Last fall I had the extraordinary good fortune of a visit to Monterey wine country. From the hotel and dinners in Carmel-by-the-Sea to Hahn Family Wines in the Santa Lucia Highlands to Point Lobos to Monterey Bay Aquarium to Chef Duel at Folktale to whale watching on the Blue Grand Canyon the whole visit was stunning.
Some background from my post for California Winery Advisor:
Monterey is part of California’s Central Coast and occupies space situated just north of the Monterey Bay and extends running southward to Paso Robles. The Monterey AVA runs a broad scope, pretty much the full stretch of Monterey County. Within the region there are eight other specific AVAs including Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, San Lucas, Hames Valley, Chalone, Carmel Valley, San Antonio Valley and San Bernabe. This generous area is home to a variety of soils, topographies and climates. Consider the Monterey Bay a guidepost; vineyards in close proximity to the cool waters (underneath which lies the Blue Grand Canyon, a deep, cold underwater crevasse) experience the chilling effect of fog and marine breezes. Vineyards further away open up to warmer (even hot) days that are tempered by a cool-off from Pacific nights. Planted with over 40,000 acres of vineyards, Monterey is the largest producer of Chardonnay in the United States.
Santa Lucia Highland vineyards are planted along the slopes of the Santa Lucia Range as it spans lengthwise along the Salinas River Valley – an immensely fertile zone where much of America’s produce is cultivated.
It was this environment that drew Nicky (Nicolas) Hahn, of Hahn Family Wines, to not only grow grapes and make wine here from his Smith and Hook vineyards but to establish the AVA. According to the winery, “It was Nicky Hahn who first suggested the designation Santa Lucia Highlands when proposing the twelve mile- long, raised benchland above the Salinas River for special consideration as a unique winegrowing district. In 1991, the Federal government approved the Santa Lucia Highlands as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA).”
Paul Clifton, Winemaker at Hahn Family Wines, shared with me the history that originally Smith and Hook vineyards were planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, a varietal that didn’t thrive properly in the cooler climate of the Santa Lucia Highlands. In fact, there were vintages when Cabernet didn’t even achieve ripeness. Nicky Hahn realized this deficiency, and in the early 2000’s replanted hundreds of acres with Pinot Noir, reshaping the winery and adjusting the overall production of the AVA.
Inspired pairing to try: Hahn Winery GSM, Santa Lucia Highlands (60% Grenache, 37% Syrah and 3% Mourvèdre) served with slow-grilled beef and artichoke chimichurri.
The ultimate wine pairing tool is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program with recommendations on which seafood is farmed or fished sustainably for a lower environmental impact profile. Download your own guide or mobile at on the Seafood Watch website.
Inspired pairing to try: California Rockfish (Seafood Watch recommended) Tacos with Caraccioli Cellars Santa Lucia Highlands Brut Cuvée, 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir
When the opportunity to go whale watching came up, my response was ‘hell yes’. I had wanted to see a whale my whole life — on this particular day (it happened to be my birthday) I saw dozens. As the boat rocked and turned I had trouble with my phone camera, but I did capture a whale! It’s now more in my memory than digitally, but I was stunned. These marvelous creatures love the Blue Grand Canyon, a deep and cool environment where they thrive.
The Blue Grand Canyon (BGC) also contributes to the terroir of the wine growing region. Many Monterey wine folks say the Blue Grand Canyon is the secret weapon in winemaking — at sixty miles and long and two miles deep, this is one of Earth’s deepest marine canyons and our nation’s largest National Marine Sanctuary. “BGC’s vast weather effect on the viticultural districts of Monterey is manifested through the fog, wind, lack of rain through the growing season, and moderate temperatures,” says the Monterey Wine Country website. “The wines of the Blue Grand Canyon™ deliciously express their birthplace – their style and structure are a reflection of their vineyards’ “sense of place” in relation to this unique meeting of land and sea.”
Inspired pairing to try: Oh Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands with Mary’s Fried Organic Free Range Chicken — get it at Affina in Carmel-by-the Sea. Chef Nicolas Izard and proprietor Richard Oh (also of Oh Wines and Otter Cove Wines) put together the warmest welcome in town. There might be magic tricks…
Folktale Chef Duel matches two Monterey chefs to create a meal paired with a particular ingredient. The day I was there, calamari was the special item. Each chef’s dishes are paired with both a Folktale Wine and wine from a guest winery. This is such a beautiful place, a vibrant winery packed with activity — live music, special events and happy people.
Inspired pairing to try: Folktale Winery Le Mistral 2016 Joseph’s Blend Arroyo Seco, 65% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 1% Viognier matched with wood-fire grilled flatbread pizza with forest mushrooms and pecorino cheese.
Wine Pairing Weekend
Join our Wine Pairing Weekend writers’ group for our monthly twitter chat on May 12, 2018, at 10 am central. We are all about wine that starts with the letter “M” in May. It’s easy to follow along even if you haven’t written a blog post by following the hashtag #WinePW. Here’s what’s on:
Jeff Burrows of FoodWineClick will be discussing “M” is for Marselan
L’OCCASION explains Monterey Wines For Summertime
Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla enjoyed M is for Mourvèdre with Maple-Glazed Duck Legs
Cindy of Grape Experiences enjoyed an evening Wine and Dine: La Mora Favorites with Margherita Flatbread
Lauren of The Swirling Dervish is chatting about Dry Muscat from Málaga and Pork Paella
David of Cooking Chat enjoyed Asiago Lemon Spaghetti with Malagousia Wine from Greece
Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm celebrated In the Merry Merry Month of May I Met Magistrate Merlot
Nicole on Somm’s Table is Cooking to the Wine: Recanati Marawi with Black Cod and Papaya-Cucumber Salad
Lisa, The Wine Chef paired Roast Chicken With Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir From The Mornington Peninsula – The Best Australian Wine Region You’ve Never Heard Of #WinePW
Jennifer of VinoTravels enjoyed Malvasia on the island of Sicilia
This month’s host, Dracaena Wines will share #WinePW Meets #Winephabet Street; M is for Moscatel