The Long Sip Home
A thumbnail guide to Monterey County wine tasting rooms.
Thursday, February 1, 2001
Sipple Pleasures: Carmel Valley winemaker Walter Georis stands proud in his Georis Winery tasting room eagerly awaiting his next visitor.
The Weekly''s Food & Wine Special
Monterey County''s wine industry is experiencing unprecedented growth. In 1998, Monterey was California''s sixth leading county in grape acreage, and was fourth in the US that same year for grape sales revenue, after Sonoma, San Joaquin and Napa. Beringer, Bonny Doon, Cain, Canan- daigua, Caymus, Concannon, David Bruce, Gallo, the Hess Collection, Kendall Jackson, Miner Family, Mirassou, J. Lohr, Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi, United Distillers and Vintners, and Wente all purchase grapes grown in these parts.
Monterey enjoys particular success with chardonnay, riesling, pinot blanc, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah. Our regional wine industry is concentrated in the Monterey and San Benito counties primarily where the vast Salinas Valley attracts a marine influence into the warmer inland. A few enterprises have found remote sites at cooler, high elevations, where grapes struggle to ripen at all. But when they do, they have unique qualities and a distinct signature of their origin.
An area as vast and as blessed by the wine gods as this is going to play an even more significant role in California wine''s future.
Monterey wine country is not quite like the dense wine capital of Napa Valley. A little planning is required when venturing out to taste wine here because wineries are more spread out and many still do not have public tasting rooms. B&Bs, gourmet food shops, restaurants and golf courses are not yet a common feature either, though those will surely come.
To make your job easier, I have listed several wineries open to the public.
The following list of winery tasting rooms is to be used as a guide. Call ahead to confirm your visit. Some wineries are by appointment only. Many offer picnic facilities.
Baywood Cellars381 Cannery Row, Suite C, Monterey, 645-9035, www.baywood-cellars.com
Is there really a winery on Cannery Row? No, but why not stop in after a stroll through the nearby Ansel Adams Gallery and take advantage of a complimentary tasting in a luxurious tasting room? Owners John and James Cotta moved from Portugal to Lodi, where they planted five port varieties in addition to zinfandel. John goes so far as to bring back actual Port pipes-tall, thin, chestnut barrels-to finish the port and even a new reserve merlot. Try the lovely aromatic, crisp, dry Symphony-a UC Davis crossing of grenache gris and muscat de alexandria. Skip the touristy "Scenic Cellars" labels. Lodi is its base, but Baywood owns 800 acres in Monterey.
Bernardus Winery5 West Carmel Valley, Carmel Valley, 645-9035, www.bernardus.com
Bernardus chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are some of the county''s finest. The red, Marinus, is a Bordeaux blend and usually not available for tasting. Vintner Bernardus Marinus Pon ("Ben" to pals) dreamt of creating a red wine of equal quality to the finest Bordeaux and chose the Carmel Valley for its strong track record of producing intense, complex and long-lived cabernet sauvignon and merlot. His Marinus shows great promise. Ben and wife Ingrid recently have opened the area''s first full-fledged wine country luxury resort, the Bernardus Lodge.
Bountiful Basket153 Crossroads, Carmel, 625-4457
This is a retail shop with a tasting bar. Owners Tom and Linda McArthur offer wines in four general categories: local wines, international wines, pinot noir and pinot gris from Oregon''s Willamette Valley, and wines from Napa, Sonoma or Paso Robles. For $3, you are offered tastes of three whites and three reds. The fee is applied to your purchase.
Cepage at Rancho Cellars26340 Carmel Rancho, Carmel, 625-5646, www.ranchocellars.com
This is another tasting bar within a retail shop, but is set up like a restaurant wine bar. A limited menu of appetizers complements an extensive menu of wines from near and far available in tasting and full-sized portions. Dylan Sheldon is on hand to educate you.
