The Wines and Winds of Monterey County

 

Monterey County, California [dailyblender.com]

Monterey County, California [dailyblender.com]

Two lanes of paved road wind through the valleys near Monterey, agriculture and activity on every side, lettuces and vines. In late fall, harvest is still afoot, and laborers roam up and down the rows, picking and pruning, from early morning hours ’til late in the day. Sorting and processing whirs above the silence, and if you’re lucky, there’ll be an afternoon pour at lunch. The harmony of planting, growing, harvesting. Regrowth, renewal, reward.

Walking the vines at Chalone Vineyard. [dailyblender.com]

Walking the vines at Chalone Vineyard. [dailyblender.com]

Amid mountain peaks and Pinnacles National Park, the Monterey County AVAs run the expanse of the valley, kissing Pacific waters where Monterey and Carmel meet, weaving south past Salinas and Soledad. As ancient roots still thrive in the hills, like the nearly 100-year-old Chenin Blanc vines of Chalone Vineyard, the oft-dismissed sibling of wider-known California regions blooms from a longstanding foundation of winemaking, now carving out its own distinct voice. The next generation of winemakers – Scott Caraccioli of Caraccioli Cellars, Russell Joyce of Joyce Vineyards, Ian Brand of Le P’tit Paysan, to name a few – pushing the industry forward through increasingly challenging climate changes and the ever-fickle palate of wine drinkers.

“While the Santa Cruz Mountains have long been quietly regarded among the best on the West Coast for years, other parts of the greater Monterey Bay region have suffered from an identity crisis, presenting wines that attempted to imitate what was successful in other regions rather than making wines that accentuate what’s special about our region,” Brand explains.

“With the way the American palate has evolved over the last decade, we’re in the midst of a unique opportunity to define ourselves by what we do best — wines with beautiful textures and aromatics, bright acids and minerality. Because of the size of the region (Monterey County has the second most acreage under vine in California) those wines are a small percentage of what’s produced locally, but the most successful independent producers are moving more and more toward that style and it’s a welcome progression.”

Chalone Vineyard, Soledad, California [dailyblender.com]

Into the rolling hills of Soledad, California. [dailyblender.com]

Carmel Road Winery, California [dailyblender.com]

Carmel Road Winery, Soledad, California [dailyblender.com]

Holman Ranch, Carmel Valley, California [dailyblender.com]

A favorite pour from Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, California. [dailyblender.com]

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, California [dailyblender.com]

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, San Jose, California [dailyblender.com]

“We’re excited about the continual evolution of Monterey County,” says Kim Stemler of Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association. “With over 150 vineyards in the area, we’re striving for recognition of the distinctiveness of the grapes and wines coming from the vastly different AVAs in the region.”

Fall in the vineyards. [dailyblender.com]

Fall in the vineyards. [dailyblender.com]

Caraccioli Cellars, California [dailyblender.com]

The bubbly pour of the evening. [dailyblender.com]

Hahn Estate, Soledad, California [dailyblender.com]

Hahn Estate, Soledad, California [dailyblender.com]

Monterey Bay, California [dailyblender.com]

Floating on the famous bay of Monterey. [dailyblender.com]

Favorite Monterey County pours:
1) 2015 Scheid Vineyards Kurt’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
2) 2017 Joyce Vineyards Massa Estate Chenin Blanc
3) 2014 Holman Ranch Kelly’s Press Pinot Noir
4) 2016 Le P’tit Paysan Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

~Jennifer Matthewson
Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender

**This visit to Monterey was part of a media familiarization tour of the area. Many thanks to the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association for hosting the tour.