Wine Enthusiast Magazine - Nov. 2021 Spanish Springs



For an industry awash in competing theories and ever-evolving techniques, one maxim holds true for almost every winemaker: Great wine can only come from great vineyards.

There’s no shortage of such properties on California’s Central Coast. From Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara, towering mountains drop directly into the frigid ocean. The topography opens valleys to steady sea breezes that moderate long growing seasons and unleash unique soil combinations, from sandy to chalky to volcanic, each creating distinctive flavors and textures in finished wines.

While some of these are monopole estates used by just one winery, most of the region’s vineyards grow grapes for multiple brands, opening windows into the defining characteristics of each property.

To celebrate this shared experience, we’re showcasing four of the most important Central Coast vineyards, from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands down to the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County. Together, they exemplify the wide range of wine styles that can be made along this increasingly important stretch of coastline.

Capturing Coastal Crispness

Spanish Springs Vineyard

Just two miles from the clam chowder shacks and surf shops of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County, Spanish Springs Vineyard occupies the east-facing flanks of Price Canyon atop sandy, acid-retaining soils, with occasional piles of fractured shale visible beneath the vines.

Planted in 2007, the 92-acre vineyard, which is owned by developer Henry Warshaw and farmed by Pacific Coast Farming, now sells to three dozen wineries, making it one of the most popular vineyards anywhere.

“You’re far enough away from the ocean where you’re not sitting in the fog, but you’re close enough to the ocean that it’s emanating those cool-climate aspects,” says Coby Parker-Garcia, who’s been making wines in the nearby Edna Valley since 2002 and started his own brand called El Lugar Wines in 2013. “I think of the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley as very coastal AVAs. Spanish Springs trumps that. It’s twice as close to the ocean, if not closer.”

You’re far enough away from the ocean where you’re not sitting in the fog, but you’re close enough [to the] ocean that it’s emanating those cool-climate aspects.
—Coby Parker-Garcia, El Lugar Wines

Though most of the property is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there’s also Syrah, Grenache, Albariño, Pinot Gris, Viognier and Barbera. Steve Dooley of Stephen Ross Cellars, which makes a flinty Albariño from the property, believes that the long hang times make for pronounced varietal fruit expressions.

“The Albariño has great acidity and displays a coastal energy, which is consistent across all the varieties grown there,” says Dooley.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay remain the workhorse varieties and are the sole bottlings for Oceano Wines. Co-owner Rachel Martin, who also makes wine in Virginia, was so smitten upon first visiting in 2016 that she signed up for six tons of Chardonnay on the spot. Oceano Winemaker Marbue Marke believes, alongside the property’s clonal diversity, “multiple exposures and hillside slopes” create microclimates that enhance complexity.

“Probably most significantly,” he says, “it brings brightness and balance with its low pH at maximum ripeness, thanks to the soil and cooling ocean breeze.”

For Parker-Garcia of El Lugar, Spanish Springs “just makes wines that truly show a sense of place.” While his Pinot Noir is savory, his Syrah is especially characteristic, offering plenty of iodine and kelp notes.

“You do get that salinity, that nori character in the wines,” he says.