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  • Sally Rice

    Winemaker-rancher Jack Galante pioneered winestating rooms in Carmel. “Nearly everybody (in the Monterey area) recognizes wine tourism as a growing trend,” Galante said.

  • Allen Pierleoni / apierleoni@sacbee.com

    The seafood area inside the Wharf Marketplace offers fresh bounty from the sea.

  • Jordy Boom

    Vendange Inn’s name comes from a French word meaning “grape harvest.” Its owners started hosting weekend wine tastings shortly after buying the property in 2011.

  • Sally Rice

    The Galante tasting room in Carmel has a Western theme, and visitors are encouraged to take a seat on the giant cowboy boot.

  • Jordy Boom

    In the McIntyre Room at the Vendange Inn & Suites in Carmel, a century-old segment of grapevine decorates the wall above the bed, and a lamp is made from a magnum bottle. The property has partnered with 13 local winemakers who sponsor themed rooms and suites that reflect their wineries’ personalities.

  • Sacramento

  • Jordy Boom

    The Galante Room at the Vendange Inn reflects a Western theme, in this case with a chuckle.

More Information

  • VISITING MONTEREY COUNTY

    The Vendange Inn offers 13 winery-themed rooms, five non-themed rooms and a cottage. Prices range from $115 to $175 for rooms and $250 for the cottage; prices will increase in the summer months. Reservations: (831) 624-6400, www.vendangecarmel.com. Participating wineries are Blair, Cima Collina, Dawn’s Dream, Galante, J. Lohr (a Paso Robles operation with Monterey County vineyards), Joullian, Manzoni, McInTyre, Otter Cove, Ross’ Place, Tudor, Twisted Roots and Ventana.

     

    Tried-and-true restaurants

    MONTEREY

    Cafe Fina: The best restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf serves Italian cuisine and fresh local seafood, but look to the daily specials. Best bets: paella, cioppino and “Pasta Fina” (linguine with shrimp, tomatoes, black olives, green onions and shallots in clam-butter sauce).

    Whaling Station Steakhouse: Once an innovative seafood and pasta house, owner John Pisto reinvented it into a destination for dry-aged cuts of prime beef and seafood. Best bets: bone-in ribeye, veal osso buco, king salmon fillet stuffed with Dungeness crab and chantrelle mushroom. Great bar, with a small-plates menu. 763 Wave St., (831) 373-3778, www.whalingstation.net

     

    PACIFIC GROVE

    Il Vecchio: The Italian dishes are classics from Rome and the Umbrian and Tuscan regions. Best bets: any of the house-made pastas, wild rock cod in white wine with pesto, and strawberry purée simmered with 12-year-old balsamic vinegar poured over vanilla gelato. 110 Central Ave., (831) 324-4282, www.ilvecchiorestaurant.com

    Little Chicken House: Inside, whole chickens sizzle on an oak wood-fired rotisserie; in the parking lot, pork ribs, brisket and pork roast cook in an iron smoker. Sit at the counter. Cash only. Best bets: all of it. 1193 Forest Ave., (831) 655-1704

    CARMEL

    La Bicyclette: This go-to is the little sister of world-class Casanova a few blocks away ( www.casanovarestaurant.com) and could be a bistro in Paris. The dishes are cooked exclusively in a wood-fired oven. The menu changes daily, but indicative are apricot-stuffed pork loin roulade, fisherman’s stew and organic beet carpaccio. Great breads and pastries. Dolores and Seventh, (831) 622-9899, www.labicycletterestaurant.com

    Village Corner: The bistro’s menu is consistent and varied; the place to be is on the outdoor patio by the fire pit. Best bets: Mediterranean omelet (tomato, mushroom, spinach, mozzarella), calamari steak and eggs, sand dab sandwich, mushroom ravioli. Dolores and Sixth, (831) 624-3588, www.villagecornerbistro.com.

