California's new wine destination: Monterey

January 2, 2012 8:24:05 PM PST
Monterey County is always a favorite tourist destination. But in addition to shopping in Carmel, world class golf, and the aquarium, the area is quickly becoming a wine destination, too.

Nestled in Carmel Valley is the picturesque Chateau Julien. Winemaker Bill Anderson recently completed his 29th grape harvest. Just like a fine wine, he says the region has matured over time.

"In a way, we are kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of the industry," says Anderson. "We don't get enough respect, but it's coming."

Monterey County has been developing its wine reputation since the early 1960s. Grape values now top $280 million a year. Vintners say the so-called "Blue Grand Canyon," that deep marine cavern located in Monterey Bay, is one of their secrets to success.

"You want to be careful what you grow where, but it gives us a huge array of microclimates so we can practically grow anything in the Salinas and Carmel Valley," says Anderson.

The climate diversity has resulted in more than 40 varietals and consumers are drinking what the county has to offer, from Chardonnay to Syrah.

"This is the only winery that we've been to since we've been in Monterey, but even at home, we drink wine from Monterey," says Phoenix tourist Angela Valdez.

Monterey County produces some 40,000 acres of grapes each year and is home to 125 unique vineyards. The wineries are generally scattered along three stretches -- the 101 corridor which spans south to King City, the River Road wineries just south of Salinas, and the popular Mecca of tasting opportunities along Carmel Valley Road.

There is a wide range in the size of operations, from those bottling tens of thousands of cases a year, to family-run boutique businesses whose labels are only sold on local shelves. The number of stops you can make in a few short miles is astounding, and exploding.

"We are kind of the new kids on the block. We just opened up our tasting room about three weeks ago and supposedly another couple of wineries are suppose to open up pretty shortly here," says Hunter Lowder of Holman Ranch Vineyards.

It's tough to compete with the world-renowned Napa Valley which attracts more than 4.5 million visitors a year, but wine enthusiasts are toasting the charm of their latest discovery.

"We have done Napa a few times and we have run into the crowds and also just the price," said Roseville tourist Melissa Bunch.

The tourism industry is capitalizing on, and catering to, the grape attraction, and connoisseurs are speaking up.

"You see that in the scores and the wine critics are starting to take notice and we're getting a lot of 90-plus point wines from most of the better growers and wineries here in Monterey County," says Bernardus winemaker Dean DeKorth.

It seems winemakers and wine lovers are savoring the region's sweet taste of respect.