Even wine newbies have heard of legendary Napa Valley, and possibly even Sonoma. But, trivia buffs, who's had a wine lately from Edna Valley?
This AVA ( American Viticultural Area) of the California Central Coast lies between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hang a right off of Interstate 5 and fireball it straight for the Pacific Ocean and you'll find the rolling hills and broad basins that make up this unique terroir.
Or, take meandering Highway 101 south from another of my favorite AVAs, Paso Robles, and you'll snake right through the middle of some incredible wine country -- and the tasting rooms of some remarkable wine makers.
One of those guys, the easy-going and amicable Stephen Ross Dooley, was in town last week for a public tasting at Cha Bella. Dooley earned his technical chops at U.C. Davis, then got his hands dirty at Louis Martini Winery in the Napa Valley and the Edna Valley Vineyard - but also did tours at wineries in South Africa and Australia.
In '94, he launched his own label, Stephen Ross, at a custom crush winery in Santa Maria. By the next year he moved to Talley Vineyards to make his wines and in 1998 moved to Courtside Cellars in the Edna Valley - a large custom crush winery that Dooley designed and helped establish. In 2001 he developed an estate vineyard planted exclusively for Pinot Noir in partnership with Talley Vineyards called Stone Corral Vineyard.
Just last year, he relocated to nearby San Luis Obispo, where production and a tasting room are in one facility.
Still, the magic happens in the vineyard. So what makes Edna Valley so ideal for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that form the foundation of Dooley's cellar?
First, its temperate climate is moderated by cooling Pacific breezes that blow down the floor of this narrow, elongated valley. This creates a long growing season ideal for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah grapes. Black humus soils rich in clay and dotted with chalky white stones bring minerality and earthiness to the party.
And those were exactly the two characteristics I found in common between the elegant 2007 Pinot Noir and the 2006 Chardonnay - both products of Edna Valley vineyards.
The wines are each beautifully structured, with hints of earth notes, minerality and mild acidity on the finish.
The Chardonnay is aromatic and fruit forward, with just perfect touches of oak and fruit flavors. Dooley obviously holds tight the reins on his oak program, the Chardonnay rests in 25 percent new French oak 75 percent used barrels until he decides the wine is ready for bottling. Only about 1,500 cases are made.
Stephen Ross' largest bottling of red wine is the Edna Valley Pinot Noir. The dark color tipped me off that this wine would be rich with cherry and plum notes -- and that it would deliver enough tannins to be bold. Again, 25 percent new and the balance in used French oak provides the aging vessels - but the Pinot Noir gets a full 10 months in slumber.
These wines work well with food and also stand alone as elegant quaffers - and it's a real experience to taste them side-by-side. Hmm, I feel a party coming on!