The largest of all the area’s official American Viticultural Areas, the Monterey AVA runs almost the entire length of the county, from north of Monterey Bay to the southern border with Paso Robles. Covering such a large area, the Monterey AVA is diverse in both climatic make-up and the types of grapes grown. The single most important factor for every vineyard in the appellation is its location in relation to the chilly waters of Monterey Bay. Vines in the northern areas experience decidedly cooler weather, ocean breezes and fog. Further south, the appellation opens into the fertile Salinas Valley. Framed by the Gabilan and Santa Lucia ranges, the weather patterns warm as you move down the Valley – the southern end of the Monterey AVA basks in the sun with daytime temperatures approaching 100 degrees at times – while still being mildly tempered by the afternoon breezes from the Pacific Ocean.
Franciscan missionaries first planted wine grapes here near their mission outposts in the 1790s but he modern era of wine-growing took root in the early 1960s. Granted AVA status in 1984, the Monterey appellation now boasts over 40,000 acres of vinifera wine grapes under cultivation.
The types of varieties grown throughout the AVA reflect this climatic diversity. In the north, closer to the Bay, cool climate grapes like Riesling and Pinot Noir do well. Further south, with the warmer temperatures, you‘ll find grapes that flourish in such an environment: Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Rhone-styles like Syrah and Petite Sirah, and even some Zinfandel. Chardonnay is still king, though, throughout this district, accounting for more than 50% of the vines currently in production.