ChaloneIntersection of Highway 146 and Stonewall Canyon, 9 miles east of Soledad, 678-1717, www.chalonewinegroup.com
Chalone Vineyard is the oldest producing vineyard in Monterey County, is located 1,800 feet above the Salinas Valley floor in the Gavilan Mountains, is just north of a dormant volcano at the Pinnacles National Monument, and even has its own American Viticulture Area, which is this country''s appellation system. Winemaker Dan Karlsen likes to make wines that deliver "the yummy factor." Try the chenin blanc, chardonnay, pinot blanc, and pinot noir.
Chateau Julien Wine Estate8940 Carmel Valley, Carmel Valley, 624-2600, www.chateaujulien.com
Robert and Patty Brower started production in a Monterey warehouse and began construction of their French-style chateau immediately. Today that grand project is complete with period antiques and a cathedral ceiling, and the "Great Hall" is almost as much of a tourist attraction as the wines.
Chateau Sinnet13746 Center, Carmel Valley, 659-2244, www.chateausinnet.com
Gary Sinnet (Tennis backwards) and Gil Tortolani of Gil''s Gourmet Gallery in Sand City recently opened this winery and tasting room. Try the Monterey chardonnay, pinot blanc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel, along with the unusual sparkling and fruit wines. Carmel Valley pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are coming soon. Also available are items such as pinot noir chocolate covered cherries and chocolate-covered merlot apricots, olives, garlic and 200 hot sauces from around the world.
Cloninger1645 River, Salinas, 675-9463, www.usawines.com/cloninger
An old dairy farm houses the winery, and the adjoining farmhouse-in which one of the owner''s grandmother was born in 1986-houses the tasting room. Try the intense chardonnay, rich and smoky pinot noir and a complex, powerful Carmel Valley cabernet sauvignon from this winery set in rocky benchland.
Galante Vineyards18181 Cachagua Valley, Carmel Valley, (800) Galante, www.galantevineyards.com
This former cattle ranch in Carmel Valley has come out smelling like a rose. Not only are the cabernet sauvignons outstanding (they are limited but usually one is available to taste), but Galante also is known for the garden roses grown alongside the vines and shipped all over the country. Estate wines include Blackjack Pasture, Red Rose Hill and Rancho Galante cabernet sauvignons. The Rancho Galante is drinkable right out of the gate, while the others would benefit from a few years in the cellar, especially the more tannic Red Rose. The tasting room is up at the top of the hill in a large barn. Jack Galante''s grandfather, J. F. Devendorf, founded Carmel.
Georis Winery4 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley, 659-1050
Owner and winemaker Walter Georis produces only 1500 cases per year. His Georis Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Georis Estate Merlot are benchmark wines for the region. The tasting room is an early California adobe structure surrounded by country gardens and a pond. It is off of Carmel Valley Road in Carmel Valley Village, so from here you can walk to several other tasting rooms. Tasting room manager Barbara explains that due to such limited production, tasting by the glass is not offered. Instead, guests purchase half or full bottles. Plates of cheese and crostini are available for $3. Walter Georis owns Casanova Restaurant in Carmel and Corkscrew Café in the village.
Hahn Estates/Smith & Hook Winery37700 Foothill, Soledad, 678-2132, www.hahnestates.com
Five vineyards in the western Santa Lucia Highlands and in Arroyo Seco provide fruit for these wines. The beneficial microclimate of the Santa Lucia benchland vineyards give intense, flavorful wines. Hahn Estates is the lower priced line, and its cabernet franc is a winner. The premium Smith & Hook label excels with a cabernet sauvignon aged in American oak just like those of Silver Oak and Beaulieu vineyards. The Smith & Hook Masterpiece line includes a rich, tropical, well-balanced Arroyo Seco chardonnay.
Heller Estates/Durney Vineyards69 W. Carmel Valley, Carmel Valley, 659-6220
These are 100 percent organically farmed cabernet sauvignons, merlots and chenin blancs, and are a benchmark for the area. Heller has given the former Durney Vineyards an expensive overhaul-renovating the winery, hiring new winemaker Rex Smith from Napa Valley merlot star Cuvaison, and earning a high-maintenance "organically farmed" CCOF certification.
