When it comes to wine and wine regions within California, it’s getting expensive. It seems that every year, there’s an increasing number of AVA’s and entire regions making wine that’s commiserate in quality with Napa and Sonoma which have been the standard bearers for generations. First it was Santa Barbara and Paso Robles joining the wine elite, increasingly the Sierra Foothills is making inroads into the $40 price point.
All that is to say, if you want to continually find flights of wines around $20-$25 which are imminently drinkable, you’re left to look further afied.
Mendocino County and Lake County are good places to start for sure, but so is the relatively unknown Arroyo Seco AVA.
Located in Monterey County between the cities of Soledad and Greenfield, with the Santa Lucia Mountain range forming the western boundry, the Arroyo Seco AVA is one of the smallest AVA’s within California at approximately 18,000 acres. To put that number in some perspective, the famed Russian River Valley of Sonoma is close to 100,000 acres and the more well known Santa Lucia Highlands is about 25% larger.
We’re featuring a couple of different Arroyo Seco wines in our wine clubs this month and after tasting through a wide range of wines made in the AVA over the past few years, I think I can attest to both the quality of the wine being produced, the fair prices being charged, as well as some of the unique aspects of what’s happening.
At it’s core the Arroyo Seco is going to known for its unique and interesting soil composition. Literally meaning dry riverbed, that’s exactly what you run into as soon as you exit the 101 and start to see vines growing. At times, it just looks like a ridiculous idea that anything of value could grow, mostly because a large number of the vineyards that I toured included stones about the size of a man’s fist. The locals call them Greenfield potatoes and yes, they’re everywhere. I’ve never visisted the Mosul in Germany, but the Arroyo Seco sounds pretty similar in terms of the presence of larger rocks, not much top soil and a continual challenge to achieve ripeness.
That challenge of finding ripeness led me to want to feature, as you’re probably already suspecting, Pinot Noir. Having been tasting Pinot Noir over these past few months from Sonoma, Santa Barbara County and the Willamette Valley, the Arroyo Seco version surprised me at first. These are dense versions of the grape and one’s that I felt an overwelming sense of tightness to the wines. Yes, many of them are 2011’s, meaning they could likely use some more time, but the 2011 vintage was among the coolest in memory within most of the well known California AVA sites. Arroyo Seco growers report the 2011 vintage as the coldest in at least a decade and under consideration as the coolest they have experienced since the AVA was first granted its status in 1983. The good news about the vintage and the region in general is that, these are the types of wines that so many wine lovers and vintners are searching for these days-made in cooler vineyard sites that produce wines that are varietally correct in a more classical European sense.
Over the coming days and weeks we’ll be sharing some of what we found in the Arroyo Seco. If you can’t wait quite that long, I’ve written about Mercy Winespreviously and they are definitely a great example of what I am talking about here.