Monterey County is a historic and well-established viticultural region. Grapes sourced throughout the county serve as the backbone for many popular Central Coast cuv\u00e9es, and the region is home to prestigious subappellations like Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands that are world-renowned for quality. It\u2019s largely a land of tradition, ruled by generational families and corporate concerns that make it hard for new blood to establish itself.\r\n\r\nBut the Monterey winescape is changing. There\u2019s an electricity buzzing across the county, as a growing contingent of adventurous vintners settles into urban wineries in Salinas and Marina, and established brands enlist the next generation of winemakers. Many have taken a renewed look at the Carmel Valley, while others discover forgotten vinelands that are also influenced by the Monterey Bay, like those in the adjacent San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties.\r\n\r\nUnbound by the shackles of convention and attuned to the desires of millennial consumers, this emerging vanguard produces racy, exciting and even avant-garde bottlings, often at stunningly fair prices. Its efforts have reinvigorated respect for this geographically blessed cross section of California, where a diverse array of microclimates and soil types can produce a brilliant rainbow of wine styles.\r\n\r\n\r\nExploring the Region\r\nRussell Joyce\u2014Joyce Vineyards\r\nA race-car driver turned dentist, Francis Joyce planted Joyce Vineyards on a steep Carmel Valley slope in 1986, but the brand didn\u2019t hit its stride until his son, Russell, took over about seven years ago.\r\n\r\n\u201cI was able to piece together a lot of good advice, but I also had a bit of pride and wanted to prove I could do it on my own,\u201d says Russell. \u201cI went through a lot of experimental stages. Then I just started to pay attention to what I like to drink. I like tension and energy.\u201d\r\n\r\nRussell now co-owns the winery, where he produces 12 wines, with an annual production around 10,000 cases. The grapes come from more than 10 vineyard sites that span from his estate property to the Gabilan Mountains.\r\n\r\nThe Submarine Canyon Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the workhorses, but he also produces single-vineyard expressions of those grapes as well as thrilling Albari\u00f1o, Riesling, Gamay Noir and cool-climate Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands.\r\n\r\nTo him, the shifting vibe is palpable.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou feel everyone starting to hone their craft and capture the energy of Monterey,\u201d he says.\r\nIan Brand\u2014Le P\u2019tit Paysan / I. Brand & Family / La Marea\r\nIt can take an outsider to rediscover why something so often overlooked is indeed special. That\u2019s what Brand, an East Coast transplant, has done for underappreciated vineyards across the greater Monterey Bay area. He decided to focus his winemaking there in 2008, after stints at Bonny Doon Vineyard and Big Basin Vineyards.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe were looking for a place where we could survive as a small winery\u2014that\u2019s getting more and more difficult in California,\u201d says Brand. \u201cWe saw grapes that were undervalued, compared to quality. We saw a lot of great wine-growing soils, like granite and calcareous rock. And we saw the cool coastal climate and that long, temperate season we think is special.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe now makes about 19 wines across his three brands, from the value-priced, \u201cvillage-level\u201d wines of Le P\u2019tit Paysan to the Iberian-themed bottlings of La Marea and single-\u00advineyard expressions of I. Brand & Family. Brand champions old vineyards like Enz Vineyard in San Benito County and Massa Vineyard (formerly Durney Vineyard) in Carmel Valley, and he serves as a mentor of sorts to this current generation of winemaking talent, a nod to his stint in the Peace Corps.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn just our 11 years, we\u2019ve accumulated a ton of experience,\u201d he says. \u201cWe feel strongly about sharing that experience and helping to create a group behind us that will push us and push the region.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nDenis Hoey\u2014Odonata Wines\r\nAfter graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2004, the Sacramento-raised Hoey readied to become a firefighter. But then he met Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and ended up taking a position at the winery instead.\r\n\r\n\u201cI threw everything out and said, \u2018This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,\u2019 \u201d says Hoey.\r\n\r\nHe worked there for a decade, while simultaneously building his own brand, Odonata Wines, which he started in 2005.\r\n\r\nThe big leap came in 2014, when Hoey parted ways with Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard to concentrate on Odonata. That same year, he bought the old Marilyn Remark Winery just southeast of Salinas, where he now runs the bustling Odonata South tasting room and recently planted a quarter acre of Viognier.\r\n\r\nToday, there are as many as 28 wines produced each vintage from Odonata, from regional standards like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to nontraditional bottlings like sparkling Sangiovese, and continues to maintain a focus on Syrah and Grenache from the Santa Lucia Highlands.