Getting to Know California’s Best Unsung Wine Regions

April 11, 2017

Matt Kettmann

Although it only takes about a half hour to drive from end to end, the 15-mile span of the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys reveals all that should be championed and much of what remains challenging for California’s lesser-known wine regions.

The valleys, just miles from the chilly Pacific Ocean in southern San Luis Obispo County, are dramatically pockmarked with steep volcanic peaks of jaw-dropping beauty. They’re full of wildly varying soils, and are home to pioneering and iconoclastic ­vintners.

There’s tradition in the rows of Chardonnay that have thrived since the 1970s. However, much attention is also paid to Pinot Noirs that can be lithe or powerful, as well as cool-climate Rhône varietal wines and aromatic whites like Albariño and Grüner Veltliner. The wines are always solid and often superb, even those in the sub-$20 range.

Yet, despite these successes, the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys struggle for recognition beyond the Central Coast. As in much of California, planting new vineyards here is tough because water is scarce. Further, the land most suitable for grape growing can often be more lucratively developed as small ranches.

A handful of big wine companies dominate this compact region, making it difficult for emerging winemakers to acquire fruit and establish brands that could win acclaim, wind up on wine lists and ring the bell louder for these two appellations.

But, thanks to the re-energized efforts of the SLO Wine Country group, visitors are on the rise, and that number will grow if the push to create a more cohesive SLO Coast appellation succeeds. Now’s the time to beat the rush. Here’s a guide for a south-to-north exploration of the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys.

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