Category Archives: Travel

Half Moon Bay

It’s November. On the California coast that means two things: the start of the winter rain and crab season. This time of year the Pacific Coast and the San Francisco Bay are teaming with fresh Dungeness crab, the sweetest seafood on Earth. And what better way to start crab season than a trip to Half Moon Bay, where nearly every fishing boat in the harbor is loaded with crab traps.

The drive up the coast to Half Moon Bay is gorgeous, with breaking waves, dramatic cliffs and blue waters dotted with kite surfers.

First stop is Davenport, for brunch at the Whale City Bakery. A few doors down is the Bonny Doon Winery tasting room, but let’s save that, and colorful owner Randall Graham, for another column. Instead, we headed further up the coast and made a quick jog inland to visit Pescadero, home of Santa Arcangeli Winery. The tasting room is modest, but the Santa Cruz Mountain wines are delectable. Be sure to try the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. And don’t leave town without a stop at the vintage Pescadero Country Store for some fresh artichoke bread.


Continuing north on Highway 1, we soon reached our destination. Half Moon Bay is home to just two wineries, La Nebbia and Barterra. La Nebbia is a few miles inland on Highway 91, surrounded by excellent nurseries. Also on 91 is Spanish Town, which features a collection of life sized steel dinosaurs and a vast collection of statuary. If you’re short of time, I’d recommend stopping at Spanish Town and skipping La Nebbia altogether. Either way, be prepared to make a dangerous left turn back onto Highway 91.

Spanish Town Dinosaurs

Barterra Winery is in downtown Half Moon Bay on Main Street, situated among boutique shops and fine restaurants. Be sure to park the car and walk around. The day we visited Barterra the tasting room was staffed by owner Mary Colucci and her winemaker husband Bart, a charming elderly couple who have probably forgotten more about wine than most of us will ever know. Their 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot won a double gold medal at the San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition, as did their 2009 Delmar Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet. Be forewarned: you might like the Cab enough to pay the $125 list price.


Half Moon Bay is host to many beautiful waterfront hotels. If you’re feeling flush, try the Ritz Carlton situated on a cliff top with views to die for (which you may well do when see your credit card bill). For anyone on a budget (or saving up for the fabulous Barterra Cab), I recommend the Beach House, Oceano, or the Inn at Mavericks. All have ocean and harbor views and are walking distance from excellent dining. We opted for the Inn at Maverick’s, a cozy six room inn named after the world famous surfing spot located nearby. Bring your camera: the views are astounding. Within a short walk is Mezzaluna, an Italian restaurant frequented by locals. Just a block further, at the harbor is the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, voted one of America’s best beach bars. I recommend the Princeton-by-the-Sea IPA or the Maverick’s Big Break Ale. Better yet, have a flight and see what you like best. And the Cochinita Pibil sliders are crazy good. Cochinita Pibil is a close cousin to carnitas, my favorite thing to make with pork shoulder. The seasonings are similar (citrus, cumin and chili peppers), but Cochinita is lightly smoked then slow roasted in a banana leaf.

And don’t leave town without a stop at Sam’s Chowder House for some clam chowder or a fresh shrimp and Dungeness Louie salad (be sure to go early or make a reservation). I’m ready to go back already.

Inn at Mavericks- Night_1038


Livermore, California, located on the far eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, is known in scientific circles for the famed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where controlled nuclear fusion was recently achieved after a 40 year effort. But Livermore came into its own in the mid 1800’s as a railroad town. The Western Pacific rail line that connected the Bay Area to the transcontinental railroad passed through the Livermore Valley and over Altamont Pass on the way to Sacramento. Altamont Pass is best known these days as the home of America’s oldest wind farm.

I was surprised to learn that Livermore has a long and colorful wine history. Many wine enthusiasts are familiar with story of the 1975 Judgment of Paris, a French wine competition that made Napa wines famous and respected when Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars took first place in their respective categories. Less known is that Charles Wetmore, who had been growing French varietals in the gravelly soils of the Livermore Valley, entered the Paris Exposition of 1889 and won several gold medals. It is reported that Wetmore’s Cabernet stock was imported from the famed Chateau Margaux vineyards in Bordeaux, France. These vines eventually became the source for the popular Cabernet clones 7, 8 and 11.

Livermore has been producing excellent wines since, save for a brief hiatus during prohibition. James Concannon and the Wente family have been keeping the flame lit since the turn of the 20th century. Despite the early Cabernet fame, Livermore now specializes in Petit Sirah and Chardonnay.

