San Luis Obispo wine country produces world-class wines from grapes grown just eight kilometers from the Pacific Ocean.
Nestled between the dramatic Central California coastline and rolling volcanic hills, this is an intimate valley of innovative winemakers and peerless vineyards with an unparalleled story to tell.
Soon after Mission San Luis Obispo was founded in 1772, the padres began growing grapes and making sacramental wines. In 1880, Henry Ditmas planted the Zinfandel grapes on Rancho Saucelito that now provide Saucelito Canyon Vineyard with its famed old-vine 1880 Zinfandel collection. Commercial winemaking began in the late 1800s.
Much of today’s commercial winemaking took seed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Goss family planted Chardonnay in Edna Valley at Chamisal Vineyard in 1973. The Niven family planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Paragon Vineyard the same year. Chamisal started making its own wine in 1980, and others soon followed suit. The Edna Valley American Viticultural Area was established in 1982, and the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA was established in 1990. In the 1990s and 2000s, the addition of new artisan wineries brought energy and diversity to the winemaking community.
Chapel inside Mission San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772
Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards called San Luis Obispo wine country “the greatest undiscovered wine region in California,” saying it is “one of the best places in the world to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir due to its proximity to the ocean and the diversity of soils.” This is what differentiates it from the state's other wine regions: The vineyards lie as close as eight kilometers from the coast. This marine climate means reliably less temperature variation and one of the longest growing seasons in the world. Fruit develops slowly and fully, allowing for greater depth, complexity, balance and structure. San Luis Obispo wine country is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but the cool climate allows a wide selection of varietals to grow successfully.
The region showcases popular varietals such as Syrah, Zinfandel and Riesling as well as some lesser-seen varietals, such as Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Grenache Blanc and Pinot Gris. The soil, like the landscape, reflects an uncommon mixture of marine and volcanic influences: Shells, sand, shale and volcanic rocks lend complex minerality and other unique qualities to the wines.
“We are surrounded by history each and every day. We honor it and respect it," said John Niven of Niven Family Wines. "We foster (my grandfather’s) pioneering spirit as inspiration for us to constantly push the envelope in creating innovative wines that showcase our little slice of heaven here in the Edna Valley.”
This deep-rooted pride is reflected in a commitment to innovation and sustainability: The majority of the vineyards in San Luis Obispo wine country are Sustainability in Practice certified. SIP certification considers factors like air quality, water and energy conservation, and human elements such as community relations and social responsibility, as crucial parts of sustainability.
Here, terroir is more than a buzzword. It is an essential part of the culture and community. San Luis Obispo wine country is a meeting place of rarities: History, climate and community harmonize to produce world-class wines. In 2015, the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association marked its 25th anniversary. From the look – and taste – of things, it has only just begun.