William Ausmus, a research scholar in the Communication Studies Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, writes that though there is a deserved "ocean of verbiage paying homage to the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma," the area from Monterrey to Santa Barbara has gotten short shrift. "In the vast archipelago of California wine," he says, "the Central Coast is very much an undiscovered country."
That changes with Ausmus' "Wines & Wineries of California's Central Coast" ($24.95 in paperback from University of California Press) which contains detailed profiles of almost 300 wineries visited by the author. Together with "Nancy A. Clark, my sweetheart and fellow wine aficionado," Ausmus, despite his self-described "European bias," "was astounded by what I saw and, perhaps more important, by what I tasted."
The first part of the book considers the region's geology, history, and "terroir," a French word "that describes the natural components necessary for growing premium-quality wine grapes" such as sunlight, climate, and "the lay of the land."
The second part is an encyclopedic guide to the wineries, many of which have tasting rooms, with interviews of winemakers (making the book delightful reading) and the author's own rating of their offerings based on a five-star system (ranging from "good, drinkable wines" to wines "comparable to other world-class wines"). As an entry into the offerings of each winery, Ausmus provides two selections, his own and the recommendation of the vintner.
In thousands of tastings, "I looked for the visual appeal of the wine--that is, the color, clarity, and depth of wine in the glass. I describe to the best of my ability the predominant flavor notes in its aromatics (also called the nose or the bouquet). I share with you the taste of the wine in the mouth, focusing on the balance and integration of all its elements."
Ausmus gives 5 starts to the 2002 Pinot Noir produced by Sea Smoke Cellars in Lompoc; the wine has "wonderful aromatics of cherries, cranberries, raspberry fruit preserves, cinnamon and cardamom spice, smoke, earth, violets, and crème de cassis."
"Taste responsibly," Ausmus reminds his readers, "have fun, and remember that wine is more than just a food or a beverage"; it's part of culture. He quotes Galileo: "Wine is sunlight, held together by water."