Following our standard formula of visiting at least one large and widely distributed winery followed by several small, artisanal ones, we started our journey at Concannon.

Concannon has a large tasting room with a vintage tin ceiling and plenty of space for guests. Across the courtyard, you’ll find another large room dedicated to club members. There’s also a large lawn that’s popular with picnickers. We found Concannon’s service and wine to be first rate, and brought home a lovely Livermore Valley Merlot and a Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.

We left Concannon and proceeded east on Tesla Road (named for the same inventor as the electric car company) to Greenville Road, where we found a collection of smaller wineries. Our first stop was 3 Steves Winery which we chose for no other reason than one of the three Steves is a friend of a friend. As the name implies, the winery is owned by three guys named Steve, who have nicknames printed on their business cards so you can tell them apart. Our friends’ friend Steve Ziganti is named “Gray Beard” for his full salt and pepper beard. The others are “Vertically Challenged” Steve (the other two are taller) and “He Really Exists” Steve who is less often seen at the winery than his partners.

3 Steves specializes in locally grown Chardonnay and Cabernet, but the star of our visit to their intimate tasting room was a bottle fermented brut sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The remaining stop was McGrail Vineyards, also on Greenville Road. McGrail has a large and lively tasting room and a sprawling lawn with valley views. The specialties are Cabernet, Chardonnay and Petit Sirah, of course, because this is Livermore. All the wines are skillfully crafted, but I especially enjoyed the estate Cabernet, with grapes sourced from McGrail’s own 16 acre hillside vineyard, stocked with prized Clone 8 vines.

If you happen to be in the East Bay and want to try something different, with historical relevance, I recommend packing a picnic and heading to Livermore.

Carmel Valley

As the Super Bowl approaches I find myself thinking of the “Rotation”, the three locales where most Super Bowls are played. Miami, New Orleans and Southern California have mild winter weather, excellent accommodations and each is a popular place to visit. But for variety, the NFL sometimes chooses to host the game somewhere else entirely: like New Jersey.

If my weekend getaway wine tasting rotation is Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles then what’s my New Jersey? I’m still not sure, but my Tampa (host to four Super Bowls) is Carmel Valley. It is uncharacteristically sunny for being so close to notoriously foggy Monterey, has several great places to stay, and is always fun to visit. This coastal valley is also a scenic gem.

Carmel Valley Village, located about six miles from Highway 1, is now home to more than 30 tasting rooms. My favorite first stop is Bernardus. The building is not fancy and the tasting room, while of decent size, has a low ceiling and casual ambience. Belly up to the bar and you will invariably be greeted by a knowledgeable, gregarious and generous pour person. Bernardus crafts fine single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the best local vineyards, including Rosella’s, Sierra Mar, Ingrid’s, Tondre, Garys’ and Pisoni. (Would you like one Gary or two with that?). But don’t be distracted by Bernardus’ focus on Pinot and Chardonnay; if they offer you a taste of a Cabernet, or their estate grown flagship, a red blend called Marinus, do yourself a favor and kindly accept. We’ve had the great fortune of trying many stately Napa cabs, but my wife considers the Bernardus Ocean Block Cabernet to be the best she’s ever tasted.

Many of the grapes used at Bernardus are grown in the nearby Santa Lucia Highlands, but Ingrid’s Vineyard is in the valley, surrounding Bernardus Lodge. If you’re looking for a top end place to stay in the valley, Bernardus Lodge, located about two miles from the village, is highly recommended. If you’re on a budget, watch for the specials at Quail Lodge where you can secure excellent accommodations at bargain prices. Bring your putter if you do; the lodge has many excellent putting greens located on the lush grounds that surround the lodge. Or bring all your sticks and take in 18 holes right on the property.

If you get hungry, you won’t regret walking across the street to Baja Cantina and Grill, where you can enjoy excellent, original Mexican recipes and refreshments. Monday night is my favorite when they specialize in American style barbeque.

A visit to Carmel Valley Village wouldn’t be complete without stopping in at Talbott Vineyards on Pilot Road, just off Carmel Valley Road.

