The taste of my Monterey adventure
Pacific tingling breeze in my hair, Californian fearless sunshine in my face, wild majestic hills on the horizon, dancing cypress trees on the beach, cascading golf courses and a shivering smell of extraordinary days ahead. This is not a script for Hollywood movie, neither a draft copy for a Carmel love story. This is me and my fun friend Didi driving by the Ocean from Monterey to Carmel Valley. The famous 17 Mile magical drive through the exclusive Pebble Beach and scenic breathtaking bays. This is a place, like no other and I know why. Continuing down south to Carmel Valley I wish we have driverless car, and stop twisting and turning left and right. There is the Pacific roaring and I have goose bumps without even seeing the gigantic waves. There is this fluffy mist which sexy strips down every morning, revealing the gorgeous thighs of this highlands and the perfectly arranged vineyards. There is the brave sunshine brushing and playing with the grapes every day. I know you think this doesn’t read like a traditional wine blog post, but I don’t think in California and in Monterey County you can get a conventional wine tour, neither a straight forward tasting.
This is a small region where you can get to meet pure winemaking passion, generations of brave dreams and collection of bold aspirations coming from the Old Continent and this reflects in their relationship with the wine. A land, where film makers, famous composers, artist and scientist has come and settled and become winemakers because of their mad love for wine. They all brought the wine producing to the next level. A place, where Salvador Dali was throwing outrageous parties, where Einstein was switching off from intensive days of work, where Clint Eastwood still plays a piano in his own piano bar on Thursdays. There is more to it and it is not only about the narrative and the romance. It is not only about the surreal feel and dramatic views. It is about living in your own dream, I instantly felt at home not only because of the continental feel of Carmel, the cute and kitschy mixture of European architecture, the galleries and cafes, but because of the people – so friendly, so kind and so entertaining, making me feel comfortable, like in my London Shoreditch neighbourhood.
I was walking on my own, wanted to find a time for me an the wine. I don’t get that much in London. Busy days, family, kids…business. Me and my friend Didi booked in a resort called Carmel Valley Ranch. She had an event for few days and I jump on the plan wth her to explore an area I read so many love novels once. These ranch resorts are the best way to rest and explore the beautiful surrounding.Our one has 3 salt water heated pools, 6 tennis courts and full day sports activities like yoga and golf. The food is up to high standards, serving organic local produce and local wine from the slopes next to lodge. A steaming hot tab invites you to have a glass of Chardonnay with a special grape plantation view. Our cottage was overlooking the glorious valley. Just to sit and sip overlooking these stunning nature, the river and the hills was good enough for me to rest and recharge, but I didn’t expect neither suspect that there is so much to excite me every day and it is just around the corner.
Monterey wine county consist of Carmel by the Sea area, Carmel Valley and the River Road wine trial , which is very big to be covered for a week and there us no need. I would recommend to read about what you may like to taste before hand, as tasting can become overwhelming. Plan a tasting crow around the wine studios in Carmel by the Sea and Carmel Valley Village. There are more than 20 tasting rooms in each of these locations and they are with a short walk from each other. This way you would have time to go into deep discussions with the local sommeliers or wine degustators. Buying a Wine passport is a must, this are vouchers for 10 tasting rooms, which cost $100 and you technically can taste over 40 wines, coming from 10 different producers. Every coupon gives you an access to a flight of 3- 4 wines and you get 10% off you want to buy a bottle. Tip – if you buy a bottle you get the tasting for free. Don’t get carried away with this, as I could hardly drag my suitcase, equally it is very tempting, because non of these boutique vineries re shipping over to Europe. This was a real marathon and I felt so privileged to sip such an amazing tasty wines. Monterey County has 45 000acres planted vineyards. Monterey is the biggest producer of Chardonnay in the whole country. The wines are highly influenced by deep marine canyons off the coast, which affect the climate and growing conditions. Most popular varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Syrah, there are pockets of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo. Pinot Noir can be much richer and fruitier, than the one we know in Europe, the Chardonnays are less intensive and have more vibrant presence on a pallet than the traditional French ones. This region produce boutique wines and their price range is roughly between $25 -$65.
My fist stop was Carmel by the Sea. You get a map and you set your walking Sat Nav. It is charming little place, with no real addresses. House and shops here has names or the directions would say: it is on the corner of Dolores and San Carlos street. Houses are to be found by names and the streets are to be careful with, as they are cobbled and uneven to walk. Here they banned walking on high hills as it was considered as dangerous. Still active legislation, although no arrests has been reported lately. Wine tasting is not affected by the street wobbliness, unless you don’t visit too many tasting rooms. Then it is advisable to call Uber. Eating and selling ice cream was also illegal, but this to be change was the election promise that helped the Clint Eastwood to win the mayoral post.
