Monterey California Wineries: 14 Tasting Rooms to explore

After extensive travels around the country, this cat has finally discovered the purrfect place for wine tasting in California. The Monterey California wineries are quiet, cozy, and close to nature – what more could a cat wish for? Whether you are looking to exercise your paws with a walk around town or stretch out in the sun next to the wine grapes in the vineyards outside of town, there are plenty of friendly wineries where you will feel right at home. 

The Wine of Monterey County

Congratulations, you have found Monterey County, a secret gem, nestled on the west coast of the United States. Located on the northern end of the beautiful central coast of California, Monterey County is home to several charming seaside towns, as well as 9 specific wine regions. Monterey County is a wine lovers’ dream!

Lesser known than its counterparts of Napa and Sonoma, Monterey offers award-winning wines across 9 American viticultural areas (AVAs).  The cool air from the pacific ocean mixed with the warmer inland climates create distinct microclimates where several grape varieties thrive. The main features of this region include Salinas Valley, which is bordered by the Santa Lucia Moutain Range on the west and the Gabilan Range on the east.

Monterey California Wineries - the Santa Lucia Highlands
Santa Lucia Highlands

This varied landscape coupled with its mild climate has earned Salinas Valley the title of the salad bowl of the world. In particular, this area is prized for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine grapes. Like most wine-growing areas of California, however, you will also find a wide variety of delicious wines.    

The 9 AVAs of Monterey County 

  • Santa Lucia Highlands – The most popular AVA in the region, the Santa Lucia Highlands faces Southeast and is known for its cool climate. This area produces some of the most sought-after Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah grapes. 
  • Monterey AVA – Inclusive of the Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, San Lucas, and Harnes Valley, the Monterey AVA is a 100-mile stretch of land with varied climates and soil. In this diverse area, you’ll find cooler weather grapes like Pinot Noir and Reisling and warmer climate grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandel. 
  • Arroyo Seco – Translating to “dry riverbed” this area has a moderate climate and is best known for Chardonnay, Riesling, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. 
  • Hames Valley – The warmest AVA in this region, Harnes Valley is known for bold flavors in its wine, mostly coming from Syrah and Petite Syrah grapes.
  • San Antonio Valley – Located within the Santa Lucia Mountain range, this area experiences a wide variety of temperatures and produces over 20 varieties of grapes. Some of the most popular grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Syrah, Marsanne, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Albarino.
  • San Bernabe – Located close to the middle of Monterey County, San Bernabe is known for multiple microclimates. Some of its best grapes include Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
  • San Lucas – Located on the southern end of Monterey wine country, San Lucas has a warmer climate than most AVAs, but it also has a wide variety in temperature over the course of a day. This range in temperature results in a long growing season, producing bold grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Carmel Valley – This AVA is a popular area due to picturesque tasting rooms and distinctly flavored wine. With cooler temperatures and an extended growing season, you can expect exceptional  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines from Carmel Valley. 
  • Chalone – Here you will find the oldest vines in the Monterey growing region. With vines dating back to 1919, this small AVA has the highest elevation in the area. Chalone also boasts unique soil with granite and limestone, giving its grapes a distinctly rich flavor. Here you can expect outstanding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Syrah wines. 

If you are looking to visit vineyards during your wine tasting adventures, the River Road Wine Trail is a fantastic place to start. This route will take you through the most popular wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Carmel Valley is also a beautiful area with several vineyards offering onsite tasting rooms. Wine from the other appellations can be found in wine bars and tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-sea and Monterey.  

Tasting Rooms in Town

Monterey California Wineries - Hahn Family Vineyards
Hahn Family Wine Tasting Room

Most of the popular vineyards in Monterey County have tasting rooms in nearby towns. If you are only able to visit one town for wine tasting, we recommend Carmel-by-the-sea, a seaside village with an abundance of tasting rooms and a fairytale vibe.

If you are looking to enjoy your wine-tasting adventures against a more vibrant backdrop, you’ll also find plenty of tasting experiences in the town of Monterey.

Let’s start out with some highlights from Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-sea is a picturesque seaside village packed with restaurants, shops, galleries, and tasting rooms. Only one square mile, this town is extremely walkable and packs a surprising amount of activities. This is a great place to base your wine-tasting adventures since you can taste some of the best wines in the county without ever leaving town. This area also features a lovely beach and hiking trails just in case you need a break from all that amazing wine. 

So which tasting rooms should you check out? Glad you asked!

Caraccioli Cellars 

Caraccioli Cellars produces wine from its vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Founded in 2006, this winery is remains owned andoperated by the Caraccioli family. They are best known for their Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparkling wine program.

Morgan Winery

This family-owned winery produces small-batch organic Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Syrah. This charming winery sources all of its grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.  Those traveling with furry friends will be glad to know that the patio at Morgan Winery is pet-friendly.

Blair Wines

The charming Blair estate tasting room is located in the main plaza in Carmel-by-the-sea. Featuring wine from the Arryo Seco AVA, this is a great place to learn about one of the lesser-known AVAs. Blair wines focus on perfecting Pinot Noir but also produce small quantities of Chardonnay and even smaller quantities of Muscat. 

De Tierra

Wine tasting in Monterey - wine barrels
Wine Barrels

Located in the Monterey AVA, between Santa Lucia Highlands and Carmel Valley, the De Tierra this winery produces a wide variety of wines including a few red blends. The De Tierra tasting room is a popular place due to its laid-back vibe and live music performances on Sundays. 