\r\n\r\nWhile Odonata\u2019s annual production is about 6,500 cases, almost 90% of it is sold direct to consumers.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re trying to keep it interesting for my wine club,\u201d he says. \u201cWe\u2019re not afraid to take risks and play around with whole cluster, carbonic maceration and that kind of fun stuff.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe\u2019s excited for the forthcoming wines of his assistant winemaker, Francisco Banuelos, and hopes his own two sons will continue the legacy.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn the next five years, there\u2019s going to be another generation of winemakers 10 years younger than me and Russell [Joyce] and Ian [Brand],\u201d says Hoey.\r\n\r\n\r\nBuilding Family Legacies\r\nGarrett Bowlus\u2014Albatross Ridge Vineyard \r\nAmazement abounds at Albatross Ridge Vineyard, which sits at heights of 850 to 1,250 feet atop a wind-whipped crest above the Carmel Valley. The views are jaw-dropping, but growing conditions are harsh, and the 25 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines planted here struggle to survive.\r\n\r\nBowlus and his family bought the property in 2007, and it wasn\u2019t until after planting vines a year later while searching for a business name that they learned just how serendipitous the purchase had been: Bowlus\u2019s great-\u00adgrandfather, William Hawley Bowlus, had flown a glider called the Albatross off these same ridges in the 1930s.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere have been lean times, in terms of the low yields, and the [2017 Soberanes wildfires] and all the crap that goes with starting a business that relies on Mother Nature,\u201d says Bowlus. \u201cBut because of that history, we\u2019ve just got to keep riding this out.\u201d\r\n\r\nThey now produce roughly 3,000 cases of wine annually across seven different bottlings that are as incredibly unique as their story. Bowlus plans to add another 11 or so acres of vines soon, encouraged by neighbors who are also planting. He may even propose the creation of a new Carmel Coast appellation, or American Viticultural Area (AVA).\r\n\r\n\u201cEveryone has always been friendly, but in the last five years, everybody has gotten so much closer,\u201d he says of the current group of winemakers. \u201cEveryone is working together more, and we\u2019re able to make good wine from awesome sites.\u201d\r\nScott Caraccioli\u2014Caraccioli Cellars\r\nThough they\u2019ve farmed the Salinas Valley for decades, the Caracciolis didn\u2019t make their grapevine gamble until 2006, when Gary Caraccioli was able to persuade his brother and uncle to expand the family\u2019s agricultural pursuits to wine production.\r\n\r\nSoon after, Caraccioli met Michel Salgues, longtime winemaker for Roederer Estate. Sparks ignited, and the idea to focus the brand on sparkling wine was solidified.\r\n\r\nThey began to plant the 124-acre Escolle Vineyard on the cold northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands, believing the site could produce phenomenal bubbly. Their efforts would ultimately result in the winery becoming the first in the region to develop a completely on-site and in-house sparkling wine program, from vine to finished bottle.\r\n\r\nIn 2009, Gary\u2019s son, Scott, began an apprenticeship under Salgues, who passed away eight years later. Since then, Scott\u2019s grown production to about 5,000 cases and expanded the brand\u2019s offerings into still wines that include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, a ripping ros\u00e9 and a small planting of cool-climate Syrah.\r\n\r\nYet, he adheres proudly to the dream of crafting predominantly \u201cclean, precise, complex\u201d sparkling wine.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe have the raw materials to produce something really special, but the process is dependent on having the ability to execute that vision,\u201d says Scott, who learned the exacting methods necessary from Salgues.\r\n\r\n\u201cHaving total control over our grapes gives us the ability and the responsibility,\u201d he says. \u201cIf we screw up, it starts there. You can\u2019t make good bubbles from bad grapes. There\u2019s no way. They\u2019re too transparent. You\u2019re not going to be able to hide anything.\u201d\r\nGarrett Boekenoogen\u2014Boekenoogen Vineyards & Winery\r\nA fifth-generation cattle rancher, Boekenoogen hails from one of the longtime families that own so much of the Salinas Valley, where they settled in 1872. In charge of his family\u2019s nearly 200 acres of vineyards, which include 125 acres in the Santa Lucia Highlands and around 30 acres in the Carmel Valley, Boekenoogen thinks with a progressive vision.\r\n\r\nIn 2011, he planted a block of Pinot Noir that he decided not to irrigate. The result was low-yielding clusters with tiny berries that produce powerful, fruit-forward flavors.\r\n\r\n\u201cNo one really was doing a dryland Pinot Noir,\u201d says Boekenoogen, whose annual bottling \u201csells like hotcakes.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn the Carmel Valley, the family\u2019s Bell Ranch produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel and Viognier. In 2017, at a ranch two miles to the south, Boekenoogen planted an eight acre vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Grenache. The plot sits 1,000 feet higher than Bell Ranch and out of the frost zone. His goal is high-elevation Cab.\r\n\r\n\u201cIs it Napa Valley Cabernet? Of course not,\u201d he says. \u201cBut it has its own niche from this magical spot.