On the rocky Gavilan Mountain Range, along the east side of the Salinas River Valley, the Chalone appellation is home to the oldest producing vines in Monterey County.
Sitting at 1,800 feet near the Pinnacle National Monument, soils iOn the rocky Gavilan Mountain Range, along the east side of the Salinas River Valley, the Chalone appellation is home to the oldest producing vines in Monterey County.
Sitting at 1,800 feet near the Pinnacle National Monument, soils in the region consist of a unique mixture of decomposed granite, chalky limestone, and volcanic rock. At the eastern border of the county, the weather conditions are dry and arid. In summertime, the temperatures range from 90 degrees during the day to 50 degrees at night. This huge climate swing allows the grapes to ripen during the day and shut down in the late afternoon to preserve natural acidity.
The first grapes were planted at the turn of last century by Maurice Tamm, an adventurous Frenchman who fell in love with the soils of the region. In 1919, the first sizable commercial vineyard was planted by F.W. Silvear. While developing his 35 acres of vineyards, Silvear’s primary focus was on Chenin Blanc and other white grape varieties. After Prohibition most of the fruit was sold to Almaden and Wente wineries.
During the tumultuous years following Silvear’s death in 1957, the rights to the vineyards and the property changed hands on several occasions. But in the mid-1960s, the splendor of the vineyard was restored when the property was purchased by an insightful group led by talented winemaker Richard Graff.
Under Graff’s leadership, new emphasis at the Chalone Vineyard was put on planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. To craft the wines, Graff followed the classic winemaking style used in the famous winegrowing region of Burgundy, and was among the first to use new French oak barrels in America.
By the early 1970s, the risks led to rewards for the brand. This was especially due to a string of successful releases of Pinot Noir, which earned momentous write-ups and acclaim by wine critics throughout the nation. Same was true with the 1974 Chardonnay, which ranked third at the famous tasting in Paris in 1976. As a result, Chalone became one of the earliest appellations designated in America on June 14, 1982.
As years passed, newer vineyards have been planted within the region. While many are focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are also a number of exciting new sites that are focused on working with Rhone varietals.
Whites: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.
Reds: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre.
White Wines: Chardonnays from the Chalone AVA feature enchanting aromas and complex flavors of apple, pear, ripe stone fruits, citrus, mineral, hazelnut, vanilla, and toasted brioche. The Chenin Blancs are more medium-bodied with fresh fruit flavors of melon, peach, racy acidity, and a bone-dry finish. Pinot Blanc generally has a richer texture, floral aromas, and flavors of ripe pear, white peach, mango, guava, and sandalwood. And the Rhone-style whites made with Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne are typically highlighted by fragrant aromas; ripe, juicy and mineral-driven flavors of peach, apricot and citrus; vibrant acidity; elegant texture; and long refreshing finishes.
Chalone Pinot Noirs are complex and engaging. The aromas are laden with notes of dark fruits, smoke, spice, and oak. The flavor profiles have deep notes of dark cherry, strawberry, cranberry, black tea, wild herbs, and layers of spice. The Syrahs are big, bold and spicy, often highlighted by ripe dark fruits, black olive, roasted meats, black pepper, savory spices, and chewy tannins. Other Rhone wines made with Grenache and Mourvedre feature tantalizing flavors of ripe cherry, strawberry, rhubarb, black fig, and allspice.
With Julia Child and Robert Mondavi, Winemaker Dick Graff helped established the American Institute of Wine and Food in 1984. So despite being isolated in a hot, dry area; matching the world-class wines with fine cuisine has been a trademark of the Chalone AVA for decades. With that in mind, Chenin Blanc pairs nicely with appetizers, fresh salads, grilled asparagus, prawns, grilled chicken skewers, and light Asian cuisine. With richer, rounder textured wines made with Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, try creamy cheeses, roasted eggplant, crab cakes, sea bass, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, turkey, and pork tenderloin. The Rhone white wines are also great for pairings, especially with Indian and Thai cuisine, pumpkin soup, grilled fish, chicken and pork dishes with fresh mango chutney, and tangy cheeses.
For reds, the Pinot Noirs are magnificent with mushroom tarts, risotto, grilled salmon, duck breast, herb roasted chicken, and stinky cheeses. Syrah is a compliment to olive tapenade, gourmet sausage, juicy lamb burgers, grilled meats, and savory stews. With complex Rhone blends, try grilled vegetables, gourmet pizzas, burgers, roasted pork shoulder, and spicy Italian dishes.