Saturday, December 23, 2006

Winetasting in the Carmel Valley

After 28 years in the Bay Area, it was time to visit Carmel Valley. I had visited the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur many times, but had never made the turn down Carmel Valley Road. A few of my guests had raved about this part of Northern California, so it was time to go.

There are many things to do in the Valley and some beautiful places to stay, but this post will focus on tasting wine. The experience here is quite different than in other parts of Wine Country. The vineyards and wineries located within the Carmel Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) are difficult to get to. As a result, wineries do not have tasting rooms on site. Rather, their tasting rooms are located apart from the vineyards and production facilities.

At least nine tasting rooms are along Carmel Valley Road. Some are freestanding, while others are in shopping centers. Going from store front to store front, for me, was not as enjoyable as driving among the vineyards to visit wineries in Napa and Sonoma. However, the experience is not all that different than going from tasting room to tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.

Once we entered the tasting rooms -- we visited four -- all of the staff were friendly and knowledgeable about their wines and wines in general. Wineries here tend to produce wines from the Carmel Valley AVA and other parts of Monterey County. Carmel Valley is a bit warmer than other parts of the County, so Bordeaux varietals are grown here. However, temperatures are not as hot as Napa and Sonoma and, thus, Carmel Valley wines are not quite as big. Santa Lucia Highlands AVA has cooler temperatures and many wineries produce excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from this region.

I cannot recommend making a trip to the Monterey area solely to go winetasting. The sights on the Monterey Peninsula and along the coast are more compelling. However, if you are in the area and enjoy wine, spend an afternoon in the Carmel Valley tasting some of Monterey County's wines. You'll taste some good wine and learn about the special qualities of wine produced in this area.

For more information on Monterey County wines, visit www.MontereyWines.org. If you would like to take a tour of Monterey, Carmel, and/or Carmel Valley, please feel free to call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rising Tasting Fees

This past year has seen an increase in the fees charged for tasting wine. Last weekend, my guests paid the highest fee I have yet seen for a winetasting experience -- $50 per person. This was at Far Niente Winery, which produces high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and a dessert wine called Dulce. However, the visitor's experience at Far Niente includes far more than just a quick tasting of wine. A trip to Far Niente includes an extensive tour of the winery along with Gil Nickle's car collection and a sit-down tasting of current releases and library wines accompanied by cheeses. Despite the high cost, Far Niente remains one of the most popular wineries that are open only by appointment. In the summer, one needs to make a weekend appointment six to eight weeks in advance.

Many other wineries in the Napa Valley raised their fees this past year. Wineries that previously charged $5, now charge $10. Those that charged $10, now charge $20. A few have held the line. Frank Family and Rombauer still do not charge. Clos du Val still charges $5 for their current release tasting, but has started a reserve tasting on weekends that costs $20.

In the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, a year ago most wineries did not charge for tasting. Now most do. One tasting room manager told me that she instituted a tasting fee because too many bridal parties were coming just to taste. She was fine with the groups coming to have fun, but realized they were unlikely to buy any wine. So she decided to start charging a fee to recoup some of her costs.

When Robert Mondavi opened his winery in 1966, his goal was to produce quality wines. He was concerned, though, that people would not spend more for the quality wines because they were unfamiliar with them. So he included a tasting room where visitors could sample his wines and decide for themselves whether they were worth the extra money.

Tasting rooms continue to serve an educational purpose. Visitors can learn more about wine in general, the winery they are visiting, and their individual tastes in wine. However, with the increased charges, tasting rooms are becoming profit centers for the wineries. Visitors can now expect to pay between $10 and $20 to taste wine in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, with tastings of reserve wines costing more. In the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys, most wineries charge $5 or less to taste.

If you would like to take a custom Wine Country tour, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.