By Lisa Rowlands

As well as its wine, the Central Coast sub-zone of California is famous also for its association with both the literary giant, John Steinbeck, and the infamous San Andreas fault. Traces of Steinbeck are everywhere - most notably on Cannery Row in Monterey where a bronze bust of the great novelist is joined by a life size statue sitting on top of the Cannery Row monument, commemorating the author in the town where some of his most notable books were set. And the San Andreas fault practically dissects the area whose long history of tectonic shift has forged the mountainous landscape for which it is famed. The area is also of course renowned for the rugged coastline of the Big Sur, the perfect white beach, charming quirks and famous former mayor of Carmel, the surf / skate culture of cities such as Santa Cruz, and also for its thirty-six thousand hectares of vineyard.

The climate of the Central Coast is classified as Mediterranean - with warm, dry summers and cool winters. However, a number of specific microclimates exist within the area, with weather patterns which deviate considerably from the expected trend. Generally speaking, coastal areas benefit from the moderating influence of the Pacific, giving more consistent temperatures all year round, whilst vineyards based inland are likely to experience a greater variation in temperature between seasons, and between day and night. Various factors, such as the cooler breeze blown down the Salinas Valley from Monterey Bay, do nonetheless curb the hot temperatures of inland sites, making viticultural activity possible.

Traditional Burgundy varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay perform well in the counties of the Central Coast region. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are also well represented alongside Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and a diverse range of lesser known grapes. The variety of fruits and wines produced here owes not only to the climate and topography of the region but also to the various soils of the area. From sandy, gravel to limestone-rich calcareous soils, from thin and rocky to fertile and deep, the wide ranging terroir of the Central Coast is reflected in the subtle nuances of the wines it produces. High quality, low yielding plots, large bulk wine operations, small, boutique wineries and internationally renowned producers all exist within the bounds of the Central Coast, and whilst it lacks a big name AVA such as Napa Valley, it evidently produces some of the most intriguing wines of the state.

Counties of the Central Coast

Monterey County

The County of Monterey in California has John Steinbeck, Clint Eastwood and one of the world’s most scenic stretches of coastline to thank for its booming tourist trade. Less well known is the area’s viticultural industry, which nonetheless offers significant appeal with its well balanced, characterful and world class wines.

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Santa Barbara County

The wine industry of Santa Barbara county dates back to the late eighteenth century and was brought to prominence by the 2004 Alexander Payne movie, Sideways. At the southern end of California’s Central Coast region, Santa Barbara has six officially recognised AVAs and more than eight-thousand hectares under vine; it is renowned principally for its premium wines from traditional Burgundian varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Read more ▸ 7 AVAs4 producers9 wines