San Luis Obispo’s Top Varietals

SLO Varietals

San Luis Obispo’s environment, climate, history, soils, and passionate winemakers all factor into helping to produce over 20 different varietals in SLO. Burgundian varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excel in cooler, moderate climates that the Central Coast is known to provide from Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, and the Paso Robles mountains. Rhone varietals like Viognier, Syrah, and even Grenache and Marsanne can also come from this region since their grapes grow well in continental environments.

SLO wine country also excels in aromatic whites with distinct tastes including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris. On San Luis Obispo’s mountainous hillsides where the warmth lingers in the vineyards longer, full-bodied and complex Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon flavors emerge.

Just recently, a few wineries have even taken on the challenge of trying to prove that renowned Italian wines can be grown and produced in San Luis Obispo County. Although French wines are popular, Italian wines have some major differences that have yet to catch on. Located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, Giornata gives wine tastings of Nebbiolo, Aglianico, Barbera, Vermentino, and Nebbiolo produced from grapes originating from Edna Valley.

Although Italian wines are commonly drier, more acidic, and have less alcohol content, these varietals can counterbalance what San Luis Obispo wines are generally known for. Although the amount of nebbiolo that Giornata sells doesn’t even come close to the number of cases of cabernet that its customers consume, the Italian wines definitely appeal to those that want to try something different.

If you look at a map, California and Italy match up in latitude and climate pretty close together and the soils between the countries are also known to be similar. It’s an altered taste from what you may expect from these black grapes, but Italian wines are gaining some recognition on the Central Coast. Wine Enthusiast gave Giornata’s scores in the 90’s for its two aglianicos and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonne called Giornata’s nebbiolo “the new California wine”.

However, bubbly shouldn’t be forgotten as this adds a bit of vibrant spirit in a San Luis Obispo wine tasting experience. Champagne can actually be produced from any kind of grape by using the same methods of winemaking that come from Champagne, France. Local SLO wineries that specialize in bubbly include Laetitia Vineyard & Winery and Baileyana, Tangent and True Myth.

SLO Wines

SLO’s signature Pinot Noirs also comes from the darker side of the fruit color spectrum and are distinctly concentrated and dense while its other signature varietal, Chardonnay, thrives in the cool growing conditions giving it a naturally acidic, yet tropical taste.

The range in fruit found in SLO wine country is vast, but is united by three main qualities that go back to how grapes grow in the Central Coast. These three factors include:

  1. A consistent marine cooling effect that lends itself to balanced wines
  2. The diversity of coastal soils creating complex tastes
  3. Reliable, moderate temperatures that allow fruit to flourish and fully ripen

Although the climate has a lot to do with how grapes grow, the winemakers’ diverse processes in their viticulture is also what sets each one apart. Their commitment to sustainability also shows mutual respect for the environment while uniting them in the terroir that is unique to the Central Coast.