Valdiguie, Trousseau, Carignan. They could be Musketeers from chivalrous fiction, crossing swords with an arrogant prince and his retinue. Instead, these are three of the many winegrape varieties almost forgotten in a market saturated by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other favorites. In fact, 64 percent of all acreage devoted to vineyards in Monterey County grows just two different grapes—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. People recognize the major varietals from the world’s top wine-producing regions. Melon de Bourgogne, Falanghina and others—not so much. More often than not, the tannic belt and inky hue of Petit Verdot or the brisk tone of Carignan are prized for what they bring to blends. Growers in the Italian Piedmont once planted Arneis merely to protect their favored Nebbiolo vines from predators. Name recognition sells. It also rewards vintners, who can draw higher prices for bottles of popular varietals from known viticultural areas. The Valdiguie from J. Lohr, for example, has an excellent reputation as a light, breezy red, but brings less than $15 a bottle. Though Monterey County produces 53 wine varietals, the value of the two most prevalent grapes topped $141 million in 2021, according to the Monterey County Crop & Livestock Report. Yet the less familiar varietals may be making inroads in the market. Gamay, produced by Caraccioli Cellars, I. Brand & Family and other labels in Monterey County, is fast becoming the wine of the moment. “Viognier and Albariño are also hot,” explains Kim Stemler, executive director of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association. The shift is occurring thanks to winemakers who are rethinking the fundamentals of their craft. Ask any about terroir—the sometimes impish confluence of soil, weather and growing season—and they can respond with a lecture. Bring up the topic with, say, Ian Brand, and the same inquiry turns into a graduate-level course. He and others have begun analyzing the particular qualities of microclimates and plots of soil with the attributes of different vines. “You need to think about what you plant,” he explains. “I’m constantly working with different varieties to find the match.” As it turns out, Arneis finds its best expression in Central Coast AVAs. The 2021 I. Brand & Family Arneis peals with aromas of ripe apple and citrus zest, with impressions of clover honey and hazelnut. It’s a fresh and welcoming introduction that continues as you start 28 The Best of Monterey Bay ® EAT + DRINK 2023-2024 Lesser Is More Monterey County is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but other varietals are gaining notice. By Dave Faries Wrath Wines Varietal Pack Daniel Dreifuss