Monterey's primary grape-growing district is an inland valley called the Salinas Valley, but several smaller appellations (Arroyo Seco, Chalone, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the Carmel Valley) are also included within the official boundaries of the Monterey wine region.
Amazingly, the Salinas Valley contained no vines as recently as the early 1960s. Thanks to its cool climate and very dry summers, Salinas Valley was recognized as an excellent site for premium varieties, and the area now has more than 30,000 acres under vine. Unfortunately, the most widely planted grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, has fared the worst. Because of high winds and arid growing conditions, irrigation is a must and growers here have adopted trellised vine systems.
Monterey has recently focused on white wine grapes and a more sensible sprinkling of reds in the warmer, southern locations or in a few isolated hillside sites in the north. White varieties represent close to 68% of the total plantings, with Chardonnay leading the way. Chenin Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are also widely planted. Monterey also accounts for about half of California's Pinot Blanc production, though there are less than 1,000 acres under vine here. The Riesling acreage represents 60% of all plantings in the state, and this is a great place to look for intensely fragrant versions of that variety. Though less consistent, Monterey's Chardonnay has ranked among the finest and, in the hands of several Monterey wine makers, it can display tremendous varietal intensity and balance. A handful of Monterey wineries have demonstrated that Cabernet Sauvignon from a few choice sites can result in wines of high caliber, but such results are very few and very far between.