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter is owner Robb Talbott’s motorcycle collection. Restoring classic bikes is one of Talbott’s many pursuits. Another is growing amazing grapes, both at his Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Diamond T on a mountaintop near Carmel Valley. Like Bernardus, Talbott primarily features locally grown Pinots and Chardonnays. The selection and quality is outstanding and I was impressed by our pour person’s breadth of knowledge. Talbott wines are fairly widely distributed, so you might be able to find a Kali Hart or Logan Pinot or Chardonnay at a store near you. If not, you’ll just have to visit.

Los Carneros

When people refer to California Wine Country, they usually mean the many fine wine grape growing appellations of Napa and Sonoma counties: Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll, Howell Mountain, Alexander Valley, Russian River and many more. Only one growing region spans the two famed counties: Los Carneros. In fact, it’s hard to get to Sonoma or Napa without passing through Los Carneros: on the east side Napa is just to the north, and the west side Sonoma is to the north. Los Carneros is bordered by the San Pablo Bay on the south, which provides the same maritime climate influence that helps grow great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, much like the Monterey Bay and the Santa Ynez Valley.

If you head to Sonoma via San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, taking the 101 Freeway to Highway 37, you’ll find two of my favorite West Carneros wineries: Gloria Ferrer and Cline Cellars. Gloria Ferrer is a stately complex, built on a hill and accessed by a long staircase leading up from the parking lot. The view from the deck justifies the effort you’ll put into the climb.

Gloria and her husband José knock out some excellent and relatively affordable Chardonnay, Pinot, and sparkling wines (that’s Champagne to you, but if I say it I’ll get in trouble with the French). Gloria doesn’t do a traditional “line up the bottles” tasting, instead providing à la carte wait service on the deck and a complementary glass of bubbly. I usually opt for the flight of Pinot and am never disappointed by the view, the service or the wine.


On the north side of Highway 37 you’ll find Cline Cellars, a small, low key operation specializing in Rhone varietals like Mourvèdre, Roussanne and Carignane as well as more popular wines like Zinfandel, Syrah, Viognier and a cool climate Pinot Noir. The tasting room staff at Cline is always friendly, generous and knowledgeable. The tasting room is in an old farmhouse with a wraparound porch and not a hint of pretense. Out back you’ll find a large pond stocked with fish and turtles. It’s a great location for a picnic, so bring some sandwiches.

Like many family wineries, Cline keeps an old truck parked out front, in this case a red one. Years ago Cline started a second label which uses this same red truck as its namesake and label art. You can still buy Red Truck wine just about anywhere, but Cline sold the brand after it grew into a much bigger business than they wish to run. The truck is still there.

If you’re heading to Napa, a popular approach is to take the 880 through the East Bay until it merges into Interstate 80 near Oakland. Be sure to take 80 East, even though the signs say Sacramento. 80 West would take you over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. The views are astounding as you cross the San Francisco Bay and approach the city, but save that for an actual visit to SF. Continuing on 80 East takes you past Berkeley and on to Highway 37 at Vallejo, home to a Six Flags amusement park with massive steel rollercoasters and a zoo. This is the same 37 that you take on the East side to get to Sonoma. It traverses all of Los Carneros, and thus ends our geography lesson for today.

A great choice for a Napa trip is a visit to the aptly named Artesa. The building lies atop a high hill with stunning views and magnificent artwork, inside and out.To conserve energy and blend in with the surroundings, the entire building is buried underground save a couple corners peeking out of the hillside. Be sure to bring a camera so you can show the sculptures and views to the folks back home.

The wine and service at Artesa were great and we felt unrushed in the spacious tasting room and adjoining deck despite the brisk business that takes place on a typical weekend.

Wishing to juxtapose the somewhat over-the-top experience that is Artesa, we decided to seek out something low key. My wife had heard good things about Saintsbury, so we looked them up from the parking lot. Smartphones and Google Maps can really be handy on a wine adventure. Saintsbury’s website said they were open by appointment only, so we opted to be sophomoric and call for an appointment in five minutes. They were gracious and accommodating.

Saintsbury specializes in the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs one would expect from the Carneros terroir and they get everything right. There is no tasting room or bar; you can choose to be served at a table under the trees or you can congregate on the rustic porch. There is no wrong choice; we chose the tables and while there were no commanding views of Los Carneros or the San Pablo Bay, we did get to watch the winemakers bottling.

It’s always a treat to mix the grandiose with the nonchalant. Wine adventures are as much about the ambiance of the places you visit and the stories of the people you meet as they are about trying new wines.

Thanks for tagging along with us on another trip. 

