Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Edna Valley - Smokey Reds and Textured Whites

Unlike Napa Valley over the past three decades, Edna Valley’s reputation has rarely superseded its tiny size. That’s a shame, because this 35-square mile American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the middle-southern Central Coast has quietly been turning out some of the most interesting Chardonnays in the state of California. And, in recent days, some dynamic Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Rhône-style whites, too.

Although viticulture was brought to the Edna Valley by Spanish missionaries over 200 years ago, it has only been in the last 30 (-ish) years that this scrub oak and cattle-dominated landscape has been replaced by wave after wave of lolling vineyard. The Niven family, who planted Edna Valley Vineyard’s Paragon Vineyard in the early 70s, were some of the first modern-day vintners to recognize that the region’s climate and soils were a veritable Eden for Burgundian grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Rich with 25-million year old marine shells, sand and clay as well as volcanic sediment from an ancient 14-volcano chain that begins in Morro Bay, Edna Valley is a transverse (east-west running) region shadowed by the Santa Lucia Mountains to the northeast and the San Luis Mountains in the South. Unlike the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the mountain ranges frame the region’s eastern flanks and therefore provide no buffer for the Pacific Ocean breezes rushing into the valley from the west. Pockets of hills surrounding the valley capture and preserve these damp, chill winds. In other words, this is no catch-and-release program. The result is that Edna Valley typically has the longest growing season in the state. New shoots tend to bud as early as the first of February – one to two months before most Northern California vineyards – and because spring and summer stays long and mild, grapes ripen well into mid-to-late October.

When farmed wisely, such long vineyard hang-times can yield lusciously mature fruit. The best Edna Valley Chardonnays possess a voluptuous texture along with a mouth-tingling acidity that stops the wines from moving into fat and flabby territory. The same goes for many Pinots coming out of the region (although, more often than not, we prefer the Pinots coming out of the Arroya Grande AVA, Edna Valley’s southeast neighbor). In recent years, too, growers have discovered that grapes like Syrah and Viognier also respond well to the long, consistent season, yielding smoke and spice reds and textured whites similar in complexity to the cool climate wines of France’s northern Rhône Valley...but with a ripeness that is altogether Californian in style.

Of course, one of the most notable qualities nearly all wines from this tiny Central Coast AVA seem to possess is that they tend to give you plenty of juicy bang for your buck. Because they’re often made in equally tiny production, though, the challenge is often in finding these great value reds and whites. Not to worry. We have our team of Bounty Hunter Scouts constantly on the lookout for the most delicious gems.

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