Regularly described as being the grape varietal responsible for producing the world's most romantic wines, Pinot Noir has long been associated with elegance and a broad range of flavors The name means 'black pine' in French, and this is due to the fact that the fruit of this particular varietal is especially dark in color, and hangs in a conical shape, like that of a pine cone. Despite being grown today in almost every wine producing country, Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape variety to cultivate. This is because it is especially susceptible to various forms of mold and mildew, and thrives best in steady, cooler climates. However, the quality of the fruit has ensured that wineries and vintners have persevered with the varietal, and new technologies and methods have overcome many of the problems it presents. Alongside this, the wide popularity and enthusiasm for this grape has ensured it will remain a firm favorite amongst wine drinkers for many years to come. The Central Coast is a vast region, stretching south from Monterey to the quintessential California beach town of Santa Barbara on the Pacific Ocean.
Monterey County is at the northern end of the Central Coast region. It is distinguished by the Salinas Valley. Made famous by the writings of native son John Steinbeck, the Salinas Valley is a thriving agricultural region, recognized for extensive vineyard plantings of the most popular varieties, both red and white. At the northern end, the valley is cooled by the maritime influences of the Pacific Ocean. It becomes downright hot by the time you reach the southern end in Paso Robles. Here, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and red Rhone varietals do well in hillside vineyards which cool down at night.
As the California landscape curves southward again towards the Pacific Ocean, the vineyards become positively nippy by Paso Robles standards. Foggy mornings and nights are perfect for Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande and Santa Maria Valley in San Luis Obispo County. There are also plantings of Riesling and Gew'rztraminer. Some believe the unspoiled Santa Ynez Valley, in northeast Santa Barbara County, is the next great California wine region. Santa Ynez experiences the typical am/pm cooling influences of the Pacific, but can be quite warm and Rhone valley-like during the day. The region holds great promise for Rhone varietals, as well as the classic Burgundian ones.