No matter which AVA you visit, you can always wine and luxuriate in the natural beauty.

A true sanctuary of wine-growing, Monterey County is home to world-class microclimates that generate nine large AVAs:

  • Arroyo Seco
  • Carmel Valley
  • Chalone
  • Gabilan Mountains
  • Hames Valley
  • Monterey
  • San Antonio Valley
  • San Bernabe
  • San Lucas
  • Santa Lucia Highlands.

Still, that is just scratching the surface. These regions contain over 349 unique vineyards growing specific, premium grapes. AVAs can vary in size. The Monterey AVA includes 5 of the other smaller AVAs. And all of the County’s AVAs are in the Central Coast AVA – a large AVA ranging from Southern San Francisco to southern Santa Barbara County.  

Ultimately, understanding what makes Monterey Wine Country exceptional requires understanding the unique properties of these AVAs. Learn more about each region below to gain an insight into the magic in every Monterey bottle:

The Arroyo Seco appellation, which translates to “dry riverbed,” starts in a steep, narrow gorge at the foot of the Santa Lucia mountain range and extends east into a widening topography that eventually opens up to the warm, fertile soil of the Salinas Valley.

Because of the diverse topography, this AVA contains several microclimates, soil types, and unique features like large river stones that facilitate drainage. These properties nurture the vineyards and their root systems while protecting them from the elements. Because of this diverse terrain, this AVA yields several varietals, including:

  • Chardonnay 
  • Riesling 
  • Zinfandel
  • Bordeaux varietals
  • Rhone varietals

AVA Approval:

Acres Planted: 7,000

Climate: Moderate, partially sheltered from breezes.

Dominant Soils: Garey Sandy Loam, Oceano Loamy Sand, Lockwood Shaly Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 266 ft./1,670 ft.

Carmel Valley encompasses over 19,000 acres, with 300 acres of grapes under cultivation. Vineyards are located primarily within Carmel Valley and Cachagua Valley. Cachagua Valley’s unique mountainous terrain elevates grapes above the fog line, exposing them to a warmer climate, though temperatures vacillate.

These temperature swings elongate ripening time and growing season, which enacts a gradual maturation to generate greater fruit complexity and, consequently, wine complexity. Generally, this region produces rich, full-bodied Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, all of which we help you sample in the best wine-tasting experiences in Carmel Valley

AVA Approval: 1983

Acres Planted: 300

Climate: Extensive coastal influence; hillside has moderate temperature swings.

Dominant Soils: San Andreas Fine Sandy Loam, Arroyo Seco Gravelly Sandy Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 203 ft. / 2,762 ft.

Part of the Gabilan Mountain Range and set against the dramatic backdrop of Pinnacles National Monument, Chalone boasts the oldest producing vines in Monterey County. Chalone’s elevation exposes grapes to a dramatic shift from high daytime temperatures to the cold nighttime air to instill a full varietal character in the grapes.

Most importantly, however, this AVA experiences limited rainfall and contains limestone and granite found nowhere else in the world. Both these features contribute to the rich bouquet found in its wines by limiting grape yields and optimizing drainage for the root system to maintain healthy vines and full flavors. This region produces varietals like:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Syrah


AVA Approval: 1982

Acres Planted: 300

Climate: Warm, high elevation reduces coastal influence.

Dominant Soils: Vista Coarse Sandy Loam, McCoy-Gilroy Complex

Min./Max. Elevations: 1,201 ft. / 2,323 ft.

The newest AVA shares land in Monterey County and some of San Benito County. Vineyard acreage in the Gabilan Mountains is relatively small, but the wines produced from these vineyards have minerality, complexity, and dense, pure fruit flavors. The quick-draining soils of the AVA stress the vines during the growing season, resulting in more intense flavors and rich, hardy skins less associated with vines grown in sub-optimally-drained soils. Additionally, well-drained soils are at less of a risk for root decay than waterlogged soils.The Gabilan Mountains AVA contains 6 commercially-producing vineyards covering a total of approximately 436 acres, as well as 4 wineries.

AVA Approval: 2022

Acres Planted: 436

Climate: Warm, high elevation reduces coastal influence.

Dominant Soils: Moderately coarse textured soils over a bedrock of granite,  Sheridan-Cieneba-Auberry, high limestone content

Min./Max. Elevations: 1,500 ft./2,370 ft.

Hames Valley is the southernmost AVA in Monterey County, giving it a unique climate. At the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains, oak trees populate its rolling hills. Its proximity to the Pacific Ocean protects vines from winds blowing in from the Salinas Valley corridor, which generates a warmer climate than northern regions. 

