Country roads meander through the Edna Valley’s white-fenced horse farms and wind-ruffled grasslands, offering glimpses of rustic simplicity. Whitewashed arrows direct passersby to picturesque wineries along Highway 227 and Orcutt Road. This burgeoning wine region just east of the 101, between Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, not only offers pastoral views; it produces extraordinary cool-climate wines with flavors inspired by the natural surroundings.
Nestled between the coastal range and the Santa Lucia Mountains, the Edna Valley runs parallel to the Pacific. With plenty of crisp coastal air and morning fog, it offers an ideal climate for Burgundian varietals like pinot noir and chardonnay. In fact, the region’s cool temperatures allow for very gradual fruit ripening and extended “hang time” on the vine, a circumstance that encourages sugars to develop subsequent to a complex array of flavors and acids. In chardonnays, these characteristics are revealed through pineapple, citrus, and fresh guava flavors; delicious minerality; spice; and an unctuous mid-palate viscosity.
The valley’s soil diversity also allows for an array of unique flavor characteristics used by winemakers as a spice rack of sorts. The basin is made up of several different soil types: sandy, shell-lined sea floor; limestone; and clay loam. Dense volcanic rock outcroppings punctuate the valley’s gentle slopes. These volcanic plugs (referred to by locals as “The Seven Sisters”) have high levels of serpentine, a mineral that causes vines to struggle, resulting in low fruit yields and remarkable flavor concentration. While pinot noirs from the Edna Valley tend to be elegant with focused fruit and balanced acidity, they also offer surprising depth with complex layers, background spices, and texture.
Varietal experimentation is a hot topic in the Edna Valley right now. Vintners have discovered that the area’s cool climate has favorable effects on many varietals that typically thrive in more extreme temperatures, offering savory counterpoints to the fruit-forward character of such grapes as gewϋrtztraminer, riesling, grϋner veltliner, albariño, and grenache blanc. Red varietals like syrah, grenache, tempranillo, and petite sirah also reveal surprising potential.
The Edna Valley offers wine tasters an ideal opportunity to learn about the Central Coast’s cool-climate wines. Sipping your way through this unique appellation is also the perfect way to experience the sense of place. Just follow the arrows.
Ten to Try:
• Chamisal Vineyards: Chamisal’s clone-specific bottlings offer a dynamic way to inform your palate. 7525 Orcutt Rd., San Luis Obispo. Call 541-9463, or visit domainealfred.com.
• Claiborne & Churchill: Crisp, Alsatian-style dry gewϋrtztraminer and riesling, as well as pinot noir and tempranillo in their straw-bale cellar. 2649 Carpenter Canyon Rd. (Hwy. 227), San Luis Obispo. Call 544-4066, or visit claibornechurchill.com.
• Edna Valley Vineyard: Though larger and more commercial, this is an enjoyable tasting experience with sweeping valley views and an extensive gourmet marketplace. 2585 Biddle Ranch Rd., San Luis Obispo. Call 544-5855, or visit ednavalleyvineyard.com.
• Kynsi Winery: This winery, owned and operated by the Othman family, is producing some of the most complex pinot noirs in the valley. With a grounded, no-frills approach, winemaker Don Othman crafts small-lot wines that are big on character. 2212 Corbett Canyon Rd., Arroyo Grande. Call 544-8461, or visit kynsi.com.
• Laetitia: A must-stop for sparkling wine aficionados. Founded by French Champagne house Maison Deutz in 1982, Laetitia produces an array of seven sparkling wines in addition to chardonnay and estate-grown pinot noir. 453 Laetitia Vineyard Dr., Arroyo Grande. Call 481-1772, or visit laetitiawine.com.
• Saucelito Canyon Winery: Home to the fourth-oldest grapevines in California, this winery produces extraordinary zinfandel. Be sure to taste the 2007 “1880” Old Vine Zinfandel. 3080 Biddle Ranch Rd., San Luis Obispo. Call 543-2111, or visit saucelitocanyon.com.
• Talley Vineyards/Bishop’s Creek: Besides being well-known for producing chardonnays with brilliant clarity and tropical fruit, Talley crafts beautifully layered pinot noirs from four estate vineyards. 3031 Lopez Dr., Arroyo Grande. Call 489-0446, or visit talleyvineyards.com.
• Tangent/Baileyana: Tasting in their charming historic schoolhouse is as delightful as their wines. Of particular interest are Tangent’s alternative white varietals and Baileyana’s S-Bar and Cadre pinot noirs. 5829 Orcutt Rd., San Luis Obispo. Call 269-8200, or visit tangentwines.com.
• Tolosa Winery: The stylish tasting room offers views of the production facility, as well as opportunities to learn about sensory evaluation and sample their lineup of wines. The 2007 “1772” label Chardonnay is a particular treat with dynamic swirls of tropical fruit, Tahitian vanilla, star anise, and mouth-coating opulence. 4910 Edna Rd. (Hwy. 227), San Luis Obispo. Call 782-0500, or visit tolosawinery.com.
• Wolff Vineyards: Jean-Pierre Wolff and his sons are innovative vintners and committed conservationists. Their impressive cool-climate 2008 petite sirah is sumptuous with a cocoa-dusted medley of elderberries, spices, and balanced tannins. 6238 Orcutt Rd., San Luis Obispo. Call 781-0448, or visit wolffvineyards.com.