The wines of San Louis Obispo County

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Entertainment,Scott Greenberg

My son is now on the college tour circuit, looking at schools across the country for admission next fall. One of the schools that has caught his attention is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, located on the Central Coast of California. Now, normally, having my son 3,000 miles away would give me a bit of heartburn, but when I checked out the school's curriculum online, I discovered something marvelous; the university offers a degree in wine and viticulture. Could it be that one of my offspring is finally showing some interest in wine?

It turns out that my excitement was premature. While the San Luis Obispo campus does offer courses in vineyard management and other agricultural programs, my son is strictly interested in the school of engineering (sigh). But there is a silver lining. San Luis Obispo is quickly becoming one of the hottest spots in California for premium wine production, so potential visits just got a little more interesting -- in addition to seeing my son, of course.

The city of San Luis Obispo is located on the coast, approximately 100 miles north of Santa Barbara and, according to the Wine Institute, it is part of the Central Coast American Viticultural Area, which stretches roughly 250 miles along the coastline of California, from the San Francisco Bay Area in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. It is one of the largest AVAs, encompassing approximately 4 million acres, which includes about 100,000 acres planted to wine grapes.

San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties make up the southernmost region of the Central Coast AVA. There are about 110 wineries in San Luis Obispo County, where cabernet sauvignon is king. There are about 8,600 acres dedicated to the aforementioned varietal. Merlot is second, with approximately 4,200 acres.

The most notable characteristic of this region is the significant swing in diurnal temperature. The days are sunny and hot while at night the temperature drops significantly, thanks to the cool marine breeze that blows in after sunset. These large swings in temperature allow the grapes to ripen evenly throughout the growing season while developing substantial acidity for structure and balance.

It is unclear at this time whether my son will actually attend the school, but I hope that after he reads this column, he just might want to visit the campus -- and take me along with him. Retail prices are approximate.

One of the most well-known producers in Paso Robles -- located in the Central Coast AVA -- is Tablas Creek Vineyards. Their 2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc ($25) is one of my wife's favorite white wines. A blend of traditional Rhone Valley white grapes, it features a nose filled with nectarine, peach and honeysuckle scents. The flavors of white peach, ripe apple and creamy pear just park on the tongue, where subtle acidity supports the rich mouthfeel. QPR 8.5

Another iconic vineyard in Paso is Justin Vineyards & winery. While the winery is known mostly for its red bordeaux blends, it is the 2010 Justin Vineyards Chardonnay ($18) that I find most rewarding. Scents of vanilla and baking spice fill the nose while flavors of tropical fruit, green apple and nectarine lay on a bed of crisp minerality. Hints of vanilla and toasty oak notes add to the pleasant, lengthy finish. QPR 8

Located just a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, Edna Valley Vineyard in San Louis Obispo is one of California's few east-to-west oriented valleys, which allows the maritime fog to cool the valley each evening. The long, even ripening of the grapes is reflected in the 2008 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($18), which sports a beautiful nose of black cherries, dried herbs and dustiness. A medium structure supports mouth-coating flavors of blackberries, cassis and sage with hints of black cherry fruit on the pleasant finish. QPR 8

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