Most people best know Monterey as a city with top tourist attractions—Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, the Monterey Aquarium.
But Monterey also is a county. In the mid-18th century, it served as capital of Spanish and Mexican territory, Alta California. Today, Monterey County ranks as a major wine-producing region, known for its increasingly good reds, whites and bubblies.
Primarily a cool-climate growing region, Monterey County holds nine American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the stars, especially in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of the Santa Lucia Mountains (part of the California South Coast Ranges that also includes the Santa Cruz Mountains to the north).
In recent years, plantings in the warmer, southerly stretches toward Paso Robles—the San Lucas, San Antonio Valley and Hames Valley appellations—are producing Syrahs and Merlots of distinction. Sheltered in its mountain amphitheatre, little Carmel Valley features warmer weather that can ripen Cabernet Sauvignon to complex ageability.
Anytime of the year is fine to visit Monterey, although winters can be damp and chilly. A fun event, Winemakers Celebration, is held every summer. Sponsored by the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, it’s in charming Carmel Valley, on the “warmer” side of Highway 1, the Coast Road. Or you can get out of town and travel the River Road Wine Trail, which winds through the picturesque, remote foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. —Steve Heimoff