The Monterey County Wine Country Section of the California Central Coast Travel Guide describes the county's vineyards and wineries including the types of wine grapes grown, scenic routes through wine country, and where to go for tasting. Includes Monterey Peninsula and Cannery Row, Carmel Valley, Salinas Valley, and the scenic drive to historic, magnificent Chalone Vineyard.
Guide to Monterey County Wine Country
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Monterey County Wine Country
With more that 38,000 planted acres, Monterey County has established itself as one of
California's premier wine producing and wine grape growing regions. This region is home to more than
80 wineries and vineyards and is renowned for its high-quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also produces
excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and other varietals.
(Photo right, courtesy of the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau)
What is so different about Monterey County? Much of the land is quite fertile and better suited for
growing fruits and vegetables than wine grape vines, which prefer poorer soils. Such poorer soils can be found
in the ridges and slopes of the Coastal Range, which includes the smaller appellations of Carmel Valley,
Chalone, and the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Monterey County's climate provides the proper temperature - enough warm days, a shorter frost season and
less chance of unseasonable and damaging rains. The primary attribute of this climate is the cooling air off of
Monterey Bay, which creates a longer growing season. This cool, foggy climate means the grapes must hang
a long time on the vine before they can ripen. The result is greater intensity of varietal flavor.
Most wine tasting rooms are open daily, except on major holidays, from about 10 AM until about 4
or 5 PM. Some wineries have picnic areas open to the public, have scheduled tours, and some are available
for group meetings, weddings, and other special events. Some wineries do not have tasting rooms or are only
open on weekends, or by appointment only. Some wineries do charge a small fee for tasting per person.
Inquire locally with the winery's tasting room for directions, business hours, tour schedules,
tasting fees, or special events.
Monterey and Carmel Valley
The valley begins at the coast near Carmel and continues to Carmel Valley Village, five miles inland,
and is marked by high elevations and steep slopes with well-drained terraces. The valley runs in a
southeastern direction along the Carmel River and the Cachagua Creek.
The valley, being less influenced by the wind and coastal fog, is distinctly warmer than the northern end
of the Salinas Valley. Red Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are predominately
Tours - From Monterey, drive south on California Highway 1 and take the Ocean Avenue/Carmel Exit
to Dolores Avenue and Galante Vineyards. Continue south on California Highway 1 and take the Carmel Valley Road Exit
(County Highway G16) to Chateau Julien, about 5 miles from California Highway 1. Continue east on Carmel Valley Road
for another 7 miles to Carmel Valley Village and the tasting rooms of Heller Estates, Talbott Vineyards,
Bernardus, Joullian Vineyards, Chateau Sinnet, and San Saba Vineyards. Head back (west) on Carmel Valley Road
to Laureles Grade Road (County Highway G20) to Highway 68. Turn left on Highway 68. When you reach the intersection
of Highway 218 (Canyon Del Rey), watch for the signs to Ventana Vineyards/Meador Estate.
Historic Cannery Row, Monterery -
If you're short on time, you can taste wines from many of the different Monterey County wineries by visiting
"A Taste of Monterey - Wine Market & Bistro"
at 700 Cannery Row in Monterey. Also,
Baywood Cellars, Bargetto, and Silver Mountain wineries have tasting rooms on historic Cannery Row within
walking distance of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Carmel Valley-Grapevine Express -
Express bus service that begins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with stops along Cannery Row and at the Monterey
Conference Center, Monterey Transit Plaza, The Barnyard, and Carmel Rancho before continuing on to tasting rooms along Carmel Valley Road and ending in Carmel Valley Village, where numerous tasting rooms are clustered. An all-day pass is available with discounted fares for 18 years and under, 65 years and older, individuals with disabilities, Medicare card holders and active duty military.
For routes, hours, fares, and more information, please contact the Monterey-Salinas Transit's Customer Service at 1-888-678-2871 or you can download the "Carmel Valley-Grapeline Express" brochure (a PDF file) from their website.
The Salinas Valley, known as "The Salad Bowl of the World", is one of the country's most important agricultural assets and is renowned for its production of lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, and celery, along with numerous other crops including wine grapes.
The Salinas Valley is a funnel, with its mouth opening onto Monterey Bay. Here, fog rolls in between the Santa Lucia and Gavilan mountain ranges. The fog cools the valley early in the morning, while at midday a cool blast of wind sweeps through the valley. Daytime summer temperatures rarely exceed 75° F (24° C), except for the southernmost reaches and in specific microclimates in the region. With scant annual rainfall (about 14 inches) and predominately sandy soils, the valley would be arid if not for the irrigation from the Salinas River.
Most of the wineries are located along River Road (County Road G17) which runs west to east and parallel to Highway 101 between the towns of Gonzales, Soledad, and Greenfield. Signposts along River Road have made searching for boutique wineries of the Salinas Valley easier. Be on the lookout for the white signposts directing you towards wineries such as Paraiso Springs, San Saba Vineyards, and Hahn Estates/Smith & Hook in Soledad. Approximate travel time by car to Greenfield from Monterey is about 70 minutes, from Salinas about 35 minutes.
Tours - Take Highway 68 east (inland) from Monterey to River Road (County Road G17). River Road forms part of the signposted Salinas Valley Wine Country route. Look for the white painted finger posts directing drivers to eight or ten wineries from here to Greenfield, 30 miles to the south.
After about 20 miles, River Road forks. Take the left-hand bend, which becomes Fort Romie Road. A little further along on the right is Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, 13th of the 21 missions founded by Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén in October, 1791. Backtrack slightly to the fork, and take Foothill Road south to Paraiso Springs, San Saba Vineyards, and Hahn Estates/Smith & Hook.
Continue south on Paraiso Springs Road, turning left at Clark Road to rejoin County Road G17, now called Arroyo Seco Road, winding south through vineyards. Turn left on County Road G16 towards Greenfield.
In Greenfield itself, turn right on Central Avenue, to Hobson Avenue. Turn left (towards Highway 101) to stop at Scheid Vineyards. Here you can return to Highway 101 north back to Salinas.
Chalone - The oldest producing vineyard in Monterey County. Located at 1,800 feet above the Salinas Valley at the base of old volcanic spires, the vineyard borders the west entrance to Pinnacles National Park. They can be reached via Highway 101 near the town of Soledad, then east along Highway 146. Chalone Vineyards is not open for tasting but stills sells wines through their wine club and local stores.
Keep in mind that the road to the west side of Pinnacles National Park is narrow and winding, and may not be suitable for large RV's.
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