Wine Tasting Monterey – the best wineries to fall in love

Looking to avoid the crowds and high prices of Napa Valley? How about a quick getaway for wine tasting Monterey instead? Located just an hour south of Silicon Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is just outside of the beautiful town of Monterey. As one of California’s smallest appellations, totaling 22,000 acres overall, wine grapes are only planted on 6,400. The remaining land is too rugged for growing but provides some of the most stunning views amongst the Californian wine regions. This quaint and scenic area is quickly becoming my go-to for weekend getaways.

Santa Lucia Highlands

This AVA is long and narrow at 18 miles in length and between one and two miles wide. Its small size doesn’t stop the wines from having big flavor, though! With its cool ocean breezes, foggy marine layer, and long growing season, this AVA is renowned for its lush, bold Pinot Noirs and piquant Chardonnays. Other varietals that flourish here include Syrah, Riesling, and Voignier. 

Here’s a selection of tasting rooms where you can sample the best of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Keep in mind that tasting room hours are subject to change and that many require advance reservations. We recommend that you always call in advance.

Estate-Based Tasting Rooms

Only a few Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards have tasting rooms on the vineyard property itself. Monterey County imposes restrictions on retail activties in agricultural regions in an effort to preserve its idyllic character. Fortunately, there are a handful of options for those seeking an estate-based tasting experience. The fresh mountain air and sweeping vistas make the Santa Lucia Highlands ideal for al fresco dining, so be sure to pack your picnic!  

Hahn Family Wines

The tasting room at Hahn Family Wines is open Thursday through Monday from 11 am to 5 pm. One of the most striking views in the area, this is my personal favorite place for wine tasting Monterey. A little-known fact about Hahn vineyards is that they use falcons for pest control, creating a more sustainable growing environment. Make sure 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!).

Hahn Family Wine Tasting Room

The tasting menu 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 other tasting room in Carmel Plaza. Make sure to call ahead to either location for a reservation.

Pessagno Winery

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 is open Thursday through Monday from noon until 5 pm. While reservations are required, you can normally book within the same day. There is 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 to the table. Besides the requisite Pinot Noir, 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, Pinot Gris, and unlike most Santa Lucia Highlands wineries, Puma Road also produces Gewürztraminer (another one of my personal favorites). During spring and summer the tasting room is open from 2 pm until 8 pm Sunday through Thursday, and from 2 pm until 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Tasting Rooms in Town

Wine Barrels

Most Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards have off-site tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which offers an exceedingly charming ambiance. Just imagine tree-shaded streets, fairy tale cottages, ubiquitous flowers, and tasting rooms tucked into nearly every nook and cranny. The following three tasting rooms are a good starting point to explore this region’s unique wines. 

Caraccioli Cellars 

Caraccioli Cellars specializes in fruit-forward Pinto Noirs and Chardonnays, along with a well renowned sparkling wine program. The tasting room in Carmel is open daily from noon to 6 pm, Monday through Thursday, and 11 am until 6 pm, Friday through Sunday. We recommend advance reservations for this popular experience.  

Morgan Winery

This family-owned winery produces small-batch organic Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Syrah. Situated in the heart of Carmel, the tasting room is open every day from 11 pm until 6 pm. Those traveling with furry friends will be glad to know that the patio at Morgan Winery is pet-friendly. While they do their best to accommodate everyone, we recommend reservations to ensure the best possible experience. 

McIntyre Vineyards 

Sunset in Monterey

McInttyre Vinyards provides tastings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Merlot Thursday through Sunday, from noon until 5 pm. Private tastings are also available on other days by appointment only. Reservations are recommended but not required. 

Conclusion on wine tasting Monterey

There you have it – some of the best tasting expereinces in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Although the area makes a great day trip from Silicon Valley and other Bay Area locations, I’d highly encourage spending the night in the lovely town of Monterey. There is nothing more special than watching the sunset at Lover’s Point after a day at the wineries. Not to mention, the restaurants at Fisherman’s Warf offer amazing seafood paired with jaw dropping views of the rugged Northern California coastline. Most importantly, leave time to let the beauty and magic of the Santa Lucia Highlands really sink in – you’ll be glad you did!

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