Wines with elegance from the cool Central Coast

Named for the Chamise, a white flower native to the California coast, Chamisal Vineyards produces award-winning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo – about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1973, when the Goss family, founders of Chamisal, planted the first vines in the Edna Valley, it might have seemed a risky move. Just a few kilometers from the Pacific Ocean, the area was thought to be too cool for vines to flourish. Their success, however, confirmed the Edna Valley had great potential for cool-climate grapes, and other vineyards and more wineries soon followed. In 1994, a new owner renamed the operation Domaine Alfred, replanted the vineyards with an eye toward selecting more suitable vine clones and instituted sustainable farming based on biodynamic ideas. The 2004 Domaine Alfred Califa Pinot Noir earned 96 points from the Wine Spectator, the highest score to that date for a Central Coast Pinot Noir. In 2008, the winery changed hands again; the new owners restored the name Chamisal but kept the winemaking team, headed by New Zealander Fin du Fresne, in place.  Chamisal stands out for two important reasons. Firstly, the Edna Valley is indeed an excellent location for cool-climate viticulture. The thick morning fogs and afternoon breezes bless the Edna Valley with an exceptionally long growing season. The additional “hang time” as well as the complex conglomeration of both calcareous (chalky) and volcanic soils allow the grapes to develop intense flavors balanced with refreshing acidity. The other aspect that makes Chamisal distinct is their careful attention to clonal selection, which allows the winegrower to take advantage of the variability that exists within a varietal. The vineyards are planted to 10 clones of Pinot Noir and 7 clones of Chardonnay. Certain clones may match the characteristics of a particular vineyard block, but they also may differ in terms of ripening speed, flavor profiles, or berry size. At Chamisal, then, the winemaker’s art lies not only in blending grapes from different vineyards but in carefully assembling the nuanced qualities offered by grape clones – much the way a chef uses ingredients and spices in putting together a dish. On 80 acres of vineyards, Chamisal Vineyards produces mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but also Syrah, Grenache and Pinot Gris. The Califa bottlings are estate wines made from the very best vineyard blocks and most flavorful clones, while the Stainless Chardonnay and Stainless Pinot Noir are unoaked wines made to express the pure flavor of fruit from the estate as well as from other Central Coast AVAs.