The Central Coast of California is blessed with the perfect combination of climate and geography to produce some of the finest wines in the world. Each corner of this paradise has its own charm, but none quite so captivating as that of Carmel Valley, a bohemian enclave that sprang up as a counter to the more sophisticated and highbrow culture of Carmel. Here, far from fog’s reach, is a land of warm sunshine and gentle breezes, dotted with farms, orchards, pastures and ranches, and crowned by jewel-like vineyards.
Tucked between the drama of majestic mountains and the lush Sycamore and maple-lined Carmel River, there is nothing quite as idyllic as a day spent exploring the walkable Village, replete with one-of-a-kind shops, art collectives, a motorcycle museum, restaurants and more than twenty winery tasting rooms.
A great way to explore them is the Carmel Valley Wine Experience, a collective of 11 tasting rooms, each one with a unique vibe that adds another dimension to the kaleidoscope of flavors that awaits you. Drawing from vineyards right in their backyards, many of the wineries you’ll find here produce wines from the surrounding hills, where you are as likely to find a powerful Pinot as you are a stout Syrah or a captivating Cabernet.
Says Anna Marie dos Remedios of Idle Hour, “I love that the businesses are small and owner-operated. In many of our tasting rooms, you can walk in and meet the winemaker or sit in a restaurant and chat with the chef! It’s a very supportive community, where people remember your name and often stop by to just say hi.”
Purchase a Cellar Pass for $50, and you get a passport good for 8 tastings (a standard tasting flight) at your choice of member tasting rooms that are currently part of the experience. As you redeem the tastings, your passport will be stamped. Cellar Passes are good for 12 months from the date of purchase to visit member tasting rooms in Carmel Valley. Additional discounts of up to 10% will be applied to Cellar Pass holder purchases of wine at participating tasting rooms.
“The natural beauty of our setting is hard to beat. The variety of wines truly makes us a wine tasting destination that can’t be compared to any other. Visitors seek us out for the wine, the restaurants and the unhurried atmosphere,” says Kohne.
Carmel Valley is a bastion of dining, too, with a variety of local bistros to high-end white tablecloth restaurants, plus farmers markets and high-end grocers. Perennial favorites Wills Fargo and Café Rustica have recently been joined by the French fare of Roux and its soon-to-open sister restaurant Carmel Valley Chophouse.
Mark Chesebro, winegrower and owner of Chesebro Vineyards, reminds us, “Carmel Village is the laid-back, uncrowded alternative to Carmel. We have plenty of no-hassle parking, great restaurants and excellent wines that originate from every corner of Monterey county.”
You’ll find a sweet selection of single vineyard Chardonnays to delight any palate at Bernardus, while Idle Hour rocks Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc. Big Sur Vineyards has beautiful, gift-worthy labels, while Joyce offers the perfect wine for any gathering, Riesling. Mercy Cellars specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot from the wind-blasted and rocky soils of Arroyo Seco, while Parsonage executes big-boned Bordeaux style reds from the sun-soaked Cachauga hills.
Cima Collina features wines from Tondre Grapefields, one of the famous Santa Lucia Highlands Vineyards, Bunter Spring gives you a taste of the Santa Cruz Mountains, while Joullian sticks to classic locally grown Bordeaux varieties. Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow and Diamond T wines are the stuff of legend, and Holman Ranch and Jarman offer wines exclusively from their estate Carmel Valley property, a premiere wedding site.
Chesebro is known for sassy Vermentino, gregarious Grenache (Las Arenas) and sensual Rhone reds, like the magnificent Montagne Sauvage (93 points from Wine Enthusiast).
Says Heather Rammel of Bernardus, “We are fortunate to be able to offer a flight of wines from the Pisoni vineyard, along with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir only flights. You can choose from three different levels of wine experiences, including a cheese and charcuterie pairing in a private room, as well as an Ingrid’s Vineyard walking tour and tasting.”
Carmel Valley is truly a place to sip and savor: the wine, the food, the vines, the sunshine. It is here you will find the best of Monterey’s wine country.
Cellar Passes can be purchased at any of the participating tasting rooms or at the Carmel Valley Chamber of Commerce.
For a complete list of tasting rooms that are part of the Cellar Pass, and links to their websites for hours and locations, please visit: http://www.cvwineexperience.com/wineries
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.