    Forge in the Forest: The architecturally striking restaurant was originally the shop of master blacksmith and artist Francis Whitaker, who pounded out the ornate ironwork that decorates many of Carmel’s historic buildings. Best bets: duck empanadas, Reuben egg rolls, seared ahi covered in pistachio and macadamia nuts. Don’t overlook the Forge burger with bacon, avocado, roasted jalapeños and grilled mushrooms. Junipero and Fifth, (831) 624-2233, www.forgeintheforest.com

     

    Wines and fare

    A Taste of Monterey offers by-the-glass tastes, flights and bottles from local wineries, and a bistro and market. 700 Cannery Row, (831) 646-5446, www.atasteofmonterey.com.

    Wine Walk by-the-Sea is a self-guided walking tour of 12 tasting rooms in Carmel. “Passports” are $65 at the Carmel Visitor Center on San Carlos Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; (831) 624-2522. Or buy them online at www.carmelwinewalk.org. Each passport is good for a flight of wines at each tasting room in downtown Carmel. The passport has no expiration date.

    Jack and Dawn Galante each has wineries. Galante Vineyards tasting room is at Dolores Street and Ocean Avenue, Carmel, (831) 624-3800, www.galantevineyards.com. The Dawn’s Dream Winery tasting room is at San Carlos and Seventh Street, Carmel, (831) 659-2646; www.dawnsdreamwinery.com). More tasting rooms can be found along Carmel Valley Road and at Carmel Valley Village. Take southbound Highway 1 and turn left on Carmel Valley Road.

    For details on guided food-and-wine walking tours of Carmel and Monterey, go to www.carmelfoodtour.com and www.zerve.com/canneryrow/foodtour

    Monterey County’s signature wine event, Winemakers Celebration, will be May 3 in Carmel. Look for 100-plus wines, food samplings, and demonstrations and workshops. Details: (831) 375-9400, www.montereywines.org.

Travel: Come to Monterey County for the wine, stay for the views

Published: Sunday, Mar. 16, 2014 - 12:00 am

Monterey County should have a motto: “Pour it, and they will come.”

It would fit, as visitors have discovered it as one of California’s most respected wine-producing regions, with vineyards sprawling from the Salinas Valley into the Santa Lucia and Gabilan mountain ranges.

Certainly helping its image as a wine destination was its inclusion in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2013,” the sole California pick. In a more hands-on way is Wine Walk by-the-Sea, a self-guided walking tour of a dozen tasting rooms in Carmel.

“From a tourism perspective, (the Monterey area) has everything you won’t find in Napa Valley, Sonoma or (nearby) Paso Robles (with 179 wineries) – a dramatic coastline, sports, golf courses, the aquarium and Big Sur, to name a few,” said Kim Stemler, director of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association.

“We weren’t known solely for our wine in the past, but that’s changing as wine becomes more associated with all the tourist activities. (Visibility) is part of it. There are now 50 tasting rooms throughout the county, (mostly) in Carmel, Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands and along historic River Road in Arroyo Seco.”

Add the Vendange Inn & Suites in Carmel to the wine-centric mix. In a unique program, the property has partnered with 13 local winemakers who sponsor themed rooms and suites that reflect their wineries’ personalities. In a symbiotic relationship, the wineries have brought the feel of their tasting rooms into the inn.

“We gave them a blank canvas to decorate the rooms as if they were their own,” said the Vendange’s Brian Lee, co-owner with brother Jon.

For instance, the Galante Room has a cowboy theme that includes a ceramic cowboy boot as a wine caddy. That’s because vintner Jack Galante also operates a working cattle ranch. In the McIntyre Room, a century-old segment of grapevine decorates the wall above the bed. Over here is a wine barrel-head clock, over there a lamp made from a magnum bottle. The Twisted Roots Room is accented with wood-and-iron wine-display racks and artwork custom-made from wine barrels.

In other rooms are wine barrels made into tabletops and snack bars, original artwork telling the wineries’ stories, grapevine wreaths, color photos of vineyards printed on canvas, themed throws on chaise lounges and beds, and more.

Wine racks full of the wineries’ signature reds and whites are in all the rooms, with the bottles for sale. So are coasters and gift baskets. Five more rooms are waiting for other wineries to move in.