Because it experiences the most significant temperature swing of all the Monterey AVAs, grape growers are particularly attentive to row direction, trellis design, and canopy management to minimize direct exposure to sunlight. Its shale soil and warm climate enable it to grow grapes with intense, bold flavors, particularly Rhone varietals. 

AVA Approval: 1994

Acres Planted:  2,200

Climate: Very warm, minor coastal influence.

Dominant Soils: Lockwood Shaly Loam, Chamise Shaly Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 472 ft. / 1,289 ft.

The Monterey AVA is the largest in the area, with over 40,000 acres, and extends the entire length of the county. Because it covers so much terrain, it has a diverse climate, which translates to exceptional grape diversity. Still, Chardonnay reigns supreme throughout the region, accounting for over 50% of vines in production. 

Cooler weather, ocean breezes, and fog characterize the northern section, which produces cool-climate grapes like Riesling and Pinot Noir. In the South, it opens up to Salinas Valley, which can reach up to 100 degrees during the daytime. This warmer weather produces Bourdeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), Rhone varietals (Syrah and Petite Sirah), and some Zinfandel. 

AVA Approval: 1984

Acres Planted: 40,000

Climate: Cool to hot, based upon location within the 100-mile stretch of land.

Dominant Soils: Lockwood Shaly Loam, Chualar Loam, Placenta Sandy Loam, Rincon Clay Loam, Garey Sandy Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 0 ft. / 2,320 ft.

The San Antonio Valley is encircled by the Santa Lucia Range and positioned in the bowl-shaped concavity at the southernmost region of Monterey County. This AVA experiences wide-ranging temperatures, with warmer temperatures doused by cool evening breezes from the pacific and morning fog from neighboring Lake San Antonio.

San Antonio Valley, includes over 800 acres of vinifera grapes and over 20 varietals under cultivation. Due to its fluctuating elevation, warm and dry conditions, and gravelly loam and clay soils, the conditions are perfect for full-bodied Rhone, Bordeaux, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian varietals, including:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Petite Sirah
  • Syrah
  • Marsanne
  • Tempranillo
  • Grenache
  • Albarino


AVA Approval: 2006

Acres Planted: 800

Climate: Hot, minor coastal influence.

Dominant Soils: Loam, Lockwood Shaly Loam, Chamise Shaly Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 587 ft. / 2,789 ft.

The most centrally located AVA in Monterey County, San Bernabe, consists of over 5,000 cultivated acres. San Bernabe has a variety of microclimates with temperatures varying 5 degrees Fahrenheit from end to end, resulting in some grape blocks ripening months before others within the same vineyard. 

Temperatures are reminiscent of Napa Valley, but its variance of warm days and cool evenings often elongates the growing season by up to four weeks. Its unusual sandy Aeolian soil combined with modern irrigation techniques enables growers to adjust the vigor and quality of the fruit and produce rich, full-bodied wines with complex and mature aromas. This AVA grows over 20 varietals, including:

  • Merlot
  • Syrah
  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Riesling


AVA Approval: 2004

Acres Planted: 5,000

Climate: Moderate, partially sheltered from breezes.

Dominant Soils: Garey Sandy Loam, Oceano Loamy Sand, Lockwood Shaly Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 266 ft. / 1,670 ft.

San Lucas is nestled on the southwestern edge of the Salinas Valley. Comprised of sweeping alluvial fans and terraces, grape growers have cultivated over 8,000 acres. Unlike other AVAs in Monterey County, San Lucas experiences significantly less cooling from Monterey Bay, which results in a warmer overall climate.

Fluctuating elevations expose this area to morning fog and temperatures that oscillate as much as 40 degrees during the summer from day to night. These conditions contribute to a protracted growing season that yields grapes with full bodies and flavors. These grapes boast stunning color commensurate with their flavor, and varietals include:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc


AVA Approval: 1987

Acres Planted: 8,000

Climate: Moderate to warm, some coastal influence.

Dominant Soils: Lockwood Shaly Loam, Snelling-Greenfield Complex

Min./Max. Elevations: 325 ft. / 1,250 ft.

The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA contains over 4,700 cultivated acres planted high up on southeast-facing terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountain range overlooking the Salinas River Valley. This AVA has a climate comparable to Burgundy. 

This elevated position exposes vines to morning sunshine and afternoon maritime breezes. Ultimately, this climate results in a long growing season, enabling grapes to achieve maximum varietal potential. Varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah


AVA Approval: 1991

Acres Planted: 5,000

Climate: Cool, steady temperature climate.

Dominant Soils: Chualar Loam, Arroyo Seco Gravelly Sandy Loam

Min./Max. Elevations: 98 ft. / 2,349 ft.