Monterey County may be best known for its scenic coast, famous aquarium and star-studded links, but 'wine destination' is fighting for a well-deserved spot in the ranks. With more than forty thousand acres of vineyards, the California growing region is second only to Sonoma County in size. Need more convincing? Wine Enthusiast recently named Monterey County a 2013 Top Ten Wine Travel Destination in the World. It was the only California wine region to make their 2013 list.
Though there’s plenty to see and sip, the layout of Monterey Country’s Wine Country actually makes tasting without a lot a driving pretty easy. Wine Country is essentially divided into three sections: The East End Wine Row, the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk, and the River Road Wine Trail.
Walking is a perfect way to explore Carmel-by-the-Sea’s wine side. Compact and mostly flat, the area lends itself to strolling, whether it’s from store to store, or now that there are more than a dozen to choose from, tasting room to tasting room. Trió Carmel serves local wines, with stories that go beyond what’s in the bottle. Le P’tit Payson winemaker Ian Brand uses the label to poke fun at his dad, immortalizing him as a comedic elderly gentleman who’s known to don a pink tutu when the Rosé mood strikes. His choice of apparel on the 2011 Viognier bottle will make you chuckle too.
Le P'tit Paysan at Trió Carmel
Caraccioli Cellars is a nice change of pace, offering two sparkling wines along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. Figge, Manzoni Cellars, Galante and Scheid Vineyards are other sipping and strolling options. If you’re planning to hit tasting rooms with gusto, buying a Wine Walk Passport might save you some cash.
East End Wine Row
There’s plenty to love about Carmel-by-the-Sea but save time to wander Carmel Valley. Grab lunch at the Farm Stand at Earthbound Farm.
Something is always growing at Earthbound Farm
Head down East Carmel Valley Road and wineries will start popping up left and right. If you’re looking to park the car, you can catch a ride with Pete, former pilot and cowboy turned tractor transport for tourists. He takes folks pretty much anywhere they want, including the East End Wine Row where seven tasting rooms and a taqueria have set up shop. It’s tough for a winery’s personality to shine through at an off-site tasting room, but the folks at East End have done a good job. Joyce Vineyards is sleek and modern with metal display work handcrafted by young winemaker Russell Joyce. Chesebro Wines tasting room is bright and airy, showcasing art from the Central Coast. Parsonage Winery focuses on family with a collection of wines named after the grandkids.
Wine Tractor Tour
River Road Wine Trail
Of Monterey’s three Wine Country areas, the River Road Wine Trail is the most off the beaten path, but worth the time behind the wheel. Some of the names you’ll recognize, while others will be unfamiliar. Don’t be afraid to taste something new as you make your way through a mix of vineyards and farms fields planted with lettuce and broccoli. Paraiso is bright and inviting with a fun vibe. There’s the large map for visitors to pin the place they call home and the chalkboard bathroom walls encourage creativity. Just a couple minutes up the road, Hahn Family Wines offers ATV Adventures through their vineyards and estate.
Dana can be found on Twitter @drebmann
Dana’s trip was organized by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, but as always, her thoughts and opinions are her own.