California’s dozens of scenic wine regions offer a wide variety of experiences and wines to enjoy. To help visitors explore them all, Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trip series highlights a different region each month. For November, take a trip to Monterey County, a region famous for scenic beauty, world-famous golf, and its unique geological feature—the undersea “Blue Grand Canyon™”—which has a profound influence on the region’s climate and wines.
SIP: The Monterey County wine region is home to more than 60 tasting rooms, 85 wineries and 225 vineyards with nearly 46,000 winegrape acres. Browse this list of Monterey County wineries or use the discovercaliforniawines.com interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, art, food for purchase and more. The Monterey County Vintners and Growers Associationwebsite is a good resource for wineries, tasting rooms and local events. On Monterey’s Cannery Row, made famous in John Steinbeck’s novel, receive a Monterey wines overview and tasting at the Taste of Monterey Visitor Center. Another great way to explore Monterey wines is at the charming and completely walkable village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, home to several downtown tasting rooms and wine bars and the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea, a “passport” collection of 15 tasting rooms all within one mile.
California’s Monterey wine region is home to 85 wineries, whale watching, Pebble Beach golf course, Monterey Bay Aquarium, John Steinbeck Museum, Big Sur and Carmel where actor-director Clint Eastwood was once mayor.
STAY: Named one of Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Top Ten Travel Destinations” in 2013, Monterey County is located just an hour from Silicon Valley and two hours from San Francisco. There is a range of accommodations from boutique inns and hotels to world-famous resorts. Whether choosing a gabled Victorian B&B in Pacific Grove, a seaside view of Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, an historic hideaway in Carmel-by-the-Sea or a luxurious resort stay in Pebble Beach, there’s an option for every visitor.
PLAY: Leave the car and board the Wine Trolley for a guided trip to the wineries of Carmel Valley, enjoying food and beautiful vistas along the way. The Monterey peninsula is on the migration path of whales, making for spectacular seasonal sightings. Don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which Zagat Survey rated as the nation’s top aquarium and the third best attraction in the U.S.
John Steinbeck fans can make a pilgrimage to the National Steinbeck Center in the author’s hometown of Salinas or tour locations featured in his writings. In Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, hike the craggy rocks of Pinnacles National Park, formed by the ancient volcano Neemash, and go wine tasting at one of the 12 wineries.
A popular attraction in Monterey is a trip to Big Sur for hiking, camping or a drive on the 90-mile coastline of Highway One, stretching between Carmel and Ragged Point. The region’s other scenic route is Pebble Beach’s 17-mile drive, home to the 250-year-old Lone Cypress tree and Pebble Beach’s spectacular oceanside golf courses. Or just explore the tide pools along the rocky beaches of the Pacific Coast.
MAKE: Monterey County is well known for its visual community, especially the “Plein Air” style of painting. Try a workshop offered by Carmel Visual Arts, Pacific Grove Art Center or Monterey Bay Plein Air Painters Association. Or attend a “Paint and Sip” event at one of the tasting rooms along the River Road Wine Trail.
GROW: Franciscan friars first introduced winegrapes to Monterey County near the Soledad Mission more than 200 years ago. While more than 40 winegrape varieties can be found today in Monterey, more Chardonnay is grown here than in any other county in the U.S. The region has nine American Viticultural Areas and is also part of the larger Central Coast AVA.
But what grape to plant where depends largely on where the area lies along the “The Thermal Rainbow™”, which illustrates the climate effect of Monterey Bay’s undersea secret: the “Blue Grand Canyon™.” This enormous submarine canyon is filled with deep, cold water that brings cooler temperatures to the northern district of Monterey wine country closest to the ocean, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive. The warmer areas are farthest from the ocean in the south of the county, where Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and many Rhone grape varieties flourish. The canyon brings fog and moderate temperatures throughout the growing season, often as much as one month longer than many other winegrowing regions. The extra time on the vine results in smaller berries and vibrant fruit with concentrated flavors and balance.
EAT: Monterey County is a foodie’s paradise, with farm-fresh produce from Salinas Valley and abundant seafood including a local favorite, the Monterey Bay Sand Dab, recommended as a “Best Choice” by sustainability watchdog Seafood Watch. Carmel Valley, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea all offer dining options for every budget and taste preference; explore them here. Serious food and wine lovers should try attending the next Pebble Beach Food & Wine (April 20-23, 2017) event featuring 75 chefs and 250 wineries.
Visit discovercaliforniawines.com for information on wines and wineries throughout the Golden State and for planning a trip to California wine country. California is the number one U.S. state for wine and food tourism with dozens of wine regions, 138 American Viticultural Areas and 4,600 wineries that produce 85 percent of U.S. wine. Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy association of nearly 1,000 California wineries. See: wineinstitute.org.