Monterey’s Under-the-Radar AVA

It’s easy to ignore Arroyo Seco.

One of eight American Viticultural Areas in California’s Monterey County, it’s kind of like the quiet little brother in a family of raucous children.

Arroyo Seco (which translates to “dry riverbed”) is best known for its fruit-driven Chardonnay. Through the years, much of the annual crop has been sold to large winemaking concerns that simply blend it with juice from other appellations. Talk about an identity crisis.

Adding to Arroyo Seco’s anonymity is its complete lack of what has come to be known as “wine tourism.” There are no fancy hotels nearby. No day spas. No 3-star restaurants. This is farm land—first, foremost, exclusively.

Arroyo Seco is situated between two much better known AVAs. To the north, Chalone—where some of the grapevines were planted in 1919, making them the oldest in the county—also is known for world-class Chardonnay. And the reason it’s known is because the owners of Chalone Vineyard put the Chalone name front and center, in big, bold letters, on its wine bottle labels.

South of Arroyo Seco is San Bernabe, where nearly 5,000 acres are planted to 20 different winegrape varietals. It has been called “the world’s largest, most diversified vineyard,” and even if its name does not roll off the tongues of wine drinkers, it’s extremely well known among America’s grape growers and winery owners.

Arroyo Seco is no slouch when it comes to varietal diversity, though, and that’s because it’s home to multiple microclimates—mostly cool (influenced by the AVA’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean), with a handful of sheltered warmer areas. So, in addition to Chardonnay, favored varietals include Riesling and Zinfandel, as well as various Bordeaux and Rhone grapes.

Presently, about 7,000 acres in Arroyo Seco are planted to grapevines, in soils ranging from gravelly sandy loam to Chualar loam. Drainage is good, sunshine is abundant during the growing and harvest seasons, and in a vast majority of the AVA’s microclimates, the grapes dependably attain full ripeness.

And that’s the key to complex, full-flavored… if not completely appreciated… wines.

To view a detailed map of Monterey County’s AVAs, click here.

Posted in Wine Buzz
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