In 1983, when the Carmel Valley was approved as one of the earliest American Viticultural Locations (AVA), the region’s main focus was growing hearty Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varieties in the warm canyons that reach the southeast, away from the freezing waters of the Monterey Bay. But in recent decades, with Pinot Noir’s appeal on the rise and many seeking fresher designs of red wine, vintners started planting on hillsides that sit much closer to the sea, where steady sea breeze keep temperature levels cooler all year long.Today, there are
about 90 acres of mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards being grown on these exposed slopes, which are less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and simply outside of the northwest boundary of the Carmel Valley AVA. With another dozen acres in the works and the potential to more than double that acreage in the future, a small community of vintners– led by the owners of Pelio, Messier and Albatross Ridge vineyards– are now promoting for their own appellation to display this distinct terroir. In October, they sent an application to the federal government to produce the Carmel Coast AVA, which would incorporate more than 4,100 overall acres.
Image Thanks To Christopher Vita from Pelio Vineyard
Something Different in the Air– and the Soil
” As far as Monterey County goes, this is the most exciting area that I get fruit from,” declares wine maker Greg Vita, who’s been seeking advice from for wineries in the Carmel Valley and throughout Monterey since 1994. He initially started dealing with these hillsides about 15 years ago at Holman Ranch, which sits just beyond the proposed appellation, but takes pleasure in similar seaside impact. In 2014, Vita took over farming at Pelio and has been included with the Messier job considering that it began in 2018.
While the temperature level differences are quite obvious compared to the existing Carmel Valley appellation, Vita thinks the Carmel Coast is likewise distinct from Monterey’s other maritime-influenced star: the Santa Lucia Highlands.
” The difference between the fruit is night and day,” says Vita. “The Santa Lucia Highlands has more cherry Lifesaver flavors and lighter tannins. You go to Pelio, which has really small berries and little clusters, and there’s a lot more tannin. The Chardonnays are much more Chablis-like– not a great deal of fruit, however with more minerally, wet-granite characteristics that come through. Both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are incredibly long-lasting, where I seem like the Santa Lucia Highlands wines tend to reach maturity much quicker.”
Garrett Bowlus stumbled into the area on a family trip about 15 years ago, around the time he and his dad were considering planting vines in Oregon. They discovered that Pinot wasn’t picked there till late October, often November, even with budbreak in March. “That was a great indication to us,” states Bowlus. “The hangtime is just insane.”
He was more mesmerized by the soils, a chalky mix of sedimentary rocks, much of it uplifted ancient seabed full of diatomaceous earth. “When you walk up there, it’s all stone, simply all over,” he says. “The task handled a larger scale since it was so exciting.”
Winemakers Bet Big on the Carmel Coast
Rather of planting a handful of acres in Oregon, Bowlus and his father went all in, developing 25 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on windswept hills. They called the vineyard Albatross Ridge– a nod to a great-grandfather who flew sailplanes off these same ridges in the 1930s– and became the most public supporters for the area, even putting “Carmel Coast” on their labels.
Image Thanks To Christopher Vita from Pelio Vineyard
The Montreal-born, Texas-residing engineering executive Luc Messier was likewise drawn to the area from afar. With the assistance of Etienne Grivot of Domaine Jean Grivot in Burgundy, Messier was looking from France to Oregon to Sonoma for a promising location to plant grapes.
” We love the terroir and the climate,” says Messier, who thinks that the Carmel Coast will be less affected by international warming than other red wine areas because of the deep, cold waters of the close-by Monterey Bay. They planted about 20 acres, split between Pinot and Chardonnay, and imported devices from Burgundy to make the white wines. “We’re doing it with New World fruit and Vintage recipes,” states Messier, who was impressed with his vineyard’s inaugural fruit. “We are extremely happy with the first harvest. We believe it will be extremely intriguing.”
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In addition to estate bottlings, these Carmel Coast vineyards sell fruit to winemakers such as Samuel Louis Smith, who utilizes both Pelio and Albatross Ridge in his eponymous brand.
“The combination of white shale and clay in this cool environment appears to accomplish the perfect balance for what I’m attempting to accomplish: red wines that are a bit leaner and more structure-driven, without being too bony,” states Smith, who’s likewise the wine maker at Morgan Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands. “Regardless of winemaking style, this zone tends to promote wines with a bit more earthiness in the foreground, while the fruitiness plays more of a supporting role.”
Though the Carmel Coast buzz is reasonably brand-new, the Talbott family planted Diamond T Vineyard on these very same slopes back in the 1980s.
“I was a pioneer, for sure, since I was informed by a lot of individuals that it was the wrong varietals and I was too near the ocean and I wouldn’t have the ability to get my brix,” recalls Robb Talbott, who planted Chardonnay at Diamond T in 1982 and added Pinot Noir in the late 1990s. “I proved them incorrect.”
The older vintages of those red wines were riper than the styles made today, however they still carry the maritime trademarks of the region. “You can taste the location, that natural freshness, the minerality and the saline quality of the red wines,” states Bowlus. “They’re really distinct and they speak to the soils and the nearness of the coast.”
Image Thanks To Mesier
Making the Case for a New AVA
To show that the Carmel Coast deserves its own appellation, the vintners employed geographic expert Patrick Shabram, who’s worked on many other AVA propositions across California, from the Sta. Rita Hills to the West Sonoma Coast. Though he resides in Colorado, his family transferred to Carmel Valley when he was a senior in high school, so he understands the area well.He found that Monterey shale and other sedimentary rocks control the landscape on the region’s ridges, making them unique from the granitic soils found even more down the valley. “The soil was a clear delineator, more than I was anticipating to be sincere,” explains Shabram.He was even more stunned to discover just how much cooler the Carmel Coast vineyards are, even compared to the western edges of the Carmel Valley appellation. He made those temperature levels the primary argument in the application, which also consists of two older, little vineyards better to the valley flooring at Folktale and Carmel Valley Cattle Ranch.” You can actually see the waves crashing from Albatross Ridge,”said Shabram.
“There’s absolutely nothing interrupting that motion of marine air.” With the application sent, the vintners should now patiently await the AVA approval
procedure, which can take years even without any opposition or modifications. When it takes place, Vita thinks it will help the whole principle of Carmel wine. “We’re dividing Carmel Valley like it should be,”states the veteran.”Most of the people in Carmel Valley correct are growing much heavier reds, and this area is more for cool varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The intensity we get is significant due to the fact that of the slow ripening. It’s simply a completely various than anything else in Monterey County.”