Image Courtesy of Christopher Vita from Pelio Vineyard
In 1983, when the Carmel Valley was approved as one of the earliest American Viticultural Areas (AVA), the region’s primary focus was growing hearty Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varieties in the warm canyons that extend to the southeast, away from the frigid waters of the Monterey Bay. But in recent decades, with Pinot Noir’s popularity on the rise and many seeking fresher styles of wine, vintners began planting on hillsides that sit much closer to the sea, where steady ocean breezes keep temperatures cooler all year long.
Today, there are about 90 acres of mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards being grown on these exposed slopes, which are less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and just outside of the northwest boundary of the Carmel Valley AVA. With another dozen acres in the works and the potential to more than double that acreage in the future, a small community of vintners—led by the owners of Pelio, Messier and Albatross Ridge vineyards—are now advocating for their own appellation to showcase this distinct terroir. In October, they submitted an application to the federal government to create the Carmel Coast AVA, which would encompass more than 4,100 total acres.
Something Different in the Air—and the Soil
“As far as Monterey County goes, this is the most exciting area that I get fruit from,” proclaims winemaker Greg Vita, who’s been consulting for wineries in the Carmel Valley and throughout Monterey since 1994. He first started working on these hillsides about 15 years ago at Holman Ranch, which sits just outside of the proposed appellation, but enjoys similar coastal influence. In 2014, Vita took over farming at Pelio and has been involved with the Messier project since it started in 2018.
While the temperature differences are quite obvious compared to the existing Carmel Valley appellation, Vita believes the Carmel Coast is also distinct from Monterey’s other maritime-influenced star: the Santa Lucia Highlands.