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The History of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Production in Arroyo Seco

In 1972, Bill Jekel founded Jekel Vineyards. He produced his first commercial vintage in 1978. Jekel’s Gravelstone and Sanctuary Estate are located in the Salinas Valley. These vineyards have rocky soils and enjoy a moderately windy and cool climate.

Douglas Meador founded Ventana Vineyards in 1972 as well. He is known as a perfectionist in both the vineyard and the winery. Meador makes great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.

Unfortunately, Jekel and Meador’s successes were the exception. During the early 1970s, relatively cheap land prices drove a huge expansion of vineyards in the region. Based on an overly objective interpretation of Amerine’s degree-day study, massive and often misguided vineyard development took place. Wind, soil, and sun were overlooked and temperature was the only factor that growers were seriously concerned with.

The winds can be very strong in some parts of the region and will slow or stop ripening. Rows of vineyards were also too long and extended over hills causing uneven ripening. Mechanical harvesters were forced to pick small sections at a time which was economically wasteful.

Irrigation was often used too liberally and vine foliage was not properly pruned leading to diluted grapes and wines. Grapes from the region became known by the derogatory term “Monterey Veggies.” As a result, the region’s viticultural history has been characterized by a trial and error process regarding varietal selection in specific microclimates.

Additionally, many mistakenly believed that Phylloxera was not a threat in the region. When phylloxera arrived in the late 1980s, it ravaged the defenseless Vitis vinifera rootstocks.

In recent years, a concerted and largely effective effort is being made to learn from the mistakes of the viticultural area’s past. Row length has been decreased, and irrigation methods have been honed. The Arroyo Seco AVA was established in 1983 and covers 18,240 total acres.

> Monterey County Wineries

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