The Coastal Defense

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The answer seems to be yes. Central coast wines are showing up at the top of critics' lists: the region offers a climate for every taste, from the Santa Maria Valley's cool, marine atmosphere, ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to the warmer Cabernet-, Syrah- and Zinfandel-friendly climes of San Luis Obispo County.

The corporate growers also bring something else to the coastal wineries: credibility. Says Dana Merrill, chairman of the California Association of Wine Grape Growers: "The big wineries came down here and tasted the wines, and realized they were every bit as good as the north coast--and in some cases better."

So bring on the imports, says Napa native Chuck Wagner, the owner/winemaker of Caymus Vineyards, who decided to plant 400 acres of grapes in Monterey County because it was "some of the best Chardonnay country that California has to offer." He adds, "The central coast is going to be a big part of California's wine production, especially if you put it up against Chile, Argentina, South Africa and whatever else may be coming into the market. The wines from the central coast have gotten better and better, and that's not going to stop." In other words, the coast is now well defended.

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