Hands up if you've had a wine from Monterey.
Of the 850 wines that I've rated on Snooth, I've had around 15 from there. Pretty poor considering the size of the region and the quality of wines made there: 40,000 acres of grapes farmed, across 9 AVA'a along an 85 mile long valley with over 80 wineries calling the county home.
Monterey was originally flat, until plate tectonics forced the landscape into the mountains of today. This led to all the fertile top soil collecting in the valley, making that area incredibly fertile (lots of lettuce is grown there). The wineries are generally situated along the narrow band between the fertile valley floor and the inhospitable upper reaches of the mountains.
If you look at the image below, you can see that the valley acts like a wind tunnel. Hot air rises and moves out to see, where it descends and then the cool (wet in the morning) air gets blown onto the land as a ‘land breeze'. By mid afternoon its a solid 30 miles an hour, before it calms down at night. These cool winds keep the temperature around 65 degrees up by the bay, where the growing season is incredibly long: wineries are often harvesting into November.
Thanks to Brad Martin of Morgan Winery for allowing us to use this image.
Down in Arroyo Seco it doesn't rain much. Around 6-8 inches annually in common (compare that to 30-40 in Napa). Due to this, and the alluvial soils, irrigation is a necessity. However, as a result, wineries can control exactly how much water the vines receive.
Because of the cool conditions and the long growing season the resulting wine is very Burgundian: high acidity, lots of minerality. However, different than Burgundy, the wines tend to have a more youthful fruit forward, clean fruit expression.
I attended a Monterey Pinot Noir tasting recently and here are the four wines I tried:
J. Lohr Fog's Reach Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir ($35)
J Lohr originally planted pinot noir in the 70's, but ripped them out after 5 years. Apparently they were old clones and back then no one really knew how to grow pinot too well. In 2002 they replanted 4 dijon clones on 2 rootstocks giving 8 different combinations. This is their first release of this wine, so i was excited to taste it. Yields were 3 tons per acre, and they did an early morning harvest, the grapes were indoors by 10am, and then they did individual berry (rather than whole cluster) sorting. The wine opens with a slightly hot nose, but its very fruity too: cherry and pomegranite. Starts slowly on some very soft tannins with some minerality. There's more body on the finish, including some minerality and raspberry. Still its a softer pinot than the nose suggests. Finish is nice, if a tad tight. (Snoothrank: 3.5)
San Saba Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir ($28)
The grapes come from the 4 major dijon clones (115, 667, 777 and pommard 4) which were planted 5 years ago. Opens with a light elegant nose, with some light earth. Its very fruity too - bright strawberry tase. Ultra light wine that has soft persistent tannins. The strawberry persists to the finish. A bright youthful, yet elegant wine. Aged 9 months in 50% new oak. 600 cases made. (Snoothrank: 4.5)