July 21, 2020 – Winegrower Garrett Bowlus now has two tasting rooms open and ready to share the wine he grows at his stunning vineyard planted as high as 1275 feet above the Carmel Valley. In addition to the Carmel-by-the-Sea tasting room, which is once again open with outdoor seating in one of the parklets that have suddenly popped up everywhere, the newly transformed Carmel Valley Tasting Cottage opened in time to celebrate the 4th of July holiday. To add to the festivity, WEDOS Tacos helped visitors enjoy a fine time on the patio, under the oaks.
Bowlus has spent the last four months remodeling the former Cima Collina tasting room, turning it into an oasis designed for relaxation. He credits Mark Bunter from Bunter Springs Winery with helping him out during the remodel and move.
When we caught up with Bowlus just after July 4th, he admitted it was fortuitous to have landed a tasting room location with prime outdoor real estate. They’ve been able to capitalize on that treasure in ways they didn’t anticipate. “We really set up both indoors and outdoors to improve the flow for staff and guests, and to keep spacing open as much as possible. We spruced up the place with a new bar and new countertops, which are similar to those we have in Carmel. We redid the floors, built out the deck, added a new tasting bar outside and upgraded the audio system. We now have a TV screen displaying videos of the vineyard, like we have in Carmel. It’s been a lot of fun to move into this space and make it our own. We’re excited to showcase our story and our wines!” There is a private area outdoors that will be great for small groups, too.
Luckily, he just happened to install two dishwashers, because with the extra glasses needed for flights now, it has really proven a time saver. Who knew?
Already, he’s seen a big change in consumer behavior. Whereas 70 to 80% of previous visitors to Carmel did not make reservations in advance, at least half do so now. “This is something that I think will continue,” he notes. “I think people will plan more no matter what. It might work for the benefit of really small restaurants, as people will be unable to get into the more popular spots—the ones that always have a long line—and people will start going to places that are new to them, and discover something different.”
With two tasting rooms, he’s thinking ahead, planning different offerings for each, so members can enjoy a variety of wines, regardless of which location they choose to visit.
“I got some Grenache last year on a whim, from southern Monterey County. It was one of Annette’s [Hoff] contracts. We did it in a 500-gallon concrete tank and also in concrete amphora. The latter seemed to control the temperature and turbidity of the fermentation better.” He’s thinking about getting another concrete amphora, as the depth of the mouthfeel that can be achieved from this vessel is far superior to that of stainless, especially when making rosé. Perhaps he’ll do a carbonic style of Pinot this year.
“We can have different wines for the two locations by fermenting them in different vessels. There’s more oxygen impact with clay amphora, and we can maybe play with smaller lots. I also have some oak casks that I can use to showcase different clones. I can do Pommard in an open top fermenter and then age it in barriques or casks. It’s great to have the flexibility to be creative.”
He does have quite a lot to work with, just from the estate vineyard. Albatross Ridge has 25 acres of vines in 12 distinctive vineyard blocks that highlight different elevations, exposures, soil makeups and clonal selections. Eight blocks are planted to four clones of Pinot Noir—828, 777, Pommard and 115—and four blocks are planted to two clones of Chardonnay, both 96 and 15. From these vines, Bowlus has been making two different Pinots yearly, Cuvee Vivienne Pinot Noir, Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, a Pet Nat (sparkling) of Pinot, and Chardonnay. And more on deck, as he just finished a bottling run. He’s thinking about getting Grenache again this year.
Albatross Ridge club members will be treated to a reservation only tour of the winery facility in Marina on August 2. He’s really excited about the new winemaking setup there.
The Carmel Valley Tasting Cottage is open from Thursday through Monday, from 12pm to 6pm on Thursday and Monday, and 12pm to 7pm on Friday and Saturday.
The Carmel-by-the-Sea tasting room, on Dolores between Ocean and 6th, is open for al fresco street sipping every day from 12pm to 6pm, and until 7pm on Friday and Saturday.
Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made via Open Table.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.