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El Pomar District of Paso Robles

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El Pomar District of Paso Robles Photo: Pomar Junction

By Christopher Taranto

At the center of the greater Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) is the El Pomar District. As is the story with much of California’s central coast, agriculture has everything to do with its namesake.

Paso Robles AVAMap Picmonkey

Derived from the Latin word “pomum”, or edible fruit, it has commonly come to mean Orchard in Spanish. Nut orchards, mostly Almond, were long the primary fruit in the El Pomar area. Many orchards were planted as early as 1886 and by 1968, El Pomar had 1,375 acres of almonds and 36 acres of walnuts.

At its height, many considered the El Pomar area as the Almond capital of California with rumors of Hershey looking to develop a plant in the region. Over time the Almond industry moved to the San Joaquin Valley where flatter land and better access to water outweighed dry farming on hillsides.

Today many of those aged orchards are being replaced by vineyards as the Paso Robles wine industry continues to grow.

About the El Pomar District AVA  

The El Pomar District viticultural area encompasses approximately 21,300 acres with a little over 2,000 acres under vine. Vineyards in the region are not new, nor just replace former orchards as they have been recorded as early as the late 1800s. In 1886, Gerd Klintworth planted a vineyard on a property that is now named Red Head Ranch, near Cripple Creek Road at the eastern edge of the district.

The district landscape has a varying elevation of old river terraces and escarpments, alluvial fans, and dry creek beds sitting at the base of the foothills of the La Panza Range. East of the Rinconada Fault and the Santa Lucia Range, as well as east of the Salinas River, geologically, this area has been strongly associated with uplift along the La Panza and Huerhuero faults.

Elevations here range from about 740 feet nearest to the Salinas River and Paso Robles city limits, to 1,600 feet above sea level on ridgetops. Most vineyards are at elevations of 840 feet to 960 feet, but a few are planted on higher hills up around 1,440 feet above sea level.

Many vineyards are planted on rolling hills, so aspect is taken into consideration with these plantings. The area is especially open to different sources of air movement that influence climate, primarily the Templeton Gap effect which ushers in a cooling influence from the Pacific Ocean, over and through the Santa Lucia range, into the District.

Seasons in the El Pomar Region

In the summer and fall, the marine layer builds to a greater height across and into Estero Bay (Cayucos, Morro Bay), approximately 15 nautical miles from the center of the El Pomar District. Once that layer reaches altitudes of 1,400–1,800 feet, the heavier marine air flows over the lower ridges of the Santa Lucia Range, spilling through the Templeton Gap which follows Highway 46 West. It’s an incredible sight as this “fog monster” reaches over the mountain and blows cool air into the Paso Robles AVA.

Wind data collected from a vineyard near the junction of El Pomar Drive and South El Pomar shows almost daily maximum winds of 10-20 miles per hour during the growing season, reflecting the sea breeze through the Templeton Gap. The El Pomar District can have a diurnal temperature swing anywhere between 20 -35 degrees Fahrenheit during these warmer months.

El Pomar Region Wine Varieties

This relatively cool, region II (as defined by UC Davis Professors Winkler and Amerine scales) climate is ideal for several Bordeaux varieties of wine grapes, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, as well as suitable for Rhône varieties like Syrah and Grenache.

As is the case for the entire region, rainfall amounts lessen the further east one travels from the Santa Lucia Range. Amounts decrease from about 20 inches annually in the Templeton Gap District, to 15 inches in the El Pomar District, and down to 11.5 inches in the Creston District just to the east of El Pomar.

Growing in El Pomar

The geology mirrors many portions of the districts west of the Salinas River, almost a defining blend of regions east and west in the Paso AVA. Late Cretaceous granitic plutons exist as its bedrock basement, as well as late Cretaceous marine sedimentary rocks (mostly sandstones) to the south.

The Miocene Monterey Formation is deposited stratigraphically over the granitic plutons, with the Late Tertiary-Quaternary Paso Robles formation of sands and gravels sitting above it, further covered by younger alluvium from the contemporary rivers and creeks in places. 

In a 1978 soil survey, it identified the soils as principally the Linne Calodo complex of alkaline clay loams across the highest hillsides and terraces, with the Lockwood-Concepcion complex of shaley loams in the lower slopes. Also identified at varying elevations with profile differences are the Arbuckle-Positas-San Ysidro complex, and the more calcareous Balcom-Calaguas Nacimiento complex.

Many of these soils have calcareous shale fragments, with secondary lime deposited as wind and rain helped to erode and move soil over time. These moderate alkaline soils are excellent for growing wine grapes, which eventually lead to great natural acidity in the wines.

El Pomar Region – Perfect for Premium Wine

The El Pomar District has near-ideal conditions for premium wine grapes, with shallow to moderate soil rooting depths, moderate water stress, modest nutrient levels, and the cool climate leading to the development of complex fruit flavors.

As evidenced by the orchards of the late 1880s into the 1920s, these distinctive growing conditions have been appreciated by farmers for a very long time.

Orchards are returning to the El Pomar with many ranchers planting olive groves to produce artisan olive oil. As more trees are planted, the landscape is reflecting its historic likeness with such agrarian beauty that can only be experienced by venturing through the roads of the El Pomar District.

 

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