A recent trip to Monterey, California, found me warming up in the morning with elegant wines from Ventanawinery.
Part of sunny California is neither sunny nor warm. Mark Twain is credited with the quip “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. His geography was too limited.
Two hours south of San Francisco, Monterey’s vineyards are shrouded in fog from late afternoon to mid-morning the next day. During the growing season, it has the distinction of being the coldest viticulture area in America. The climatic conditions are created from the Blue Grand Canyon, an ocean canyon that is 60 miles long and two miles deep, and located less than 100 yards from the Monterey Bay. Twain would have disliked it, but chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling and sauvignon blanc love it.
Ventana was founded in 1974 by Doug Meador in Monterey County’s Salinas Valley. Ventana is part of the Arroyo Seco sub-region, one of nine distinct vineyard areas in the valley. From its 300-acre vineyard, Ventana selects the best 20 percent of the grapes for its wines and sells the other grapes to wineries throughout the state.
While I have known Ventana wines, the visit introduced me to Bruce Sterten, the managing partner and self-taught winemaker. Sterten’s affiliation with Ventana began in 1989, after retiring from a career in writing and producing television shows in Los Angeles.
Sabrine Rodems is the consulting winemaker for Ventana (and is the full-time winemaker at Wrath winery in Monterey), and I was very pleased with the collaborative results for Ventana’s sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.
The 2011 Ventana Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco, made and aged in stainless-steel tanks, explodes with pineapple and fresh-cut grass scents. The medium body carries a delicious blend of sauvignon blanc’s natural lemon thyme and lime flavors, and the clean, crisp acidity delivers a lingering finish. The 14.2 percent alcohol is a tad higher than I like in sauvignon blanc, but it never interfered with the flavors or aromas. It also provided a little warmth for the fog-chilled morning.
The 2010 Ventana Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco offers a pleasing raspberry shade and appealing blackberry, cranberry and basil aromas. Tasty black cherry, black pepper and herbal flavors cross the palate with integrated tannins and balancing acidity. Pinot Noir thrives in cool climates where it ripens gradually, and Ventana’s proximity to the Monterey Bay gives it ideal growing conditions.
As I finished walking through the vineyards and tasting Ventana’s wines with Sterten, the sun was burning off the fog, and I removed my jacket and applied 50 SPF sun screen. The afternoon sun- and a bottle of Ventana- might have made Twain a little less cranky.
The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc retails for approximately $15; the pinot noir is about $19.