With world-renowned terroir ideal for producing complex and concentrated Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco district celebrates its 30th anniversary as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) this fall.
One of the first areas in Monterey County to be distinguished as a unique winegrowing region, and one of the smallest in California, the Arroyo Seco AVA had already been recognized for growing outstanding wines – Chardonnay in particular – since the 1960s. Factors such as a cool climate influenced by nearby Monterey Bay, well-drained rocky soils, extreme winds, and experienced growers have combined to make wines from the Arroyo Seco AVA some of the most sought-after and awarded in the country.
“As one of the pioneers of Monterey County, Jerry Lohr planted his first grapes in the Arroyo Seco in 1972 knowing that the region was destined for producing high quality Chardonnay and Riesling,” says J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines president and COO, Jeff Meier. Since that time, Jerry Lohr’s passionate efforts to instill farming practices that bring out the best from the terroir have prompted his namesake and family owned company to expand varietal programs with Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Valdiguié. “Celebrating thirty years as an AVA is a milestone for the region and we at J. Lohr look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for all of us who will continue to have a presence in the AVA over the next 30 years.”
“There just are not many places in California – or the world – where all of the elements that make Arroyo Seco unique can exist,” says Rich Smith, owner and founder of Valley Farm Management, one of Monterey County’s pioneer wine producers. “We began growing the forty-two acres of vines at Cobblestone Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco area in 1975, and have added about eleven-hundred acres of vines over the past thirty-five years on four other properties in Arroyo Seco. If imitation is the best compliment, we obviously believe in complimenting the Arroyo Seco.”
Fourth-generation winegrower and CEO of Wente Family Estates, Carolyn Wente, recalls how her father, Karl Wente, came to plant vineyards in the Greenfield area of Monterey County in 1963. “He was attracted to the unique soils and climate he found along the Arroyo Seco river and bench lands, and became an advocate for others to plant in the region. At that time, there were no other vineyards in the area, which was widely planted to vegetables and row crops such as sugar beets.”
Wente went on to describe how additional winegrowers gradually purchased and planted in Arroyo Seco, learning how different rootstocks, clonal selections, and varietals excelled in the region with the experience of multiple vintages. Eventually, it came time for recognition of the district’s excellence. “My mother and I drafted first the Monterey and then the Arroyo Seco appellation petition and championed them with other vineyard and winery owners in the early 80s. Since then, our belief in the unique attributes of the appellation has only strengthened with the outstanding quality of the wines produced through the years. This AVA is clearly a hidden gem in the coastal winegrowing valleys of California!”
In 2007, the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers & Vintners Association was established to promote the district’s distinguished terroir and wines. Headed by Michael Griva of F&G Vineyards, the association has made great strides in defining and celebrating what makes this district so special. “I grew up among the greats of the Arroyo Seco AVA,” says Griva, “people like Karl Wente, Rich Smith and Jerry Lohr. It’s been a pleasure to promote their vision for what makes Arroyo Seco stand out, and to support their legacy of incredible wines grown by people who are passionate about its terroir.”