In 2011, the Lee brothers bought a dilapidated hotel and transformed it into the Vendange, a French word meaning “grape harvest.” They finished the bathrooms with stone and Spanish marble, and brought in top-of-the-line beds, linens, duvets and down pillows. They landscaped the grounds, built a fire pit, remade the lobby, added complimentary continental breakfast and started hosting weekend wine tastings.

“We wanted to do a theme, but we wanted it to be modern and not antiquey, like so many other places in Carmel,” said Brian Lee. “We live in wine country, so we chose a wine theme. We wanted to work with the wineries because they make very good wines and we support local businesses. It seemed natural to partner with them. It’s a win-win situation: They get the exposure (and references), and we get the theme.”

Can hotel guests meet the winemakers as part of the package?

“We’ll be talking with the winemakers to see if they have the time to do that,” he said. “For now, we can call the tasting rooms and ask if the winemakers are there, or give guests vouchers for free tastings.”

We stayed in the Galante Room, so it made sense to arrange a chat with vinter Jack Galante at his tasting room in downtown Carmel.

Galante is a longtime rancher and vintner, the great-grandson of Carmel co-founder J.F. Devendorf. He was the first to open a wine-tasting room in Carmel, in 2005, featuring estate reds and whites from the Carmel Valley. He encouraged other vintners to do the same, and helped pioneer Wine Walk by-the-Sea “as a way to bring more attention to Carmel as a wine destination.”

On this day, Galante was running late because he’d been branding cattle that morning on his 700-acre ranch and “they don’t always do what you want ’em to.”

Galante produces 3,500 cases of estate wine annually from 25 acres, with 120 more acres available for planting. He also bottles 1,500 cases of wine for Dawn’s Dream, his wife’s winery, but Dawn Galante sources most of her grapes from other Monterey County vineyards. By coincidence, this was the same day Dawn Galante held the grand opening of her wine-tasting room nearby. She sponsors the Dawn’s Dream Room at the Vendange.

“We’ve had quite a few people stop by and say, ‘Oh, we’re staying in your hotel room,’ ” Galante said. “(The Lee Brothers) were very proactive. They recognized that Monterey County is one of the largest grape-growing regions in the U.S. and wanted to be part of it.

“Nearly everybody (in the area) recognizes wine tourism as a growing trend,” Galante said. “Visitors want to eat and drink locally, it’s what the travel experience is all about. I’m encouraged by all the activity in the tasting rooms and by the wine programs at hotels and restaurants. I see the city (of Carmel) itself saying, ‘It’s all about enjoyment and helping the local economy,’ despite the small percentage (of politicians and locals) who say, ‘It’s just more drinking.’ 

Though traffic-crazed Napa Valley (with 500-plus wine operations) and sprawling Sonoma County (400-plus) are the darlings of California’s multibillion-dollar wine-tourism industry, Monterey County vintners work with 40 grape varieties at 80 wineries in nine American Viticultural Areas (designated wine grape-growing regions) with annual sales of $280 million. Their reds, whites and sparklers are reaching trophy status among vino-savvy travelers.

As Monterey County’s wine-consciousness continues to rise, more restaurants than ever are stocking local wines, hotels are hosting special tastings and dinners featuring area winemakers, and tasting rooms are never slow. In short, everybody’s buzzed in more ways than one.

“We have nightly wine tastings of local wines and weekly wine tastings that feature wines from a single vintner. Usually, there’s a winemaker on hand,” said Mary Crowe, general manager of the grand dame La Playa in Carmel, a renovated showplace overlooking the ocean. “We have an almost completely local wine list at the bar, where we offer flights and by-the-glass. (Also) we’re doing a program of paella parties that pair local wines with that (seafood dish).”

Hotel guests and the casually curious who stop by for a sip are happily surprised to discover so many local wines, Crowe said.

“It makes a lot of sense,” she said. “(Monterey County) is authentic vineyard to table and farm to fork. I can’t think of another area in California that has such a variety of wines and bounties of produce and seafood. It makes the trip here so worthwhile.”


Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni



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