SLO Wine Country Going Coastal

San Luis Obispo (SLO) Wine Country boasts world-class wines from grapes grown just five miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Published: 6/15/2015

By Lenora Walter

San Luis Obispo (SLO) Wine Country boasts world-class wines from grapes grown just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. Nestled between the dramatic California coastline and rolling volcanic hills, this is an intimate valley of innovative winemakers and peerless vineyards with an unparalleled story to tell.


The Mission San Luis Obispo was founded in 1772, and soon after, the padres began growing grapes and making sacramental wines. Commercial winemaking began in the late 1800s, and in 1880 Henry Ditmas planted the Zinfandel grapes on Rancho Saucelito that now provide Saucelito Canyon Vineyard with their famed old-vine 1880 Zinfandel collection.

Much of the commercial winemaking of today took seed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Goss family planted the first 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 AVA 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.


Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards calls San Luis Obispo Wine Country “the greatest undiscovered wine region in California,” and says 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 neighboring wine regions—and indeed, the rest of the state—the vineyards lie as close as five miles 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. SLO 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 typical French and German 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.


According to John Niven of Niven Family Wines, “We are surrounded by history each and every day. We honor it and respect it. 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 SLO Wine Country are Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified. SIP certification considers factors like air quality, water and energy conservation, and human elements— such as community relations and social responsibility—a crucial part of sustainability.

Here, terroir is more than a buzzword. It is an essential part of the culture and community. SLO Wine Country is a meeting-place of rarities: history, climate, and community harmonize to produce worldclass wines—all just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association. From the look—and taste—of things, they’ve only just begun.

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.