My fist stop is the Sylvesti tasting room. The main variety of the region as I mentioned is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Style is very much Burgundy and in addition Silevstri is growing Pinot Blanc and Pino Gris as well as Syrah and Barbera. Silvesti wines are so much about the character, that the rose from Pinot Noir is screaming with rich flavours. Barbera is Silvestri’s secret weapons, which no one else is producing in this region, rich and famous wine, exactly as it’s owner – the big movie composer Alan Silvestri. Take a deep breath now ,because this is the guy that wrote music for Oscar winning films like Forest Gump. It is a long list of movies like “Night at the Museum” Stuart Little, Bodyguard… The Universe knows it job, tasting through music is my ultimate combination and I am having the pleasure to experience it in full in this charismatic place. Alan Silvestri founded Silvestri Vineyards in 1997. He believes that their wines show that lovingly cultivates fruit has a music on its own. “Both music making and winemaking involve the blending of art and science. Just as each note brings it’s own voice to the melody, each vine brings own unique personality of the wine.” The time in this tasting studio is just as unreal as some of these movies and my wine host makes it even more special poring me small amounts and telling me his life story. Francisco’s dad was Silvesti’s gardner and Mr Silvestri was greatful for his loyal work and gave his son a chance, a job and opportunity to make something of himself, inspiring him to find his own passion in winemaking.
I have managed to visit 5 wine tasting rooms in Carmel by the Sea, “Dawn’s Dream” is a brand where the wife of a Cowboy has decide to compete with her husband in her winemaking journey. Just down the road from her husband’s “Galante”, Dawn is offering light and gentle Chardonnays and magnificent Pinot Noir Rose, called after her daughter Rachel. At the same time her spouse, Italian descendant Mr Galante is proud to be one of not many Cabernet Sauvignon producers in the region. His picture on his back horse is handing from the wall of the tasting room, demonstrating drive, freedom and determination of a real Cowboy with a mission. After my visit to Manzoni and Blairs and Caraccioli, I felt its time to withdraw to my beautiful Carmel Valley Ranch and reflect on all of these extraordinary stories and let the alcohol invade my body and let me dose in my own Carmel style movie.
The next stop of my wine experience is Carmel Valley Village. This is not just a village this is a road of temptations for a committed wine lovers. After a busy day of tasting, I have decided that I need to focus on specific wines in order to immerse myself and make the most of my trip really memorable as opposed to the opposite, which is not difficult to happen after 6 wines tasting rooms, 4 wines each and a glass with the dinner. You don’t need to do that unless you are not “very thirsty” for knowledge, but as I said, it wasn’t the wines that made me feel dizzy and merry, it was all the people I met and all the love and passion they have shared with me. I asked the Uber driver to stop me at the local burger bar, which I heard is good, although they call it the “Bullshit place”. Since it was National Burger Day I have order a big juicy burger with avocado, to prepare for the next round of alcohol. My next stop was about to be great fun.
Halmans Ranch is famous in California. Yes this is a place you want to go and have a wedding, you just want to have the ultimate party, you want to be the Great Gatsby of Carmel Valley. This is where time is a sip of local red wine, which vanishes so quickly. You definitely understand how Dali felt when he was working on his famous melting clocks. I am meeting Nick, one of the owners who starts with his favourites organic Chardonnays and Pino Gris.I am already determined to leave the Pinot Noir for now. Most of the local Chardonnays have mineral taste, not as much as oaky, not very easty. Halmans produces fresher, lighter wines with some hint of exotic papaya taste. Nick is proud of what they have done, like every American he is not shy to raise glass for his success and accomplishments and this friendly, warm conversation tell me so much. I am now so humbled being asked to share my story and yes the Californian wine tasting at Halmans streched to Spain and Europe ending up drinking Rioja, he just has imported. Nick was generous to recommend where to go next. This doesn’t happen often in Europe, but US is about collaborative strengths. My next sip is at Joullians. If you like Chardonnay – this is a good place says Nick. The Joullians is situated in a building ,which reminds me of a chapel and it is a real temple of wine. The owners wanted to emphasise on that and it does have that feel. Joullians Chardonnays are worth trying and they hide much more character and do have these french biscuity and bready taste that I personally prefer. There are few more places to stop by in the village and they are on that same short stretch – Bernardus has a bit more wider produce, with more affordable prices and also great restaurant called Roux.This is a good lunch option. Another place I would recommend is Boekenoogen Vinery which is organic upmarket maker and also worth stopping at Talbott Vineyards.
My wine touring become much more than a tasting of wines and fun chats with locals. The few days of yoga, meditation, walks and sips has become unintentionally curated experience. I went out on my own and ended up with a crowd of incredibly fun, brave and passionate people. The rest was not less exceptional and special – seeing the biggest Dali collection with 300 originals in Monterey, relaxing in a steaming salt water hot tab with a glass, overlooking the vineyards and watching the sunset with live jazz at Clint Eastwood’s piano bar these is just a small ‘flight”of the perfect Californian wine list. I think I know now why I am deeply in love.