Pismo Paso

I’ve driven the 101 Freeway to Southern California countless times while visiting friends, taking business trips, and as a student at UC Santa Barbara. Every time I passed Pismo Beach I promised myself to one day stop and check it out – maybe even spend the night at one of the many beachfront hotels.

Last June we were on our way back from a Sideways tour and decided to take the plunge. But not before visiting another Highway 101 landmark, Laetitia Vineyards. I’ve been a fan of their excellent Arroyo Grande Pinot Noir for years and was determined to see the place and try their best stuff. This particular weekend proved fortuitous as we arrived to find the scenic estate festooned for a wine club event. Since my wife works in the industry, they welcomed us to come in, have a look around, and try everything. I am now aware that in addition to the expected high caliber Pinots and Chardonnays, Laetitia makes outstanding Cabernet. Bravo!

Wineries are always looking for ways to keep the barrel room at the perfect temperature so the wines can age properly without sending all the profit margin to the local electric and gas utility. Many use caves, but if you examine the photo below left, you may notice that the production facility is buried. Be careful parking or you could end up on the roof.

On the right is a large hydraulic grape press, many years old but still operational. As a motion control guy, I’m always on the lookout for anything that moves.

The drive from Laetitia to Pismo Beach is short and scenic. We arrived just past noon and headed toward the wharf, snagging the first available parking spot. Pismo on a summer weekend can be crowded and touristy, which helps explain why I had never stopped before. But this day we were determined to wait in line at the Splash Café as long as necessary for a bowl of their legendary clam chowder. Splash is located at a busy intersection near the wharf where most passersby are on foot, bicycle, motorcycle or leash. The awesome people watching and photo ops made the 45 minute wait go fast. If it hadn’t, it still would have been worth it. I’ve been a chowder head since childhood and I even like to think mine’s pretty good (secret ingredient: homemade Dungeness crab stock) but I’ve had nothing to rival Splash Café.

To get a full dose of Pismo we decided to have dinner and spend the night. You’d be hard pressed to find better lodging than the Kon Tiki Inn. It’s right on the beach, a comfortable walk from the wharf and numerous shops and restaurants, and has amazing views of the beach and Pacific Ocean. The guys at the front desk call it “Hawaii without the flight”. My wife always rolls her eyes when I pull a tripod out of my suitcase, but with a view like this, you just might want a shot you blow up to the size a wall so your man cave can be “Hawaii without the flight.”

The Kon Tiki has a restaurant called Steamers with the same commanding view of the Pacific you enjoy from your room, but by evening we were looking for an excuse to take a walk through some of Pismo’s many charming neighborhoods and soon found ourselves at The Cracked Crab on Price Street. Wow. They have great service, amazing fresh seafood and a nice wine selection. And the wall art includes beach themed watercolors by UCSB art professor Hank Pitcher. By strange coincidence, so does my man cave.

After a wonderful day and night in Pismo, we drove north to Paso Robles. We’ve been to Paso many times searching out wineries new and old and usually make our base of operations one of the hotels near the intersection of the 101 Freeway and Highway 46. This time we were meeting friends and opted to lodge in downtown Paso at the historic Paso Robles Inn, where you can park the car and walk. The Paso Robles Inn sits at one end of a downtown park that’s surrounded by half a dozen tasting rooms, plus restaurants, shops and a movie theater. The tree lined streets and vintage brick buildings provide an excellent backdrop for a casual adventure.

Of the many tasting rooms, I found Parrish Family Vineyard to be the standout. The tasting staff was knowledgeable and entertaining, Parrish produces excellent fruit forward wines, and they do a wine and cheese pairing featuring boutique cheeses from local Paso favorite Vivant Fine Cheese.

Thanks for joining us on another wine adventure. Next time we’ll visit the legendary Los Carneros appellation.

Fess Up

If you are a California wine aficionado, you may have been tempted to recreate some of Jack and Miles’ adventures from Sideways, the film about two bachelors having a last romp in Central California wine country before one of them gets married. I’m already married, so my recent Sideways tour did not include a naked tow truck driver nor Sandra Oh in any compromising positions. Nonetheless, we managed to have a great time and enjoy some wonderful wine and food.

