By Celia Strong
Poppy fields, with their bright colored flowers, are an awesome sight. But, these fields also grow more than flowers. For us, this week, that means grapes for our new Monterey wines.
Monterey County is known for much more than just great wines. There is Big Sur and its rugged coast, and Carmel’s bleached sand beaches, Pebble Beach and the rolling countryside just inland from the coast.
All together, the steep slopes of Carmel Valley, the rolling hills of Salinas Valley, the warm sun and cool fogs from the ocean and the ancient soils all combine to make superb grape growing conditions.
Over 200 years ago, Franciscan friars, in the Spanish mission of Soledad, planted the first grape vines here.
None of these old vines survive, but today there are about 40,000 acres of vineyards. (All wine grapes! No table grapes.)
In the 1960s, Monterey County’s potential as a quality winemaking area was recognized. In 1960, Professor AJ Winkler, from UC Davis, published a report that categorized California grape growing areas by climate: Regions I through V.
Monterey was in regions I and II, with comparable climates to Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Wine grapes from Monterey are easily distinguishable. They all have intense varietal flavors, which means their wines have the true tastes of the grapes they are made from.
Forty percent of the grapes grown are Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the second most planted variety. Besides Chardonnay, there are Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, and Pinot Blancs; and, from southern warmer vineyards, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel.
Growing grapes in Monterey can be easier than in other parts of California. The vines tend to producer buds about two weeks earlier. And, harvest starts about two weeks later. Doing the math, that means Monterey grapes have about a month longer on their vines. (Extensive canopy work, meaning the pruning and training of the vines to ensure the grape bunches have shade and cooler air temperatures from their leaf cover, is extremely important.) This helps develop the fuller, more intense grape flavors these wines are known for.
Poppy was founded by the Silva family in the Salinas Valley in Monterey. This family had worked in the wine industry for about 45 years, and, in 2003, they decided to start their own winery. They chose the name “Poppy” for the view of their vineyards where wild poppies grew in abundance. The golden Poppy is the state flower of California. So, appropriately, it is the name for wines that come from old winemaking techniques with new, California technology. Wines that are elegant and approachable for everyday.
Poppy Chardonnay is 100 percent Chard, from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey.
These vineyards have a steep slope, which is great for drainage, and eastern exposures for lots of sun and multiple ripening times for different plots.
This is an elegant Chardonnay with aromas and flavors of sweet golden apples, ripe citrus, almonds, creamy yeast, vanilla and oak. The finish has a touch of minerality and bright acidity. For $12.99.
Poppy Pinot Noir is also 100 percent its variety. These grapes come the the Arroyo Secco AVA. (The name means “dry river bed.”) In the canyons where these vineyards are located, they are shielded from the winds, which means they grow and ripen in slightly warmer temperatures. But, afternoon Pacific breezes keep them cool enough to lengthen their ripening time and develop their intense Pinot characteristics – fruit flavors with balanced acidity and deep colors.
This wine has bright red fruit aromas and flavors (raspberry, cherry, strawberry, currant) along with baking spices, black pepper, vanilla and oak. Interestingly, this wine grows in your mouth and finishes with a vibrant, juicy texture on top of all its flavors. For $13.99
Poppy Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 100 percent Cabernet from Paso Robles, at the southern tip of Monterey County. In production, some of these grapes go through thermovinification. Talk about California technology!
This process has some of the grapes going through fermenting with some other crushed grapes at very moderate temperatures, all to augment the wine’s fruitiness.
Blueberry, blackberry, black cherry and black currant aromas and flavors abound in this wine, along with licorice, violets, cigar boxes, vanilla and mocha. It is medium to full bodied with soft tannins and great dimensions. For $13.99.
So Poppy wines from the golden poppy fields of Monterey are all legal. And affordable. And plentiful. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.