July Dirt: Cool Climate California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

The Santa Maria Valley is a very special viticultural area. Sure, everyone associates Napa and Sonoma as the premier wine growing regions in California, but those folks neglecting places like Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and the Sta. Rita Hills (all AVA’s within Santa Barbara in California’s Central Coast) are doing themselves a disservice. The grapes benefit from unique terroir and microclimates and can deliver wines of purity, elegance, and depth.

The Santa Maria Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established in 1981, making it the second oldest AVA in California after Napa Valley. The Santa Maria Valley benefits from the only two transverse mountain ranges on the entire West Coast of North and South America. Framed between the San Rafael Mountains to the north, and the Solomon Hills to the south, this geographic feature creates a natural funnel, drawing in cool marine air from the Pacific Ocean. As a result, the average annual temperature is just 64˚ F, resulting in a true cool-climate viticultural region boasting one of the longest wine growing seasons in California (125 days on average).


Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL) is a small, family-run winery. It is a multigenerational collaboration between Madison and Suzanne Murphy, their three adult children and their daughters-in-law. The family has roots in the south. Four generations of the Murphy family farmed land in  Louisiana going back almost a century, which is where they got the inspiration for the winery’s name. Presqu’ile, Creole for ‘almost an island’ was a gathering place on the Gulf coast for generations of the Murphy family before Hurricane Katrina.

The family’s cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are textbook examples of what Santa Maria Valley has to offer. Complexity, diversity, and charm.

Presqu’ile Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013

Aromas of mandarin orange, stone fruit, and pineapple are delicate, but precise. In the mouth flavors of pear skin and fuji apple are accented with notes of fresh cut herbs – sage and lemon thyme. It’s round and fleshy with excellent length and just enough acidity to keep it in perfect balance. It has a long, silky finish that has a touch of spice. If you’re in need of something to pair with lobster this summer, look no further. This is an ideal match both texturally and flavor-wise. Time to break out the butter and bibs!

Presqu’ile Pinot Noir 2013

This pinot noir feels minty and timid at first, but it gains clarity with air, mingling bright red cherry fruit with a hint of something more savory, like tomato skin. Notes of geranium and cola waft from the glass as well.  Soft red fruit on the palate and notes of chamomile – the wine is low in tannin with a long spicy finish that is characteristic of the Santa Maria AVA. Try it with this recipe for Tea Smoked Salmon, which is surprisingly easy to prepare and would make a lovely match with the spice and herb notes in the wine.