Hello Arroyo Seco, I love your Pinot Noirs. Sunken beneath the Santa Lucia Highlands, you love the ocean air as much as I do, hugging it, holding it, as it feeds your grapes. You get just enough sun to let those berries bud, but use the foothill range to shield them from harsh winds. And in the right winemakers hands, you give us Pinot Noir wine so uniquely your own.
When you think Monterey, what varietals do you think of? I’m going to guess the brain heads straight to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Indeed, the overall cool climate of the larger Monterey AVA is known for its maritime influence, as it’s nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Bay — ideal conditions for the picky Pinot Noir and for crafting Chardonnay with crisp acidity. But when Monterey was first embarked upon as a winemaking region, the first vineyards planted were to, none other than the king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Of course what we know now about soil composition and climate has greatly changed. Our enhanced understanding has allowed grape growers to plant grapes where they’ll thrive best. The Hames Valley, where Ranch 32 grows their Cabernet is one of the warmer portions of Monterey. Located at the foot of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the valley is sheltered from the afternoon winds and cooling temperatures that otherwise stream through the regions. And it is because of this warmth, along with the shaly loam soils, that Cabernet reigns supreme in the Hames Valley.
Clos du Val built their foundation like many Napa wineries did in the 1970s, with the great, noble Cabernet Sauvignon grape. According to the winery, the “crown jewel” of their estate program is the Hirondelle Vineyard located in the Stags Leap District. The vineyard spans 100 acres and is planted to nine different Cabernet Sauvignon Clones.
Stag’s Leap’s place along the valley floor gets love from the sun and cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay, which means grapes plush tannins but also a vibrant acidity. This is probably why — as you’ll see in my notes — Clos du Val is able to craft an age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon that is also completely approachable now.
Clos du Val is a name that I’d heard of but had yet to experience until just recently. The winery has been around since the 1970s Napa Valley boom and it seems that they’ve not just lasted through the years, but have developed and refined both their vineyards and their winemaking, becoming the triumph they are today. Once a Cab-dominant wine program, Clos du Val now boasts a full portfolio showcasing all the varietals the region does well. In the past I’ve been hesitant about Carneros Pinot Noirs — and, yes, I know it’s something the sub-AVA is known for. It’s just within these past two or three years that I’ve seen an increase in a more “hands-off” approach span across both grape growers and winemakers in this area, and I have to say that the results have been phenomenal (and delicious). Case and point is this estate Pinot Noir from Clos du Val.
My first trip to Lodi was, unfortunately for a business trip. So I didn’t see too much besides the inside of a conference room. But I did make time to explore the humble downtown area — luckily because several folks recommended I try McCay Cellars. While many wineries are closed mid-week, which is when I found myself wandering around town, McCay was very much open and staffed with the kindest hostess willing to play along and entertain this wine nerd. She provided me with comparative vineyard and vintage tastings, barrel samples, and a few “off menu” items. But what I walked away with — what I had to walk away with was this Grenache from Lodi’s Abba Vineyard.