The keys to a successful Sideways recreation are: an aspiring writer (check), a love of Pinot Noir (check) and a motel room to serve as home base (check). In our case, the motel was in the lovely Danish village of Solvang, located near the 101 freeway at the southern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Solvang is a fun town to explore on foot, with block after block of Danish architecture, excellent bakeries, decent restaurants, numerous gift shops and a good brew pub. Most of the architecture in California is either Spanish colonial, midcentury modern or ranch house; sometimes you get an urge to see something completely different, and Solvang is all that. It also features a handful of tasting rooms. We found the Las Vegas themed Sort This Out Cellars to be a fun respite from the faux-Danish kitsch. They also feature an Elvira series, styled for the horror film hostess. The 2008 Elvira Macabrenet was good enough to bring a bottle home for Halloween.

To find the truly great wines of the Santa Ynez Valley, head north out of Solvang on Alamo Pintado Road, past the miniature horse ranch, to Los Olivos, a quiet little town where you can see folks kicking back in front of the General Store and be serenaded by a backyard musician.

If you’re hungry, you can get a great burger at Sides Hardware and Shoes. Or you can taste wine next door at Presqu’ile and have them bring over the burger. There are more than fifty tasting rooms in Los Olivos, most within a couple blocks of the General Store, so park the car and walk. I’d recommend lunch and a couple tastings in Los Olivos, followed by a drive northeast on Foxen Canyon Road. There you will find not just tasting rooms, but actual wineries, including some of my favorites.

Koehler is an excellent first stop, with gorgeous vineyards, quality estate wines and a fun tasting room staff. Koehler makes a tasty Santa Rita Hills Pinot, excellent full bodied cabs, and a nice estate Sangiovese.

The “star” of Foxen Canyon is Fess Parker. For those too young to know, Parker was the star of TV’s Davy Crocket where he played the legendary frontiersman. He later made a fortune in the hospitality and wine industries of the Santa Barbara area. Not surprisingly, his winery resembles a modern version of the frontier cabins that made Parker famous.

The grounds and the tasting room are spacious and comfortable, and the staff is first rate. Parker’s son Eli is the head winemaker and takes full advantage of the local climate’s ability to produce extraordinary Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit. In addition to the many great estate wines, Parker produces a Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot that is everything a great wine should be.

Are my eyes deceiving me, or did someone plant a bottle of Alfaro Family wine in the tasting room display? Who would perform such a sophomoric stunt? Well, it was a Sideways tour, and we were at Fess Parker, so a little horseplay might have seemed appropriate.

Thanks for joining us on another wine adventure. Next time we’ll visit Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.

South of the Border

As our cruise ship pulled into port at Ensenada, Mexico, we decided to bypass the popular La Bufadora & Shopping Excursion and board an air conditioned tour bus bound for the Calafia Valley, to see the vineyards of Old Mexico. As luck would have it, our dinner mates Tim and Eva decided to join us. It never hurts to have a judge in tow when you’re out and about in Mexico, even if his jurisdiction is Tucson, Arizona.

Jeff Kordik, LA Cetto winery Mexico

Calafia is about 20 minutes from the coast; the ride was scenic and charming on a typical sunny, dry Baja day. Our first stop was L.A. Cetto, founded by Don Angelo Cetto, who emigrated from Italy in the 1920’s. The winery is named after his son, Luis Agustin. I can say with certainly that it’s the only vineyard I’ve seen planted around a bull fighting ring. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised after visiting Howard Hughes’ flying behemoth The Spruce Goose, which is also surrounded by a vineyard. But if you’ve been paying attention, you already knew that (hint: Jeff’s Wining Again, Sept 2011).

Our guide Tomas showed us around the grounds and the production facility. Judging from the size of the barrel room, I’d guess L.A. Cetto is producing about 10,000 cases per year.

Back in the tasting room, we tried several whites, including Chenin Blanc (not a fan), Blanc de Blancs, and a decent Chardonnay. We also sampled the Italian reds Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, accompanied by excellent local, fresh bread. I am known to seek out good Sangiovese whenever possible, but this particular day I would be unsuccessful.

Our second stop was Casa Pedro Domecq, founded in Spain by an Irishman named Patrick Murphy. While not fluent in Spanish, I’m fairly certain that Pedro Domecq is not a literal translation of Patrick Murphy.

Domecq is an eclectic blend of new and old worlds, and a worthy wine destination. Beneath the modern tasting room with stunning vineyard and mountain views lie a series of tunnels used to age the wine. If they offer you a tour, take it. In addition to housing thousands of barrels and bottles, the caves also serve as an informal “museum” of antique wine making equipment that Pedro Domecq no longer uses but has preserved for posterity.

