You may know many wine regions of the world well, but there are probably some you have yet to discover. If you’re on the search for some of California’s “undiscovered” wine regions, you’ll want to explore Carmel Valley Village. This hidden gem, located in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Mountains, is home to more than 20 wine tasting rooms.
Just a 15-minute drive from the nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley Village is an easy day trip. It’s also perfect for a relaxing weekend getaway.
Carmel Valley – One of California’s “Undiscovered” Wine Regions
With its west-facing orientation, hot days, and chilly nights, Carmel Valley provides an ideal climate for creating rich, full-bodied wines. One of many California wine regions, Carmel Valley was designated as an AVA in 1983. Bordeaux varietals are favorites here. As a result, cabernet sauvignon and merlot comprise more than 70% of the grapes grown. The lower-lying areas surrounding the town of Carmel Valley Village are well suited to cool-climate varietals of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Carmel Valley Village
Your road trip starts at the scenic Highway One and leads to the mouth of the valley. This area, where Highway One and Carmel Valley Road meet, is bracketed by deep green mountains forested in iconic Monterey Pines.
Meander eastward along Carmel Valley Road until you drop into a river valley. It’s here you’ll find Carmel Valley Village with just 4,400 residents. This town may be tiny, but it’s well-known for its fine dining, art galleries, antique shops. And of course, wine tasting.
Because most of the business and wine tasting rooms are within a walkable three-block radius, you can just park your car for the afternoon while you explore.
I recommend starting your tour with a visit to Bernardus Winery. This winery produces several pinot noirs, chardonnays, sauvignon blancs, and cabernet sauvignons. But it’s their Marinus label, a Bordeaux blend, they are best known for. The 2014 Estate Blend displays a deep crimson color. Its aromas of ripened red fruit are complemented by delicious flavors of ripe cherry and plum. The well-structured finish, with soft tannins, promises a long shelf life.
Tasting currently takes place on the outside patio where customers can choose from three tasting menus.
Twisted Roots specializes in hand-crafted wines. Offering just three red, two sparkling, a chardonnay, and one hard cider, they take pride in being a small-lot winery. Grape growers for three generations, the family established its vineyard back in 1918. They started producing their own wine in 2005.
Their signature wine is an Old Vine Zinfandel, labeled 1918, made from grapes that come from their 100-year-old vines.
Twisted Roots provides spacious seating on their outdoor patio. Coupled with Carmel Valley’s sunny weather, it provides a safe, comfortable venue for guests to enjoy wine tasting during the current pandemic.
Cowgirl Winery likes to say it’s “the perfect location to put your boots up and enjoy a glass of wine! Guests can play corn hole, watch the chickens, and enjoy a glass of wine outside its barnlike structure. An old Ford candy wagon doubles as a place to sit or a platform for photos.
They keep things simple here with just three wines to choose from – The Pinot, an easy drinking pinot noir; a light, crisp Cowgirl White; and their full-bodied Malbec.
On the Friday afternoon we dropped by, people were enjoying the laid-back charm of this rustic open wine tasting space. The sounds of country music played in the background.
Although technically outside of the Village, you’ll want to visit Folktale Winery. You can stop on your way into or out of town. Or, if you’re staying for the weekend, an evening visit to this enchanting venue is a perfect way to sample their wine and cuisine. With plenty of wide-open space surrounding the tasting room, Folktale is currently offering seating in its wine garden.
Folktale produces a wide range of wines from sparkling to chardonnay, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and even an orange wine.
I’m partial to chardonnay, especially from Monterey County. The characteristics are distinct from other California chardonnays and often include flavors of butterscotch and tropical fruits.
The 2017 Folktale Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay features notes of tropical fruit with a hint of baking spices. Its creamy texture and classic vanilla flavors lead to a delicious, lingering finish.
Where to Eat
For rustic cooking with a European flair, try Café Rustica for lunch or dinner. A wide variety of menu items, including ten different thin crusted wood fired gourmet pizzas, will ensure there’s something to please everyone.
Trailside Café is a great place to start the day with a hearty breakfast. Its extensive menu will make your head spin. I dined on the Breakfast Tachos, nacho style Tater Tots with two eggs on top. The Café also serves lunch and dinner.
Where to Stay
Just three miles outside of Carmel Valley Village, Bernardus Lodge and Spa provides guests a sophisticated-style wine country retreat. Its Lucia Restaurant and Bar offer a convenient onsite dining option.
For those who prefer to park the car and stay in town, the Hidden Valley Inn is a short five-minute walk to the Village center along a paved trail that parallels the roadway. Family sized rooms are available, some have kitchenettes.
If You Go
Most wine tasting rooms in Carmel Valley are only open Thursday through Sunday. As of this writing, wineries in California are only open for outdoor wine tasting. Call ahead for reservations.