The influence the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have on wines throughout the northern and southern hemisphere is significant, creating refreshing effects on delicate fruit as cooling breezes blow through vines off the water. From Spain to Uruguay, Oregon to Chile, California to New Zealand, wines of the world benefit from the intoxicating rhythms of our oceans.
More on the wines and region below.
I’ve spent the past few weeks traveling and tasting through the wines of California’s Central Coast, including San Luis Obispo County. San Luis Obispo wines, also known as SLO Coast Wine are “ultra-coastal.” For every wine region I’ve visited all over the world, I’ve never been airport to a vineyard to the ocean so fast. The 3 winery membership of the SLO Coast Wine Collective average a distance from the ocean of less than five miles. The area contains two notable growing areas, Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande.
But, to limit the SLO Coast discussion of this to just speaking about the wineries contained within the two would be to limit the overall potential, as the hidden pockets of SLO Coast are producing some of the finest wines in California’s Central Coast. Bonus, this beautiful stretch of land also includes some prime surfing beaches, including Pismo Beach, meaning that within five minutes you can depart SLO’s airport, taste premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines and then drive another five minutes to enjoy beachside sunsets and stellar morning surfing waves.
Within minutes you’re also likely to meet a winemaker or vintner who grew up in the area, attended the prestigious Cal Poly University, and decided to stay, making wine here. In the grand scheme of wines and vines in California, the land is still on the affordable side in the Central Coast, especially when compared to other cool-climate areas like Carneros or Russian River.
But affordability isn’t the reason people stay. They stay because of the terroir, because of the ocean-front location, ideal for growing premium fruit, and, perhaps most important, they stay because of the people and the lifestyle of the SLO Coast.
The neighborly feeling of SLO Coast radiates, with a focus on family, stewardship of the land, and community, creating a “one succeeds, we all succeed” attitude. Add in the ability to surf in the morning and evening, and you have the ideal.
Located in SLO Coast’s Edna Valley, Tolosa Winery is a quick ride from the San Luis Obispo airport (about 5 minutes). Five miles from the Pacific Ocean, on a 700+acre former cattle ranch, Tolosa focuses on single-vineyard expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Named for the year the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded, their 1772 wines highlight their cool-climate Edna Valley estate vines.
Tolosa 1772 Chardonnay ($58) melds creamy caramel, apple, ripe nectarine, and blanched almond, enhanced by the utilization of barrel fermentation and nine-months of aging in partially new French oak. Though rich, the wine also has freshness, thanks to the natural terroir of the region, with cooling breezes off the Pacific rolling through their estate daily, locking in acidity.
High on a ridge one and a half miles from the Pacific, SLO Coast’s Spanish Springs Vineyard is home to some of the most impressive fruit of the region. Rare and remote, Spanish Springs is closer to the Pacific Ocean than any other vineyard in California. Here fruit has the opportunity to slowly ripen throughout the growing season, with cooling winds and fog suspending afternoon heat spikes, ensuring grapes never over-ripen, keeping alcohol levels in check.
Oceano Wines capitalizes on the unique location of the vineyard, sourcing all of their fresh Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Spanish Springs. These wines are beautiful. Oceano Chardonnay ($38) reveals a clean style of Chardonnay, showing honeydew melon, lemon curd, apple, and sea salt on the vibrant, well-balanced palate.
Forty-plus years ago Chamisal Vineyards began in Edna Valley with a commitment to sustainability, producing elegant, high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Representing the best barrels from the best blocks of the Chamisal estate, Chamisal Calife Chardonnay ($50) is textured and round, showcasing honeysuckle, tangerine, and spiced pear with delicate elegance.
With a passion for enjoying great wine and leisurely beachside bike rides, Peloton Cellars celebrates the favorite past times of the four founders and friends. Producing wines from fruit grown throughout the Central Coast, Peloton Spanish Springs Pinot Noir ($45) shines as a favorite of all SLO Coast selections. With an earthiness, melding mushroom, wild berry, rhubarb, and persimmon, the vibrant wine has texture, tension, and harmony. The winery just opened a tasting room in laid back Avila Beach. Stop by for a tasting, then hit one of the many beachfront restaurants for a bowl of creamy clam chowder, a favorite dish of the region.
The Talley family has been farming Arroyo Grande farmland since the 1940s, originally growing vegetables and moving to grapes along with produce in the 1980s. Today third-generation farmer/vintner Brian Talley carries on the legacy of his father and grandfather, producing stellar wines. Sitting a touch more inland, and south, from the Edna Valley and Spanish Springs Vineyards, Talley Arroyo Grande Estate Pinot Noir ($42) displays ripe strawberry, wildflower, and cherry cola with a luscious palate worth lingering over.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the focus for the region; however, various SLO producers highlight varieties that thrive in locations with a sea salt influence. Recognizing the gifts of this location, wineries like Croma Vera produce briny, saline, and sunshine-filled Albarino. Also from Spanish Springs Vineyard fruit, Croma Vera aims to capture a Galician, Rias Baixas style in their Albarino ($27). Fermented and aged to ensure the essence and freshness of the fruit shine through, the juicy wine melds grapefruit, lemon peel, and white flowers.
Winemakers across the world dream of enjoying long growing seasons. The desire is to let the fruit hang on the vines as long as possible. The longer fruit stays on the vines, the longer it has to develop its phenolics (flavors) without spiking the alcohol. California’s Centra Coast locations deliver this annually, with some of the longest growing seasons in the country. Chamisal sister winery, Malene, celebrates this long growing season crafting elegant Provence-style Rose from the Santa Ynez Valley. Malene Rose ($22) blends classic Rhone varieties, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Vermentino and Syrah. Punchy, fresh, and very dry, with crushed stone, ripe raspberry and blueberry, and savory, earthy herbal notes.
If a wine country get away is on your mind, consider a jaunt to the region, it is completely enchanting. Thursday night the city of San Luis Obispo hosts an evening farmers market through the streets of downtown, bringing out friends and neighbors to pick up their weekly goods from the plethora of local farmers in the area; the new Inn on the Pier in Pismo Beach is steps from the ocean, giving you a perfect opportunity to stick your toes in the sand throughout the year; and, in addition to stellar wine, the food scene in the area is booming, with classic favorites like Splash Café and Ocean Grill delivering delicious clam chowder, and Spoon Trade delivering an innovative take on California farm to table. November 1-2 the SLO Coast Wine Collective will host their annual Harvest on the Coast Auction event, a perfect time to taste through the region and help others.