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nRejuvenating Historic Properties\r\nDavid Baird\u2014Folktale Winery & Vineyards \r\nAfter studies at Cal Poly and work at wineries from Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles to Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard in Los Olivos, Baird returned to his hometown of Carmel with hopes to start a family there. Trouble was, he didn\u2019t have any real job prospects. Then he met Gregory Ahn, the wine industry entrepreneur who co-founded Cannonball Wines and ALC/VOL (Alcohol by Volume).\r\n\r\n\u201cAs a young winemaker, you have to have someone that believes in you and gives you that shot and puts all of their faith in you,\u201d says Baird. \u201cGreg saw that in me from Day One. Without a winery or a site, he said, \u2018You\u2019re my guy. Let\u2019s do this.\u2019\u201d\r\n\r\nIn 2015, Ahn bought the old Chateau Julien Wine Estate in Carmel Valley and relaunched it as Folktale. Baird has been sprucing up the place ever since.\r\n\r\nHe overhauled the equipment and now produces about 25 wines each vintage. They range from classic varieties to carbonic nouveau-style Sangiovese; orange wines from Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling; and p\u00e9tillant-naturels galore. He\u2019s keen to use all native yeasts, has increased whole-cluster fermentation and experimented with concrete tanks.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re always going to be true to who we are and what Monterey County is, but we\u2019re going to have this edgy side too,\u201d says Baird. \u201cWe\u2019re having fun, and we will have some badass wines for you to taste.\u201d\r\nMatt Piagari\u2014Joullian Vineyards\r\nA Midwestern sense is at the core of Joullian Vineyards, which began in Carmel Valley in 1982. Founders Ed Joullian and Richard L. \u201cDick\u201d Sias were from Oklahoma City, and its recently retired winemaker, Ridge Watson, brother of famed golfer Tom Watson, hails from Kansas City, Missouri. In fact, about one-third of the brand\u2019s wines are still sold in those markets.\r\n\r\nWhile the Joullians sold in 2015, the winery maintains its Midwest roots thanks to current owners Tom and Jane Lerum. Jane grew up in Oklahoma, and the husband-and-wife team currently lives in Oklahoma City.\r\n\r\nToday\u2019s difference, though, is that the Lerums are in their 20s, and their new winemaker, Matt Piagari, isn\u2019t yet 40.\r\n\r\n\u201cEverything is getting younger,\u201d says Piagari. \u201cThat\u2019s shifting us to new ideas.\u201d\r\n\r\nPiagari\u2019s first harvest after he graduated from Cal Poly was in 2007, as an intern at Donati Family Vineyards in Templeton. He went on to work for J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines in Paso Robles and then with Watson during the wildfire-tainted season of 2016. In that fateful year, they worked with Enological Technical Services (ETS) Laboratories in St. Helena to combat and mitigate smoke taint. From then on, he was given freedom to manage the operation.\r\n\r\nPiagari has since torn out 10 acres of the 40-acre vineyard and has spent a lot of time learning how to manage the rest.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019ve never seen anything like it,\u201d he says. \u201cThe entire thing is on native rootstocks.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe\u2019s exploring varieties like Pinot Noir that are new to the brand and pushing into the $100 realm with a special Cabernet Sauvignon.\r\n\r\nFor him, the Carmel Valley is best described as \u201ca pretty exciting place to be. There really are no rules.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nSam L. Smith\u2014Morgan Winery \r\nSmith didn\u2019t know much about wine until a college year abroad in Bordeaux, where he sipped a 1989 Ch\u00e2teau Margaux.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was perfect, and it just dawned on me that there was something going on there,\u201d says Smith.\r\n\r\nFollowing college, he worked for smaller wineries in Santa Barbara and Oregon\u2019s Willamette Valley, as well as a big operation in Australia. Then, he settled in at Margerum Wine Company in Santa Barbara.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019d sit down for lunch every day, and everyone knew what was going on with everyone,\u201d he says. \u201cIt was such a family-oriented environment. Bringing people together, to me, is one of the most important things about wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nAfter a harvest with Rh\u00f4ne-based producer Domaine Fran\u00e7ois Villard in 2015, Smith took a winemaking job at Morgan Winery, a pioneering property in the Santa Lucia Highlands that now produces about 35,000 cases per year.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn ultrapremium fine wine, at a certain price point, it\u2019s not the larger differences that really distinguish the good wine from the best wine,\u201d says Smith of upholding founder Dan Lee\u2019s philosophy.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s the subtleties, the really small details that divide the good wines from the legendary wines.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe also produces about 500 cases of his own brand, Samuel Louis Smith, focused on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah from cool, high-elevation sites.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s a really interesting cross-section of the Central Coast,\u201d he says.