Known for its beautiful landscape, rugged mountains, warm days, cold nights and close proximity to the ocean, Carmel Valley became an appellation in 1983. Running from north to south between Hwy 1 with ridges on the western side of Santa Lucia HighlKnown for its beautiful landscape, rugged mountains, warm days, cold nights and close proximity to the ocean, Carmel Valley became an appellation in 1983. Running from north to south between Hwy 1 with ridges on the western side of Santa Lucia Highlands, the appellation is shaped like a tiny model of California. Beyond the main stop at Carmel Valley Village, the majority of vineyards are located along the windy road, which runs through the higher elevation of the appellation in Cachagua Valley.
When the original plantings by missionaries in the region were abandoned, a French settler planted wine grapes and nut trees in decomposed granite soils at a site now called Almond Flat in Cachagua Valley. Almond Flat is owned by Galante Vineyards & Winery. But until the Durney Vineyard was planted in 1968, the land was primarily used to farm other agricultural products and raise cattle, or was simply left untouched.
Currently, the appellation covers nearly 20,000 acres, but only 300 acres are planted to grapes. As a result, more of the emphasis in the appellation is placed on earning brand loyalty, and finding the type of consumer, club member, sommelier, or wine buyer that will support the small production wines from the region for many years to come.
Whites: Most of the white grapes in the region are grown closer to the popular tourist destination of Carmel Valley Village, where the maritime breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean encourage producers to work with Alsace varieties such as Pinot Gris and Riesling.
Reds: Hands down, the two most widely planted grape varieties in the appellation are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with the highest concentration being in the more isolated inland area of Cachagua Valley. But unlike old flavor profiles like “green beans,” “bell pepper” or “vegetal,” commonly associated with Bordeaux varietals planted in the interior part of Monterey County, the wines made in Carmel Valley have richer, more developed fruit flavors, balanced tannins, bright acidity and structure. In addition to smaller portions of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot; an exciting new focus on Pinot Noir is currently in play in the cooler-climate area at the northern end of the valley.
White Wines: In general, the white wines tend to be dainty, elegant, and expressive. An exception to the rule is some of the Chardonnays grown at higher elevations. And to fill out their portfolios, many of the producers also make Sauvignon Blanc with fruit sourced from the Arroyo Seco appellation over the hill to the east.
Red Wines: During harvest, the deep flavors of small berries with thick skins develop slowly and are enhanced with exceptional levels of natural pH and bright acidity. As a result, Cabernet Sauvignons can be very rich and deep with flavors of dark fruit, chocolate, wild herbs and rustic spices. Same is true with Merlot, which tend to have a heavy emphasis on producing complex flavors of wild berries, supple texture, and silky tannins. And although the Pinot Noir style is still in its infancy, the best examples from the region are medium to full body, with notes of ripe berries, plum, pomegranate, sea smoke, and forest floor.
Carmel Valley is close to the ocean, so the white wines are great to try with fresh seafood, shellfish, gourmet salads, and fine cheeses. For reds, the Pinots are fantastic with salmon, pork, chicken, and stinky cheeses. And the deep flavors of the Bordeaux varieties lend themselves to pairing with bigger meat dishes, including rib eye, lamb, and wild boar stew.