The Chalone Appellation
Michaud is located in the heart of the Chalone appellation, one of the most unique places on Earth to grow wine grapes. It was officially recognized by the government in the early 1980s as an AVA but its grape growing history stretches back to the turn of the last century. Curtis Tamm, a French immigrant, has been credited with establishing the first vineyard on the Chalone bench around 1919. Today the AVA is home to 7 different vineyards, comprising 360 acres of vinifera .
What makes the Chalone region so unique? Simply put, it is a desert, high up on a granite and limestone mountain, with an ocean influenced climate.
To the west, 35 miles as the crow flies, is the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay. The eastern skyline is dominated by Mount Chalone and the mysterious Pinnacles, remnants of an old underwater volcano born 28 million years ago. The San Andreas Fault circumnavigates the Pinnacles – the constant geologic grinding and subduction of the Pacific plate has exposed the granite rock which has weathered into decomposed granite soils. There are also numerous limestone deposits, from the decay of ancient marine organisms on the once seabed. Chalone is one of the few places where granite and limestone are co-located, providing a well-drained and mineral rich base, similar to Burgundy and responsible for the trademark “touch of stone” aromas and flavors found in the area’s best wines.
The region is ecologically described as a arid “Chaparral community,” receiving only 12 to 15 inches of annual rainfall. Ample sun and daily temperature fluctuations of 40 to 60 degrees, thanks to the influence of Monterey Bay, create gentle, slow-ripening climatic conditions.
The Michaud Estate
Standing 1,500 feet above sea level in Monterey County’s Gabilan Mountains, you can actually see the Michaud Vineyard’s terroir. The rocky crags and peaks of nearby Pinnacles National Monument loom over the almost moonscape-like panorama. This is the heart of the Chalone appellation, where you can literally taste the district’s ancient decomposed granite and limestone soils in every drop of wine.
Michael Michaud knows this historic, unique appellation better than anyone. He began his thirty three year winemaking career at Chalone Vineyard, where he crafted acclaimed, complex Burgundian-style wines. Michael fell in love with the mineral structure and elegance the arid climate and lean soils provided the wines – he acquired land with his wife Carol and began to gradually plant his own vines. After 19 vintages with the Chalone brand, he left in 1998 to devote full attention to his own vineyard, just down the dusty road. And “full attention” is no exaggeration. From sunrise to sunset, Michael works as both farmer and winemaker.
“The goal? To make wines that directly reflect the truly one-of-a-kind nature of this place,” Michael says. “Towards that end, I do much of the winemaking and the farming myself. I purposely keep production small, because I like getting my hands dirty and having complete quality control, from the dirt to the bottle. This is my passion.”
The Michaud Vineyard is situated at an altitude of 1500’ in the cooler, northern end of the Chalone appellation. The property is 227 acres in size with 28.5 acres currently planted. With nine different clones of Pinot Noir alone, Michael is able to “micromanage” the various blocks and lots at harvest time. The resulting Michaud wines are known for their elegance, balance, and ageworthiness. They reveal both the intensity and the subtlety of the place where the grapes are grown. The carefully tended vineyards look quite improbable in the arid surroundings, where scorpions and rattlesnakes, coyotes and wild boar make their home.