Monterey Pinot Noir


Hands up if you've had a wine from Monterey.

Of the 850 wines that I've rated on Snooth, I've had around 15 from there. Pretty poor considering the size of the region and the quality of wines made there: 40,000 acres of grapes farmed, across 9 AVA'a along an 85 mile long valley with over 80 wineries calling the county home.
Monterey was originally flat, until plate tectonics forced the landscape into the mountains of today. This led to all the fertile top soil collecting in the valley, making that area incredibly fertile (lots of lettuce is grown there). The wineries are generally situated along the narrow band between the fertile valley floor and the inhospitable upper reaches of the mountains.

If you look at the image below, you can see that the valley acts like a wind tunnel. Hot air rises and moves out to see, where it descends and then the cool (wet in the morning) air gets blown onto the land as a ‘land breeze'. By mid afternoon its a solid 30 miles an hour, before it calms down at night. These cool winds keep the temperature around 65 degrees up by the bay, where the growing season is incredibly long: wineries are often harvesting into November.

Thanks to Brad Martin of Morgan Winery for allowing us to use this image.

Down in Arroyo Seco it doesn't rain much. Around 6-8 inches annually in common (compare that to 30-40 in Napa). Due to this, and the alluvial soils, irrigation is a necessity. However, as a result, wineries can control exactly how much water the vines receive.

Because of the cool conditions and the long growing season the resulting wine is very Burgundian: high acidity, lots of minerality. However, different than Burgundy, the wines tend to have a more youthful fruit forward, clean fruit expression.

I attended a Monterey Pinot Noir tasting recently and here are the four wines I tried:

J. Lohr Fog's Reach Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir ($35)

J Lohr originally planted pinot noir in the 70's, but ripped them out after 5 years. Apparently they were old clones and back then no one really knew how to grow pinot too well. In 2002 they replanted 4 dijon clones on 2 rootstocks giving 8 different combinations. This is their first release of this wine, so i was excited to taste it. Yields were 3 tons per acre, and they did an early morning harvest, the grapes were indoors by 10am, and then they did individual berry (rather than whole cluster) sorting. The wine opens with a slightly hot nose, but its very fruity too: cherry and pomegranite. Starts slowly on some very soft tannins with some minerality. There's more body on the finish, including some minerality and raspberry. Still its a softer pinot than the nose suggests. Finish is nice, if a tad tight. (Snoothrank: 3.5)

San Saba Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir ($28)

The grapes come from the 4 major dijon clones (115, 667, 777 and pommard 4) which were planted 5 years ago. Opens with a light elegant nose, with some light earth. Its very fruity too - bright strawberry tase. Ultra light wine that has soft persistent tannins. The strawberry persists to the finish. A bright youthful, yet elegant wine. Aged 9 months in 50% new oak. 600 cases made. (Snoothrank: 4.5)

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  • Snooth User: Chris Carpita
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    33093 5,546

    We should have some Monterey wine this Friday, awesome write-up!

    Jun 02, 2008 at 3:59 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Thanks man, was getting pretty lonely with 0 comment love…

    Jun 02, 2008 at 4:37 AM

  • Snooth User: oceank8
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    55708 2,030

    Funny, with as often as I go north to wine taste, I haven't been to this area. I have had wines from Blackstone, J.Lohr, and Kendell - Jackson (all from Monterey). Unfortunately I don't have specifics for what I have had. I do drink a lot of J.Lohr and tend to enjoy it. Thanks for opening my eyes to another region I need to check out.

    Jun 02, 2008 at 6:44 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    I'd been to Monterey years ago, but knew nothing about the region until i went to the Pinot Noir lecture - very interesting when you have the time to actually understand what makes a certain climate and terroir that way

    Jun 03, 2008 at 2:40 AM

  • Glenn

    I've always been a fan of Morgan's Pinot Noir, specifically their Twelve Clones. At a recent Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town event I had the privilege to meet David Coventry, former winemaker at Morgan, who now makes De Tierra Pinot Noir in Monterrey. Try to get your hands on De Tierra (, I highly recommend it.

    Jun 09, 2008 at 8:02 AM

  • 2007 was an wonderful year for Pinot Noir in most of Cali. I enjoyed a bottle of Castle Rock 2007(Monterey county) it was devine! Just cracked open a 2008 pinot, not so great.

    Feb 16, 2010 at 7:08 PM

  • We used to live in Monterey years ago, x 10! I remember going to Jeckle
    vineyard for the chards but no reds at the time. I think they depended on rain only?

    Mar 03, 2010 at 3:47 PM

  • I hope to enjoy this fine wine next Monday. I can't wait.

    Nov 21, 2010 at 5:14 PM

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