Jekel Vineyards40155 Walnut, Greenfield, 674-5525, www.usawines.com/jekel
Ask for a taste of Jekel FOS Reserve Chardonnay when you arrive at this very hospitable tasting room. Enjoy the gazebo and picnic area. The winery also hosts special events in its indoor banquet room, which holds 65 people, and has a full kitchen, barbecue pit and grapevine arbor.
Joullian Vineyards20300 Cachagua, Carmel Valley, 659-2800
A visit to this 655-acre estate in the heart of Carmel Valley will linger on long after the bottle is empty. Winemaker Ridge Watson turns out truly world-class sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. He is tinkering with petite sirah, but ask to taste the chardonnay and zinfandel, too.
Paraiso Springs Vineyards38060 Paraiso Springs, Soledad, 678-0300, www.usawines.com/paraiso
This 400-acre estate vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands has sweeping views of the Salinas Valley and is just two miles from the historic Soledad Mission, site of Monterey''s first vineyard. Paraiso Springs makes the benchmark riesling of the county. It is bone dry, rich and petrolly, not the typical candied, fruity version. The label is most renowned, however, for its elegant, deeply flavored pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and pinot blanc. Also try the Cobblestone chardonnay, a joint venture with the Levine Family, owners of the Arroyo Seco Vineyard.
River Ranch VineyardsTasting at White Oak Grill, 19 E. Carmel Valley, Carmel Valley, winery 659-1525
Four partners-including the Stahl Family (William Stahl owns the Monterey Mercedes car dealership)-own this property. The vineyards are planted at the base of the Laureles Grade, about halfway into the Carmel Valley. Sam Baldares, winemaker here and at Robert Talbott Vineyards, crafts a pure, fruit-driven chardonnay, an oakier reserve chardonnay, and a grainy, deeply fruited pinot noir. Production is tiny, so if you like what you taste, buy it.
Robert Talbott Vineyards53 W. Carmel Valley, Carmel Valley, 659-3500
This small family winery got started with seed money from the Talbott Tie company, and has been winning awards ever since. Diamond T is a classic rich, buttery, toasty and expensive chardonnay. Try the Case, a pinot noir named after Talbott''s eldest daughter Sarah Case, the Cuvee Cynthia chardonnay (Cynthia is Robb''s wife), or the Kali-Hart chardonnay, a lighter, less toasty chardonnay named after the couple''s daughter. Logan is a second label.
wine story add
Taste of Monterey Wine Center700 Cannery Row, Monterey, 646-5446, www.atasteofmonterey.com
Voted by Weekly readers in 1999 as Monterey''s Best Wine Tasting Room, A Taste of Monterey Wine Visitor Center is like an interactive wine amusement park. The visual alone-blue water, white caps, kayaks and sailboats, sea otters cracking crab on their bellies-keeps drawing visitors and locals back. The fee to taste six wines is $5 and this is applied toward any wine purchases. Between the tasting bars along the bay windows are a few casual seating areas and even a little chalkboard with pastel chalk bits for keeping wee ones occupied. The following Monterey wineries are without their own tasting rooms, and they refer you to A Taste of Monterey if you''d like to sample their wines: Chateau Christina/Joyce Vineyard, Estancia, Kendall-Jackson Monterey Winery, Lockwood, Maddalena Vineyard/San Simeon, Monterey Vineyard, Monterra/Delicato Monterey, Morgan, Pavona, Richard Boyer Wines, and San Saba Vineyards. The selections rotate and frequently include names not on this list.
Ventana/Meador Estate2999 Monterey-Salinas Highway #10, Monterey, 372-7415, www.ventanawines.com
Ex-navy Pilot Doug Meador and wife Luann recently unveiled their ultra-premium Meador Estate line bottlings. Sample those, but don''t forget to taste the affordably priced chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chenin blanc and gewürztraminer.