California has always been famous for its fabulous wine country. However, recently the lesser-known wine country of Monterey County has been slowly making wine enthusiasts forget about the more well-known wine locales of Napa and Sonoma.
With over 18,211 hectares of grapes, Monterey County has become well known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – vintages that grow best in the cooler coastal regions. So much so that in 2013 the county was voted the Best Wine Travel Destination by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
For the biggest wine experience for the lowest price in Monterey County, take advantage of the ‘Wine Walk by-the-Sea’ in the quaint artist colony of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It offers a Wine Tasting Passport for $65 dollars that also entitles the buyer to wine tastings at nine tasting rooms. These tastings can be spread out over a weekend, several weeks, or even several months. This self guided stroll between tasting rooms, which all lie within blocks of each other on Ocean Avenue, includes stops at Blair Estate Artisan Wines, Caraccioli Cellars, De Tierra Vineyards, Figge Cellars, Galante Vineyards, Manzoni Cellars, Scheid Vineyards, Shale Canyon Wines, Vino Napoli and Wrath Wines.
For those don’t want to walk to the different wineries in Monterey County, there is a different option – take the trolley. Wine Trolley Tours offers an unforgettable journey through Carmel aboard ‘Hattie the Magnificent Trolley’. The trolley picks guests up from Portola Plaza in downtown Monterey and provides a guided tour through the town on its way to the first stop at Ventana Vineyards. The tour continues through the Salinas Mountains to visit tasting rooms in Carmel Village. The tour's final stops include Boete Winery and Chateau Julien in Mid Valley before returning guests to Portola Plaza.
For a more adventurous wine tasting tour head to the River Road Wine Trail in the Salinas Valley. Whether it is cruising through the vineyard on ATVs at Hahn, admiring the barrels stored in a 100-year-old barn at Ventana, or enjoying a fresh picnic lunch at Pessagno paired with some absolutely amazing Zinfandel, there is a lot of fun to be had at each and every of the 13 wineries on this tour. Don't be afraid to enjoy the micro-climates in the Salinas Valley either, especially as the area was made famous by Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck. The valley is also playfully know as the 'Salad Bowl of the World,' so visitors are sure to get some of the freshest produce around.
Need a little food to soak up all that wine? Well like any good wine country, Monterey County also has a blossoming fine dining scene with local chefs using fresh local ingredients to making innovative culinary masterpieces. These new culinary creations, of course, also pair well with the local wines.
The Carmel Food Tour combines the tasting of local wines with the sampling of local dishes. This three-hour walking tour takes guests around Carmel to some seven different restaurants, wineries and specialty shops, where they are treated to the best of what each place has to offer. It might be the local and organic ingredients sold at La Bicyclette, the tapas at the Spanish-style Mundaka Restaurant, or the olive oil, vinegar and wine on offer at Trio. Other locations on the tour include Casanova Restaurant, Terry's Lounge at the Historic Cypress Inn, Figge Cellars, Caraccioli Cellars and Lula's Chocolates.
For those visiting the Pebble Beach area around April 10 through the 13, be sure to catch the annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. This festival treats the hungry and thirsty to both top notch food and stunning wine, and includes wine and food tasting alongside celebrity chefs like Guy Fieri and Masaharu Morimoto. The event also attracts expert winemakers, mixologists, and sommeliers. After the event be sure to stop by one of the many luxurious spas or the world famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.
Visitors may come to Monterey County for the wine, but they end up staying for some of the best coastal views and experiencing the best of Californian wilderness in the state. Pack a light lunch and a bottle of your favourite wine and then head on up to the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail. This trail takes off from the wharf at Pacific Grove than runs along the coastline. Expect to be treated to jaw-dropping coastal views, as well as precious views local wildlife such as sea lions, sea otters, grey whales (only around the spring) and bird species.
February to May sees the grey whale migration from their winter breeding ground in Baja to their summer feeding ground in the Bering Strait. These majestic giants recently made their way back from the verge of extinction and are finally starting to thrive again. On their way to their feeding grounds, they pass right past the coast of Monterey County, making it a popular whale watching location, so take advantage of one of the many whale watching tours.
Regardless of what draws visitors to Monterey County, be it the wine, the fresh produce or the beautiful coastline, there is always so much more do there. It is easy to see why Monterey County is quickly becoming one of the hottest wine regions in the United States.