Last month, Holman Ranch spin-off Jarman Estate Wines opened its tasting room next to landmark Wills Fargo Steakhouse and Bar with an inventive and food-focused approach to wine tasting. At around the same time, Folktale Winery released its brand-new label — with a barrel-room rock show and garden party — in the previously underachieving, albeit massive, Chateau Julien, bringing the number of tasting rooms on the Carmel Valley Wine Trail to a full-bodied 23.
Even better news for wine lovers near and far:
No fewer than 21 of those are within a thoroughly walkable 1,000 steps. All of them make at least one excellent wine, and often many more. Parent vineyards appear down Carmel Valley Road and in the neighboring Cachagua and Arroyo Seco valleys, growing around 20 varietals that do well in the valleys’ combination of warm days and cooler nights.
Bordeaux varietals prove favorites here, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot making up roughly two-thirds of the grapes grown in the district. The soils are predominantly well-draining San Andreas fine sandy loam and Arroyo Seco gravelly, sandy loam, and 300 acres are dedicated to growing grapes in the area.
These wines remain among the best expressions of valley sun and soils, and a recent remodel gives the centrally located tasting room the pedigree to match. Among the upgrades: a second tasting bar with four stools and a pretty new lounge/private party space with boars’ heads on the wall, a grand wooden table and couch seating. Even with the nice new interior space, the mightiest improvement came to the patio, with its outdoor couches, vine-accented walls and a graceful white oak. The basic and reserve tasting flights both include four wines. The must-try flagship Marinus Bordeaux blend of estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec appears on both, pairing nicely with pictures of a vineyard on the wall. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc regularly win awards, and the range of Pinots from varied microclimates reveals winemaker Dean de Korth’s talent for letting terroir do the talking.
5 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Tasting fees: $12-$20. (831) 298-8021; www.bernardus.com/winery.
Chesebro sits at the heart of Carmel Valley’s densest row of tasting rooms, a
must-visit strip that was once called East End. Each of East End’s seven venues — including standouts Coastview, Joyce and Parsonage — are well worth a sip (or seven), but Chesebro represents the widest range of atypical varietals and outright value. The spacious, peaked-ceiling space is built around an L-shaped tin-and-cypress bar and works by nine artists, including, on a recent visit, the one pouring seven wines for the tasting, three whites and four reds. The sequence brightens nicely with unusual and diverse whites (like the Carmel Valley Roussanne), the solid Chesebro Pinot and the Las Arenas blend of Grenache and Syrah. Winemaker Mark Chesebro uses his estate grapes and industry savvy to set prices that achieve both renown and an ambitious goal: “Remarkable wines every night.” The only problem is a small one: It’s open only four days a week. Thankfully, the East End neighbors provide worthy alternatives.
19 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 1-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon-6 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, and by appointment. Tasting fee: $10. (831) 659-2125; www.chesebrowines.com
There’s a lot to like here. The adorable repurposed milk barn houses a seven-person tasting bar. A big shaded patio under a bigger white oak provides divine alfresco settings. Annette Hoff does the winemaking. Husband Doug Danzer runs the sales and marketing machinery for the close-knit family operation. The tasting allows for a visitor’s choice of four or eight wines from at least 13 that include a rosé, whites, impressive Pinot Noirs (four total), red blends and dessert wines. The smoky Chalone and spicy Tondre Grapefield Pinots are tastes to prioritize, but there are lots of other Pinot Blanc and SPCA-benefiting “Howlin’ Good” red blends to jump on too.
19-A E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. Noon-7 p.m. daily, until 6 p.m. Oct.-June. Tasting fee, $5-$10. (831) 620-0645; www.cimacollina.com
Here the tasting spaces proliferate and drip charm: Wine flows in the high-ceilinged, reclaimed-materials “barn” full of cowboy boots and rustic design elements, on the outdoor patio party space next to the chicken coop, and at a tasting table in the back of an old farm truck. And that’s just one corner of a huge property filled with grapevines and native gardens. The tastings match the easy, stylish look, arriving in hanging racks with 2-ounce pours of either the Cowgirl flight (rosé, a white blend, Chardonnay and red blend) or estate flight (Pinot, Malbec and Cabernet). Pizzas from sister property Georis/Corkscrew Cafe are available for snacking, a luxury among valley tasting rooms. Another bonus: Donate a pair of cowboy boots, get a bottle of wine.
25 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley. 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tasting fee: $13 per flight. (831) 298-7030. www.cowgirlwinery.com
With help from Pinot Noir whisperer and industry star Dan Karlsen, Robert Talbott built a wine dynasty from profits amassed in fashion. Now, another transformation: He has turned a tasting room into a motorcycle museum. Or maybe he transformed a motorcycle museum into a wine-tasting space. Whatever the case, the vintages are incredible on both sides of the equation. The interesting vehicles, sweet patio space, party grounds and fridge with snacks complement the two tasting options. The standard tasting (available daily) includes three single-vineyard estate Chardonnays and three similarly sourced Pinots; the premium tasting (available weekends due to limited production) includes even smaller-batch Chardonnays and Pinots from estate places like Diamond T Vineyard.
25 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thurday; until 6 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Tasting fee $10-$15. (831) 659-3500; www.talbottvineyards.com.
Make it a weekend
Historic country-style Los Laureles Lodge furnishes ranch-style rooms starting at $130 during high season. But even the high end translates to big value: The $650 Hill House provides three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, den, dining area, full kitchen and deck with wide views of Carmel Valley. Given the valley sun, bikinis and cocktails, the pool is the place to be in on pleasant days, and has become a destination for locals. Come winter, the cowboy bar next to the LLL kitchen, with nude paintings, vintage typewriters, a fireplace and personality-plus servers, delivers a cozy saloon feel. Chew on a half-pound burger, drippy flat-bread N.Y. steak hoagie or a blackened salmon salad. The restaurant dishes things like slow roast, duck confit, tempura sand dabs and grilled filet mignon.
313 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. Suites from $115-$500 (low season), $130-$650 (high season). (831) 659-2233, www.loslaureles.com.