The buzz on the wine-region front these days is all about the coolest places. I mean that quite literally: spots in the path of ocean fog, or breezes off a bay, where vines practically don sweaters at night—or at least people in the vicinity do. And yet the AVA that is recognized as the very chilliest in California is often overlooked by connoisseurs focused on the reputations of Napa and Sonoma wines, or the alternative excitement around those from Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast.
The coolest region of all is Edna Valley, which joins with the Arroyo Grande AVA to make up what’s dubbed as SLO Wine Country. And its claims to that cooling marine influence are more than sound. Tucked as the region is between Paso and Santa Barbara, roughly 200 miles north of Los Angeles and 250 miles south of San Francisco, the average vineyard in South San Luis Obispo County is only five miles from the ocean. This is pinot noir and Chardonnay country, with a growing number of aromatic and interesting whites thrown in (albariño, riesling, pinot gris), plus lean versions of red Rhônes and zinfandel. These are wines that enjoy a long growing season, with resulting complexity and energetic acidity protected by the cool climate.
For decades, pioneers like Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards have coaxed balance from the land to produce elegant pinot noirs and Chardonnays. Newer-comer Mike Sinor of Sinor-LaVallee pushed the boundaries and challenged the elements outside the box with Bassi Vineyard, just a mile and a half from the water near Avila Beach.
Why is this cool (in the other sense of the word) stretch of wine country that is backing some of California’s most iconic beach towns (Pismo Beach, Shell Beach, Avila Beach) a gem of the hidden sort? There is the matter of size, with fewer than 35 wineries on the ground. But beautiful bottles like these won’t stay hidden for long.