California’s Best Unknown Wine AVA’s
California is home to many of the country’s best known wine growing areas, generally referred to as AVA’s within the wine community. Here’s a short list of some of the best AVA’s which you may not have heard of before, but are producing world class wine.
Atlas Peak is one of about a dozen AVA’s which are contained completely within the wider Napa Valley AVA. With Napa only growing about 2% of the wine grapes for the country these days, you might not think there is room for a ton of diversity there, but increasingly, there is. While Napa made it’s name originally on the Valley floor in Rutherford and surrounding low elevation sections, Atlas Peak sits high above the valley, soaring to over two thousand feet in some places. Of course, those elevations craft different wines than you might otherwise be accustomed to, so the AVA is taking some time to catch on. If you love classic, densely packed Napa Valley Cabernet though, this a wonderful place to spend a few hours getting to know and tasting wine.
Sonoma’s Extreme Western Coast:
A generation ago, planting grape vines literally along the ocean was blasphemy. It was thought the salt air and cold temperatures (hey this is Northern California, not Southern!) would ruin any chance for the grapes to craft winning wines. That all changes with the dual Pinot Noir and lower alcohol movements which continue to gain steam in California and elsewhere, it means that Sonoma’s western coast is now in play for California vintners. That’s a good thing, we’ve all seen the rise of Oregon’s cool climate Pinot Noir, but not every wine drinker can realistically enjoy the minerality and depth of earthy notes in those wines (no matter how many of these are constantly shipped in wine clubs rated at 90 points and above), California offers a more traditional take on cool climate Pinot, with higher acidity.
Vineyard Creep on the Central Coast:
A decade ago, one could drive from wine country in Santa Barbara and not find another vineyard until you reached Paso Robles, approximately 200 miles away. Those warmer vineyard sites, along the freeway are reportedly the most profitable in the entire state, as they allow vintners to make a range of good wine without much effort and to price it at about $10. You won’t necessarily see these vineyards listed as a single AVA, but there are going to be some better wines marked as simply “California” than there have been over the past few years when the grapes for these types of wines were grown in incredibly warm vineyards further east (inland!).
Contra Costa County:
If you look at San Francisco and then head East across the Bay Bridge, you find yourself in Oakland and Berkeley. Those cities only have only about five miles of space before you hit the Loma Prieta fault and a small mountain range. On the other side of hill you find about 250,000 people and one of the fastest growing regions in all of the country. With warmer temperatures and easy access to San Francisco via public transportation, Contra Costa County is set for huge gains. Of course they already grow grapes there and interestingly, some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in the state are found at the top of these mountains.
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Mark Aselstine is the owner of Uncorked Ventures, an online wine club based in San Francisco. As you might expect, he loves selling wine and drinking it as well!