as Los Angeles, most vineyards enjoy a more temperate climate, influenced by the sea and the fog that rolls in every evening and slowly burns off the following morning.  Broadly speaking, this is cool climate territory, the complete opposite to the hot sunny vineyards of the Central Valley. Summer temperatures are cooler, and winters tend to be milder.

Going Coastal

While the State’s first vineyards were planted by Franciscan monks along the coast, most vineyards are more recent, with many dating to the boom in the 1990’s. Coastal is home to some of the most spectacular scenery, whether along Highway 101 running south from San Francisco all the way to Los Angeles, or travelling north along the stunningly beautiful coastline, or through the verdant countryside and giant redwood forests in Russian River and other valleys.

The Central Coast is very large, running three hundred miles south from San Francisco as far as Santa Barbara. The cooler parts provide perfect conditions for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon. Warmer climates are more likely to produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The North Coast is even bigger than the Central Coast, taking in many of the best-known names of California, including the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. However, the term is generally used to indicate cool maritime regions. Again, this is where most of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is produced.

Californian wine has expanded and changed hugely over the last two decades. These days, Chardonnay is far more subtle and balanced than in times past. The cool coastal climates produce wines with a refreshing acidity, balanced nicely by stone and orchard fruits. The oak is still there in some, but generally used in the most subtle manner. In Hanzell vineyards in Sonoma, you will find the oldest Chardonnay vines in California. Pinot Noir was given a huge boost by the 2004 movie Sideways. However, cooler sites in the Anderson Valley, Carneros, Russian River, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Mountains, San Luis Obispo had already been producing great Pinot Noir for a several decades. Don’t expect them to taste like Burgundy though. Californian Pinot Noir has a distinct character and style of its own. Those from the coldest vineyards are wonderfully refreshing and piquant; those from warmer regions are richer with lush dark fruits. As in Champagne, both varieties combine to make some very high quality sparkling wines.  It is hardly surprising that a number of French Champagne houses have based their operation in the Coastal regions. It isn’t all about these two varieties though. This is one part of California that has the climate to produce everybody’s current favourite, Sauvignon Blanc. Syrah in these parts offers a great combination of a Rhône-like elegance with soft dark fruits.  Lastly, many of California’s most elegant Zinfandels come from Sonoma, Santa Cruz and elsewhere running along the coast.z

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