While lacking a bull fighting ring, the wines were vast improvement over L.A. Cetto. The Cabernet Sauvignon was good enough for us to bring a few bottles back to the boat.

The lesson of Calafia Valley is that grapes are grown and wine is made in many countries and most American states. You don’t have to go to Burgundy or Napa to find someone who makes a good bottle of wine. Adventure awaits wherever you go.

Buen Viaje.

The Oregon Trail

Back in June, my wife suggested we visit Oregon’s Willamette Valley in search of new world class Pinot Noirs. Luckily, Portland is a short plane ride from the Monterey Bay.

Portland’s a great little food and beverage city. There are a couple of wineries in town, but craft brewed beer is king. We spent two days in the city, ate from one of downtown Portland’s famous food carts, and enjoyed our share of local brews and pub food.

Midweek found us in McMinnville, a small city in the heart of the Willamette Valley with a charming, historic downtown. We were able to secure a cute French style flat that rents nightly. From there, we explored much of the Dundee Hills, which is to Willamette Valley Pinot what the Stag’s Leap District is to Napa Cabernet: the best of the best.

The roads leading up to the various hilltop vineyards are gravel. You’ll also end up with a layer of red dust on your vehicle that will make it easy to recognize fellow pinotphiles when you get back to town. It’s worth the drive just to see the views from the vineyards that stretch for miles, but it is a journey best taken by rental car.

Dundee Hills Oregon Wineries

While in the Dundee Hills, we tasted at two of our long time favorites, Torii Mor and Erath. On their recommendation, we visited Buena Vida and Winderlea, who also make excellent wines. Because of the differences in climate and soil, Pacific Northwest Pinots are distinctively different than their California cousins. I once took a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island to visit a couple who grew two acres of “cold climate” Pinot. That kind of fruit produces an “earthier” wine. One of the Pinots at Torii Mor has such a mossy bouquet that it is described as “forest floor”.

One of the Pinots at Torii Mor has such a mossy bouquet that it is described as “forest floor”.

Oregon wineries also distinguish themselves from their neighbors to the south by their choice of glassware: the Oregon style has a short extension at the top of the bowl. Georg Riedel designed this glass expressly for a group of Oregon wineries and now nearly all use it in their tasting rooms.

Erath Wine Tasting Room

Wine tasting is everywhere. While we were in McMinnville, we stopped by the Evergreen Aviation Museum to see the Spruce Goose and found a tasting room inside the museum. Our first clue should have been the vineyards we drove through getting to the parking lot.

As if driven by manifest destiny, we continued on to the rocky Oregon coast. We found a great inn right on the cliffs at Depoe Bay, with deck mounted hot tubs overlooking the Pacific. If you visit, you can get a decent bowl of chowder at nearby Cape Foulweather and go next door for – you guessed it – wine tasting at the Flying Dutchman, who really make wine right there on the cliffs.



Santa Lucia Highlands

If you read my last column you know that the Santa Cruz Mountains provide a nearly perfect climate for cultivating Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Outside of Burgundy, France, there’s just one place better: the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Highlands lie near the southern end of the Monterey Bay and separate the posh coastal communities of Monterey, Carmel and Pebble Beach from the Salinas Valley.

Several of the best growers, including Rosella’s, Sleepy Hollow, and Garys’, focus on farming and sell most of their fruit to other winemakers. You can find these names on many excellent labels. The apostrophe at the end of Garys’ is not a typo; the vineyard is owned by Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, hence the plural possessive. Oh boy, wine and grammar!

The roads up to the Santa Lucia Highlands are treacherous, so a half dozen of the wineries have tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village. You can park the car and walk to all of them. Parsonage and Bernardus are two of my favorites, with excellent wines and friendly staffs. If you’re in the area, you can take a day trip to Carmel Valley and check them out. The photo above is taken in the tasting room at Joullian, on the way into the village from the coast. Joullian makes a number of tasty Chardonnay’s, including a Sleepy Hollow.

They also make an inexpensive blend called “Retro Rouge” that’s a great deal by the case. The tasting notes state that it pairs well with “fish tacos, osso bucco, or anything hot off the barby.” That works for me.

So where do we go next? Cabo San Lucas for some fish tacos, or should we explore more Santa Lucia Highlands winemakers? Join us in February to find out.