I recently had the opportunity to visit Monterey County during California Wine Month to learn more about what makes that region such a great place to grow wine. While there, I had the chance to explore some of the most storied vineyards, meet some very talented winemakers, taste some of the best wines in Monterey County, and of course, scope out where to eat gluten-free in Monterey as well.
My visit was sponsored by California Grown, but as always all opinions are my own.
The Blue Grand Canyon is why wines in Monterey County are so unique
There are many factors that make Monterey County in particular a great place to grow wine – one of the most important is its ideal climate which is heavily impacted by its proximity to the ocean. The bay is home to what scientists call the “Blue Grand Canyon” which is situated 100 yards off the coast. The deep cool water there cools dramatically cools the air, which then blows from the ocean through the valley nearly every afternoon. This wind not only has a cooling effect, but it also can cause up to a 40-degree temperature variance from north to south during the summer.
You probably won’t be surprised that many of the wines grown in the northern part of Monterey County, closest to the sea, are those that thrive in cooler climates. Chardonnay comprises upwards of 40% of all winegrapes grown there. In addition, there are also many Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc grapes. Towards the southern portion of the county where the climate is warmer, you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Merlot.
Because the climate is so mild, the growing season in the region is extraordinarily long. Budbreak (the time when buds first appear on the grapevines) occurs weeks earlier there than in most other wine regions in California. Harvest happens weeks later. This gives grapes an extra long time on the vine which allows them to develop their characteristic intensity. When winegrapes have time to slowly reach maturity, it produces an ideal sugar-to-acid balance which is the hallmark of Monterey County wines.
Where to taste wine in Monterey
If you want to taste wines in Monterey County, you’ll need to visit one of its three distinct wine tasting areas; downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea where you’ll find about 20 wineries (most within walking distance), Carmel Valley, located a little inland, and the River Road Wine Trail. We were lucky enough to visit with the winemakers from the following labels. As you can imagine, all were so passionate about both the wines they grow, and the region itself.
- Caraccioli Cellars – Scott Caraccioli poured us both their Brut and Brut Rosé sparkling wines. They are well known for those, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The grapes they use are grown exclusively in the Santa Lucia Highlands. They have a tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
- Schied Vineyards – The Schied team joined us for dinner at Passion Fish. We got to sample several of their wines, including some from their “low sugar” label called Sunny with a Chance. They have two tasting rooms, one in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and one on the River Road Wine Trail.
- Talbott Vineyards – renowned Talbott Vineyards crafts award-winning, estate-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We got to tour their Sleepy Hollow vineyard, which is located in the northern portion of the Santa Lucia Highlands. While there, we tasted their Pinot Noir while sampling the nearly ripe Pinot Noir grapes themselves. Back at the winery, head winemaker Kamee Knutson treated us to a barrel tasting of their exquisite Fidelity Chardonnay – mind blown. You can visit their tasting room in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea.
- Carmel Road & Jackson Family Wines – though they don’t have a tasting room in the area, Monterey County is home to the famed, and aptly named, Panorama Vineyard. This vineyard is home to Carmel Road’s Pinot Noir vines which are protected from predators by busy falcons. We got to meet a falcon in training – a super cool experience, BTW. Winemaker Kris Kato was on hand to talk about their operation and give us a taste of his sustainable wines that are available at a store near you. We also sampled some of their OG label, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, which reminds me of Sunday night dinners with the in-laws. I was impressed by the fact that even though KJ Chardonnay has been the top-selling Chardonnay for the past 25 years, and they produce a whopping xxx annually, the wine is barrel aged and made with the same care as their smaller labels (they now have more than 40 including Cambria, La Crema, Brewer-Clifton and Windracer).
Where to eat gluten free in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea
Thankfully there are plenty of places where you can find gluten free food in Monterey and Carmel. From fast-casual dining, to fancy celebration dinners, you won’t go hungry! Here are a few of my favorite restaurants with gluten-free options.
Restaurants with gluten-free options in Carmel-by-the-Sea
- 7th & Dolores (AKA 7D) – chic steakhouse, cool vibe
- Grasings – gorgeous patio, classic Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Carmel Belle – great for lunch
- Katy’s Place – good spot for breakfast
Restaurants with gluten-free options in Monterey
- Jack’s Monterey (Portola Hotel & Spa) – farm-to-fork with great selection of California wines
- Sardine Factory – classic Monterey and fabulously old-school
- Schooner’s Monterey + Coastal Kitchen (Monterey Plaza Hotel) – Schooner’s is casual and a good spot for breakfast (get the seafood omelet), and Coastal Kitchen is a coastally inspired, multi-course meal
- Cafe Fina – old school Italian on the pier with many GF options
Restaurants with gluten-free options in Pacific Grove
- Passionfish – sustainable seafood
- Wild Fish – more casual sustainable seafood, plus they have amazing house made gluten-free bread
There is so much to see and do in California’s Central Coast. Whether you’re enjoying top tourist attractions, sipping wines in Monterey County, visiting local farms, or eating a delicious meal at one of the regions top restaurants, the area is well-worth a visit!
Wine Country Inspired Dessert Recipe
If you can’t make it to Monterey County to get a taste of all it has to offer, here’s a recipe for Pear Pie with Gluten Free Pie Crust that was inspired by my trip. Enjoy!
Pear Pie with Gluten Free Pie Crust
This gorgeous Pear Pie is studded with juicy blackberries and baked in a flavorful syrup made with red wine from California and just a touch of rosemary. The gluten free pie crust, which has also been lined with homemade almond paste, is flaky and flavorful and easy to work with. This pie tastes like just like a slice of autumn – California style.
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