Galante Vineyards

With the majority of wines coming from the Carmel Valley AVA, Galante Vineyards is a great place to continue your exploration of the main AVAs in Monterey County. Aside from fantastic wines, you’ll also quickly learn the rich history of the Galante family, including the fact that they are direct descendants of James Frank Devendorf, founder of Carmel-by-the-sea.     

Scheid Vineyards

Home to 12 estate vineyards in the Monterey AVA, Scheid offers a variety of wines in thier adorable tasting room. Aside from a warm and inviting atmosphere, the Scheid Vineyards tasting room is also dog-friendly making tasting their wine an extra special experience. 

The tasting rooms of Monterey

Another popular place for wine tasters to stay is the town of Monterey. This quaint seaside town was established in 1770 and has existed under Spanish, Mexican, and American rule.  

Today the town is a delightful mix of relics from the past and modern comforts. Cannery Row is the town’s waterfront walk and owes its name to the rows of sardine canning factories that previously inhabited the area. Now this charming street is filled with shops and restaurants overlooking the natural beauty of California’s rugged coastline. This is also the location of the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and is home to several whale watching tours which are both great ways to experience the unique sea life of the area.

Finally, just a short drive outside of town, you’ll find Pebble Beach, another popular attraction on the Monterey Peninsula. Pebble Beach is a famous resort area known for its beautiful golf course and 17 mile drive (a scenic route along the coast).  

Staying in Monterey is sure to provide a mix of activities to pair with your tasting experience. Also, it’s only 5 miles away from Carmel-by-the-sea, so why not see both?

A taste of Monterey 

Monterey California - sunset
Sunset in Monterey

If you are looking to try a variety of wines across the Monterey region, then look no further! A Taste of Monterey is a seaside wine bar that features wines from over 95 local wineries.

Imagine sipping on wines from across the county while watching the ocean waves crash agianst the rocky coastline. With a full bistro and large seating areas, if you only do one tasting in Monterey make sure it’s this one.  

Bargetto winery

Another tasting room with a view, Bargetto has a lovely space on historic Cannery Row with both indoor and outdoor seating. Drop in to get a taste of wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, in neighboring Santa Cruz County.

Pierce Ranch Vineyards 

If you are looking for a unique tasting experience, look no further than the Pierce Ranch Vineyards tasting room located in a historic cottage, built in 1915. Just a short walk away from the hustle and bustle of Cannery Row, this cozy tasting room serves wines with big flavors.

Based in the San Antonio Valley AVA, the Pierce Ranch vineyards operate in the warmest climate in Monterey County. They are known for producing fantastic Temperillos and Malbecs amongst other varietals. 

Estate-Based Tasting Rooms

If you are looking to get out into the countryside, you also have the option of visiting tasting rooms on the vineyard properties. Wine tasting at a vineyard is an experience in itself and is highly recommended. Aside from stunning views, tasting at a vineyard provides the opportunity for an outdoor picnic next to the vines. Just make sure to call ahead for a reservation as some tasting rooms fill up to capacity during tourist season. 

Let’s take a look at some of the best estate-based tasting rooms in Monterey County.

Hahn Family Wines

The tasting room at Hahn Family Wines has one of the most striking views in the area. A little-known fact about Hahn Vineyards is that they use falcons for pest control, creating a more sustainable growing environment.

Make sure to take the time to ask one of the staff members about their sustainability practices. Learning about the growing process is sure to make your tasting experience a little bit sweeter (or drier, if that’s your preference!).

The tasting menu at Hahn typically includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache. For those who can’t make it to the vineyard, you can also visit their tasting room in Carmel Plaza.

Pessagno Winery

Monterey California Wineries - rugged coastline of Monterey

Known as one of California’s finest boutique wineries, Pessagro Winery produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache, Syrah, Sangiovese, Viognier, and Pinot Gris. Their on-site tasting room has plenty of outdoor seating where guests can enjoy views of the mountains and vineyard while sipping their wine. 

Puma Road Winery 

This winery is owned by a family that brings four generations of viticulture expertise. Besides the requisite Pinot Noir wines, Puma Road Winery produces Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. While it’s typical to use Cabernet Franc in red blends, it is rare to find a winery that bottles this varietal on its own. I highly suggest tasting this lovely red while you have the chance.

Whites at Puma Road include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris, and unlike most Santa Lucia Highlands wineries, Puma Road also produces Gewürztraminer (one of my favorites).

Wrath Wines

Based in the picturesque Santa Lucia Highlands, Wrath Wines produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. Their wines are a mix of estate grapes grown just outside the southern border of the Santa Lucia Highlands and grapes from partner vineyards nearby. Make sure to leave some time to enjoy this tasting room’s gorgeous outdoor space as well as chat with the knowledgeable staff. 

Folktale Winery

Folktale Winery is a long-time favorite of wine-tasting enthusiasts. Operating more like a restaurant than a traditional tasting room, this winery has a large outdoor area with a robust menu of food and wine. This is the kind of place where you could easily spend the whole afternoon. If you are visiting over on a Saturday or Sunday, make sure to get reservations for later in the day so you can catch a live music performance alongside your tasting. 

Conclusion on Monterey California Wineries

There you have it – some of the best wine-tasting experiences in Monterey County. Although the area makes a great day trip from Silicon Valley and other Bay Area locations, I’d highly encourage spending the night so you can fully unwind in this beautiful area.

There is nothing more special than watching the sunset on the coast after a day at the wineries. Not to mention, both Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea feature amazing restaurants paired with jaw-dropping views of the rugged Northern California coastline.

Most importantly, leave time to let the beauty and magic of wine tasting in Monterey really sink in – you’ll be glad you did!

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