Photography by Yuri Krasov
Planning a weekend retreat in Monterey County, California, I couldn’t imagine how many discoveries were waiting at every turn of the road. Sunday was a prime time to taste some wine along the gorgeous Carmel Valley Road (www.montereywines.org), and the drive itself was a treat. Chateau Julien Wine Estate in Mid-Valley (www.chateaujulien.com) is a real chateau with castle towers, stained glass windows, rose gardens and noble wines. I liked 2006 Black Nova II – a full bodied proprietary blend of 60% zin and 40% syrah, produced in limited amounts of 300 cases and distributed only on premises.
However, my favorite was Carmel Cream Sherry – a sweet blend of Palomino, Tokay and Madera grapes fortified with brandy and thoroughly indulgent – also produced in limited quantities of 100-150 cases, and also distributed only at the winery. Bernardus Vineyards & Winery in Carmel Valley Village http://www.bernardus.com) is best known for its excellent Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noirs but takes special pride in estate Bordeaux blends, named Marinus (the owner’s middle name).
At Joullian Vineyards Tasting Room, also in Carmel Valley Village (www.joullian.com) we compared very different but equally pleasing 2009 Roger Rose Chardonnay and 2009 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay from the cool Salinas Valley and then tasted some estate 2007 Sias Cuvee Zinfandel, made of grapes growing 15 miles from the tasting room.
At 1833 Restaurant (www.restaurant1833.com) opened in Monterey only a few months ago, Executive Chef Levi Mezick creates little miracles with the season-inspired menu. His Jerusalem artichoke soup, braised lamb shank served over a light version of cassoulet, and grilled pork chop, complimented by creamy grits, were all stellar in preparation.
The place is also famous for its rich history. Built in 1833, the two-story adobe house belonged to an English sailor James Stokes, who was a self-taught doctor and pharmacist. He liked to socialize with the local celebs, treated their ills, and eventually became a mayor of Monterey. They say the doc killed only eight patients during his career, which was not that bad, considering…
In his late years, Mayor Stokes hired a live-in pianist and a fellow party-lover, Hattie Gragg, now long dead, who is said to still arrive in the house as a ghost to slam doors in her former bedroom and put salt into wine glasses.
In the dark, my husband and I headed for the night to Safari B&B at Vision Quest Ranch (www.visionquestranch.com) in nearby Salinas. Charlie Sammut, the proprietor, manages several establishments on its territory, from EARS (Elephants of Africa Rescue Society) to Wild Things – an exotic animal training facility.
We slept in an authentic African bungalow, though comfortably furnished and equipped with all the modern conveniences. At night, we heard a lion’s roar, and in the morning we met all the wild things there were.
Butch, the elephant, delivered breakfast croissants to our tent. He thoughtfully brought along some row potatoes and carrots, so I could treat him in return. Later, we sipped our coffee on the deck, watching him play with his buddy zebra.
Nadia, the Siberian lynx and Bamboo, the squirrel monkey, came to visit, accompanied by Vision Quest animal trainers. Then my husband raced Fred, the African ostrich, along the fence. That was not intentional. Yuri went on his morning jog, and Fred, a rather competitive and territorial creature, dropped everything and just took on running after him back and forth.
Before checking out we joined a tour of the 50-acre facility. Wild animals tours are offered to the public daily at 1 p.m., and anyone can join them. Gracie, the resident cat, followed us all along the tour, visiting her extended family – lions, tigers, puma, leopard, and ocelot. We drove to Carmel by the Sea, and made it to the Carmel Wine Walk (www.carmelcalifornia.org) before closing time.
Galante Vineyards Tasting Room (www.galantevineyards.com) is famous not only for its estate pinots, merlots, and cabs, but for the fact that the owner Jack Galante’s grandfather founded Carmel! In sinc with the family tradition, Galante was the first tasting room to open in Carmel in 2006.
Caraccioli Cellars (www.caracciolicellars.com) a newly open chic facility with contemporary design, showcases its sparkling wines – 2006 Brut Cuvee and 2006 Brut Rose, the latter subtly enhanced by 2% of still pinot noir, and also some crisp chardonnay and silky pinot noir.
Wrath (www.wrathwines.com), on the first level of Carmel Plaza, is the newest winery, just a couple of months in existence. Its facility is shiny-new and elegant, and its pinot, char and syrah come from sustainably-grown estate fruit and from other vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
My favorite taste was of the Noble Wrath late harvest sauvignon blanc – sweet as honey, but with a distinct aroma of grilled green pepper on the nose.
To round up our wine tasting adventure in Carmel by the Sea, we headed to Figge Cellars (www.Figgecellars.com) – an innovative tasting room sharing a space with Winfield Gallery of contemporary art. The winery is well-known in San Francisco, as Figge wines are being served at Gary Danko, Fleur de Lys, Garcon, and other upscale restaurants, and the gallery represents a number of SF Bay Area and Monterey County artists.
At Little Napoli (www.chefpepe.com) steps away from all the tasting rooms, we tried Chef Pepe’s Famous Garlic Bread, made after a 100 y.o. family recipe; fresh seafood Zuppa di Pesce; Sierra Foothills lamb chops, and my perennial favorite, Eggplant Parmigiana.
A short drive to the town of Marina brought us to the Sanctuary Beach Resort (www.thesanctuarybeachresort.com) for the night. A place like no other, Sanctuary Beach Resort occupies 19 acres of succulent-covered sandy dunes of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.
The bungalows of the resort are located practically on the endless beach – home to several endangered species of birds, reptiles, insects, and plants. To make their survival easier, the resort asks its guests to leave their cars in the parking lot, and use golf carts to move throughout the property.
Next morning, walking on the beach, I couldn’t help but feel that the sanctuary extended to us, humans, as well as to other species. The serenity of the place made me feel calm and protected and well-rested – as if here, in Monterey County, was my true home.
More information: http://www.Seemonterey.com.