Monterey Wines for Summertime

California Wine, Carmel Wine, Monterey

Monterey Wines at sunset on Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Credit: Jill Barth

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.

chardonnay, pinot noir, beautiful vineyards, salinas valley

Hahn Family Wines in Monterey’ Santa Lucia Highlands. Winemaker Paul Clifton is shown with his custom barrels exposing the lees. Credit: Jill Barth

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.

sea life, seafood, sustainable sea food, sea food watch

The beautiful creatures at Monterey Bay Aquarium are so stunning – from delicate to massive, a fascinating reminder of precious life by our seas. Lunch at the café is a must. Credit: Jill Barth

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

California, big sur, wine country, a day in Monterey

The sites of Monterey: whale watching (and an impossible to photograph whale), strolling the charming streets, sea lions basking and a view at Point Loma. Credit: Jill Barth

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…

wine and food, Monterey Wines, wine pairing, wine judging

Folktale Winery Chef Duel. Credit: Jill Barth

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.

where to stay in Monterey, luxury hotels in California

La Playa Carmel, such a beautiful and hospital place. Credit: Jill Barth

beach, seaside, Pacific Ocean, trees

This post would be incomplete without a view of the gorgeous beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Credit: Jill Barth

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

Gwendolyn of Wine Predator decided M is for Malbec: 8 Wines, 4 Countries, 3 Continents paired with empanadas #WinePW 

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

20 thoughts on “Monterey Wines for Summertime

  1. Great article! So interesting that Monterey is the #1 producer of Chardonnay in the US!
    I stayed at La Playa Carmel years ago! I recognized the staircase right away!
    How about those jellyfish?! Amazing, right?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that area! Sounds like you had a great trip there. Love the pairings inspired by your visit too!


  3. What a wonderful birthday present to see so many whales!My husband and I celebrated our anniversary in Monterey last year and had a lovely time. This is inspiration for a whole new set of spots to visit !

    Liked by 1 person

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