Image Courtesy of Parker Allen
This brand new, elevation-defined AVA straddles the limestone-flecked ridges between Monterey and San Benito counties near Pinnacles National Park.
California’s literary history runs deep in the Gabilan Mountains, which John Steinbeck portrayed in his 1952 epic East of Eden as “full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.” But vintners were climbing into these mountains east of the Salinas Valley as far back as 1919, when Frenchman Charles Tamm planted the Chalone Vineyard. Then in 1975, these remote ridges were exalted enologically yet again, when Calera Wine Company founder Josh Jensen bet that quality Pinot Noir could grow atop the limestone soils of Mt. Harlan.
Now, the name “Gabilan Mountains” is an official part of the global wine lexicon, as the federal government just approved the 98,000-acre area as an American Viticultural Area. Straddling the slopes between Monterey and San Benito counties, from south of San Juan Bautista to east of Soledad, the roughly 30-mile-long appellation is primarily defined by its high elevation: 2,730 feet on average, and no lower than about 1,500, keeping the vines above the soupy fog that soaks most of Monterey. The granitic soil is another uniting factor, pockmarked with pockets of true limestone and chunky white streaks of calcareous shale.