Exploring Monterey County’s Wine Country in California

November 6, 2013 by

Food, Drink & Travel, North America, Places to Go, Things to Do, Wine Tasting

When most people think of Monterey, California, they think of pretty specific things. There’s the scenic Highway 1 coastline, legendary golf and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Those things alone have all the makings of a great getaway, but more and more visitors are pouring into the area to taste another side of Monterey and Carmel.

There are 99 miles of well-known coastline in Monterey County and more than 40-thousand acres of not so well-known vineyards. Surprised? The California growing region is second only to Sonoma County in size and folks are starting to take notice. Wine Enthusiast named Monterey County a 2013 Top Ten Wine Travel Destination in the World.

All those vineyards owe some thanks to the coast. The cold Monterey Bay brings the fog and the moderate temperatures that create the area’s growing conditions. Approximately 85 vintners and growers are now farming in the county, producing more than 40 varietals and a booming wine scene. Navigating Monterey County Wine Country is fairly easy. It’s essentially divided into three sections: The East End Wine Row, the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk, and the River Road Wine Trail.

Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk

Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk

Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk

A nice perk to tasting in Carmel-by-the-Sea is that you can park the car and forget about it. You can easily sightsee, shop and eat as you stroll from one tasting room to the next. With the exception of the walk to Carmel Beach the neighborhood is mostly flat and fairly compact. The one-square-mile city has no street lights or parking meters, but there are more than a dozen tasting rooms.

If you’re on a tasting mission, you might want to consider purchasing a Wine Walk Passport. For $65 visitors receive ten tastings along a self-guided walk through town. When you buy the Passport you receive an easy to read map that guides you to the tasting rooms all within a few blocks of each other. Choose from names like Figge Cellars, Scheid Vineyards, and Manzoni Cellars. If you’re in the mood for sparkling wine, be sure to make you way into Caraccioli Cellars. You can blow through the passport in one crazy day or spread it out over a weekend or numerous visits because the passport has no expiration date.

East End Wine Row

East End Wine Row

Hahn family Wines on the River Road Wine Trail

Don’t leave Carmel-by-the Sea without a trip to the beach, but after you brush the sand off your feet, head straight for Carmel Valley. If you don’t have a map, don’t worry, just head down East Carmel Valley Road and the tasting rooms will start appearing. Fans of Bernardus Lodge may already know their winery a couple miles down the road, but there are also many other tasting rooms competing for your valuable sipping time.

The East End Wine Row provides another opportunity to ditch the car and do your tasting on foot. With six tasting rooms, a taqueria and an art gallery, it’s a stop that could take some time. Though tasting rooms dominate the stretch of space, each one is distinctly different from the wine they pour to the décor of the space they pour it in. Parsonage Winery focuses on family with a collection of wines named after the grandkids, Cima Collina has a Howlin’ Good Red that benefits the local SPCA, Chesebro Wines showcases its wine along with art from the Central Coast of Monterey County and Joyce Vineyards is shiny and modern.

Tasting room in Monterey

Cima Collina in the East End Wine Row 

If you’ve got a sense of adventure, ask in any of the tasting rooms if Pete’s working. It doesn’t matter which winery you’re in, they all know him. Former pilot, now a cowboy and tractor driver, he spends his days loading folks on to his festive tractor and showing them the area. You can park the car and catch a ride just about anywhere in the Valley with Pete. Ask him for a ride to particular spot or let him show you some of his favorites.

River Road Wine Trail

River Road Wine Trail sign

River Road Wine Trail sign

Of Monterey’s three Wine Country areas, the River Road Wine Trail is the one that might remind you most of Napa and Sonoma’s Wine Country. You’ll need your car to explore this area, as it’s a bit off the beaten path, but worth the time behind the wheel. Vineyards grow next to farm fields, but out here, nobody thinks anything of grapes and broccoli sharing the view.

There are more than a dozen wineries and tasting rooms on the River Road Wine Trail. It’s worth taking a peak at the list of tastings spots and map before you go. Hours vary and some are open by appointment only. If you’re tight on time, you can plan on hitting wineries that are close together to make the most of your visit.

A popular stopping point on the River Road Wine Trail is Paraiso Vineyards. The Smith family is celebrating 40 years of growing grapes in Monterey County, and you can tell when you enter the tasting room they’re a family that likes to have fun. There’s the large map where visitors mark the place they call home, chalkboard walls in the bathrooms and a seemingly never-ending supply of chocolate to pair with their wines. The patio is a perfect spot to taste and it’s fun to wander through the vines planted in the backyard. Keep an eye out for the three Paraiso wine dogs. One of them, Irie, has a wine named after him. If you’re traveling with your dog, know your pup will be welcome to come and play while you taste.

Just a couple minutes away, Hahn Family Wines offers Vineyard Safaris twice a day (reservations required). Jump into an ATV and get a private tour of the winery and estate. You’ll learn a variety of fun facts about the estate, like along with growing grapes they grow 22 acres of Hass avocados.  Don’t forget your camera, the views are impressive. If you just want to enjoy a glass of wine, the view from the sunny deck is nice too.

-Dana Rebmann

Dana’s trip was organized by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.

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