The county also is part of California's Central Coast winegrowing region. It encompasses the coastal areas of Monterey Bay and Big Sur, as well as the vast Salinas Valley and smaller Carmel Valley, bordered by the Santa Lucia and Gabilan mountain ranges.
The large size of the county, as well as the Pacific Ocean's climatic influence, makes Monterey wine country unique and diverse.
Eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) highlight some of Monterey County's unique winegrowing areas, and additional areas have been petitioned. One need only look to the diversity of agricultural crops grown in the county to understand what a special place this is.
Monterey County is an evolving wine region. The multitude of terroirs and climatic conditions have put the region at the forefront for producing world-class wines. Many of the state's most prominent vintners recognize the quality of the growing area and have planted vineyards alongside those of the "locals."
Here's a quick look at the established AVAs in the county:
- Monterey: One of the coolest appellations in the state, known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
- Carmel Valley: Father Junipero Serra's padres first planted vineyards here in the 1800s.
- Santa Lucia Highlands: The vineyards are planted on southeast-facing terraces of the Santa Lucia range, overlooking the Salinas Valley.
- Chalone: Vines planted here in 1919 are the oldest producing in the county.
- Arroyo Seco: This AVA is best known for its outstanding, fruit-driven renditions of Chardonnay.
- San Bernabe: Nearly 5,000 acres are planted to 20 varietals, which explains why this AVA has been called "the worldâ€™s largest, most diversified vineyard."
- San Lucas: Typified by warm days and cool nights, daily temperatures here can swing by 60 degrees during the summer months.
- Hames Valley: Here the weather is much warmer than in the northern sectors of the county, more closely resembling the climate of the Paso Robles AVA to the south.