Storybook-style Folktale Winery is just one of many projects entrepreneur Greg Ahn has initiated in the Monterey Bay area over the last four years. He’s rather rapidly building an empire of hospitality, encompassing vineyards, winemaking, restaurants, entertainment and (coming soon) a bakery and pizzeria.
It all stems from Ahn’s love of hiring the best people he can find to execute his vision in their own creative ways. He looks for people burning with creative desire. That includes winemaker David Baird.
Says Baird, “Everybody needs someone to believe in them, to give them an opportunity to test themselves and to grow.” Baird should know. Ahn gave him that big break, and he’s been elevating the wine program at Folktale ever since. The results are in the barrel and in the bottle, and if you’re lucky, in your glass.
Baird proudly points towards five new concrete tanks on the crush pad in which a good number of 2019 grapes will be fermented. It’s all part of Folktale’s vinification experimentation program, designed to satisfy an increasingly diverse audience, as well as create new offerings for a rapidly growing wine club.
Folktale’s wine portfolio is growing in depth, breadth and quality under Baird’s leadership. They are sourcing five Bordeaux varieties from the organically-farmed Massa Estate Vineyard (formerly Heller), Pinot Noir from Tondre, Mission Ranch and others in the SLH and Sauv Blanc from Cedar Lane. Then, a block of Rhones, called Mistral, in the newly replanted Ventana Vineyard, will come online in the next two years.
“We want to showcase the great diversity of fruit grown in Monterey,” says Baird. “Our goal is to focus on other varieties, besides Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We also pride ourselves on pushing the envelope: trying new things.” He grabs a bottle of not-yet-labeled carbonically macerated Sangiovese as a prime example. His laid back, curb your enthusiasm manner almost brims with excitement as he rattles off a list of experiments already underway, as well as those to come. Keeping the wine club happy is paramount.
While their lineup of selections available to the public includes solid sippers like the 2018 Estate Sangiovese Rosé, the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Arroyo Seco) and the 2017 Escolle Chardonnay, it’s those experiments in the cellar, like whole cluster pressed clone 943 Pinot from Tondré in once-used wood, that await lucky club members. Let me tempt you with the concept of co-fermented Pinot Noir and Syrah, a collaboration between Baird and his Australian counterpart, Sam Berketa, from Alpha Box & Dice. Amazing, and completely different than simply combining the two, post fermentation, it reflects the creative spirit that makes Folktale a mesmerizing yarn.
Oh, and on those weekend days, when the fabulously flower-laden outdoor rose garden swells with the throngs who come here to partake of the excellent fare, and to listen to the free summer concerts, Thurs—Sun, there’s a special section reserved just for club members.
Marketing director Savanna Leigh takes a sip of the Estate Rosé and says it’s one of the great perks of her job — not just the drinking, but the picking. “It’s a family affair,” she says. “Everyone who works here gets to pick the estate fruit: it’s such fun!” She’s been here since Greg Ahn purchased Folktale, four years ago, and is part of the team that’s helping to spin a tale of three cities—at present, Carmel Valley, Carmel and most recently, Monterey.
All these new projects under expert guidance of culinary director Todd Fisher—Seventh & Dolores with new chef Thomas Snyder (formerly Esteban), Monterey’s Pacific Bowls & Rolls under chef Eddie Martinez who was at Roy’s and Folktale prior, and the forthcoming Rise+Roam with chef Aaron Rayor (Cantinetta Luca, Bestia in LA and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in NY)—allow their prodigious in-house talent to thrive in their own space. And that’s what keeps the empire expanding holistically.
It’s a great strategy that you can literally taste, whether you sit under the arbor at the beautiful wood table adjacent to the Folktale kitchen, or outdoors on the palatial patio.
Fisher set a high bar for the food here, but chef de cuisine Danny Leach and sous chef Kyle Salcido are boldly going in their own directions. Your taste buds are in for a mighty fine journey at their behest. Begin with deviled eggs and decadent Baker’s Bacon jam, and an order of St. Andre Brie on toasted raisin pecan bread (from La Brea Bakery, but eventually, in house), topped with Marcona almonds, chives, drunken currants and truffle honey. Your mouth will thank you.
Baird suggests saving some of that toast for dessert with a glass of his 2018 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. Then it’s on to roasted carrot tacos with jalepeño pea purée topped with crema and fresh cover crop pea shoots. Leigh has a soft spot for “The Sauce,” a saucy pizza topped with pepperoni, red pepper and burrata, created by Salcido, who takes fresh San Marzano tomatoes and purées them with garlic, basil and oregano to slather on the crust.
Mushroom lovers will adore the Fun Guy 2.5, a riff on wild mushrooms, including pickled beech and shitake duxelle, topped with brie and arugula. Salcido says his favorite pizza is the Elote, made with charred corn, cotija, chorizo and fermented jalapeño crema, but don’t miss the smoked duck carbonara topped with a fried duck egg from Olinday Farm.
Yes, you’ll have to come back a few times to work your way through this tapestry of flavors. But, as we’ve learned from history, the tale continuously improves with the telling.
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.