Edna Valley wines

Wander through this quirky, unassuming wine region just south of San Luis Obispo

David Lansing

There's an offbeat, tongue-in-cheek humor, reminiscent of the Blues Brothers, that runs between Terry Speizer and Michael Sinor.

Speizer is the owner of Domaine Alfred in the Edna Valley, on California's Central Coast, and Sinor is his winemaker. It's hard to know what to think when Speizer ― a large bear of a man who speaks in a sonorous voice that reminds one of Dan Aykroyd singing the theme from Rawhide ― tells you that their wines enjoy listening to certain kinds of music.

"The Pinot Noirs like Gregorian chants, but they hate salsa," Speizer explains. Sinor nods in agreement, then adds, "They all hate salsa and techno." "They" being the barrels of Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Gris behind him.

Before you can think too much about this, Sinor suggests everyone go outside to take a look at their version of the Bluesmobile, a '62 Shasta trailer ― which serves as a portable chicken coop ― that they got for $50 and a bottle of Chardonnay.

The trailer-cum-coop, which gets dragged around the vineyards so the chickens can eat bugs and weeds, is an important part of the winery's somewhat peculiar production methods, which include racking wine during a full moon to take advantage of atmospheric pressure. "I'll bet they don't do that in Napa," Sinor says, lifting a single eyebrow.

Winemakers probably don't time their wine racking to the phases of the moon in the Napa Valley. But not being Napa is a big part of the Edna Valley's appeal. The nascent wine region is located in a triangle bordered by Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo, and it still retains a distinctive, backroad California charm. Vineyards were first planted here in the 1970s.

Today it's home to more than 3,000 acres of vineyards and 30 wine labels, including 17 tasting rooms that run the gamut from a former one-room schoolhouse to the stylish Jack Niven Hospitality Center at Edna Valley Vineyard. At the latter, you can sample Chardonnays in front of picture windows with views of the valley's most distinctive icon, Islay Peak, an ancient volcanic plug that rose from the ocean floor.

Next: Wines shaped by the sea

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