by Fred McMillin
for January 26, 1998

Making Way for San Jose

Prologue: 1935—The Salinas Valley was regarded as a poor place to grow grapes ... half the necessary rainfall ... too windy ... too cold.

...by the late, great Leon Adams

The Rest of the Story: Twenty five years later, Mirassou was in big trouble. San Jose was growing and closing in on their vineyards. But what about that scorned Salinas Valley? About the water, 100 feet below the parched valley surface was America's greatest underground river. Wells could replace rain. About the wind, why not plant the vines parallel to the breezes to avoid damage? Most importantly, the family uncovered an old 1935 report by now-legendary U.C.-Davis Professors Amerine and Winkler that growing-season temperatures in parts of the Salinas Valley were remarkably similar to those of much of the illustrious Napa Valley.


So, the Mirassou's took a very deep breath, bought 300 acres in the valley, and started planting in 1962. Their first, white-knuckle vintage was released in 1966. The same Leon Adams sniffed, swirled and sipped. The verdict? There was gold medal quality in Mirassou's new Monterey wines. Whew!

The gamble certainly paid off, since today the majority of grapes for their 300,000-plus cases a year come from that Monterey valley ... yielding good wines at good prices. Chardonnay has been one of their Salinas leaders. My panel liked both the oaky flavors and the $12 price of the '96.

The Wine:
1996 Chardonnay, Monterey County
Mirassou Vineyards and Winery
Owner—Mirassou Family (6th generation, the oldest winegrowing family in the U.S.A.)
Tasting Notes—Refreshing but not dominating; makes a wonderful match with cracked crab. Lots of fruit flavors obtained by harvesting during the cool of the night and pressing the grapes right in the vineyard.
Contact—Dave Muret (408) 274-4000

Postscript: 1960 wasn't the first time the Mirassou clan did vineyard pioneering. Pierre Mirassou's father-in-law brought a new grape to California. The year was 1854 and the grape was the Pinot Noir.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the WineDay Annex

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