California wine tasting off the beaten track

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Carmel-by-the-Sea, on the south side of California’s Monterey Peninsula, is a bulleted list. A stroll along Ocean Avenue with its destination boutiques, art galleries, fine dining, and legendary cuteness is a must if you are visiting the coast south of San Francisco.

But just ten miles east is the rarely visited wine destination of Carmel Valley Village. Upstream from the narrow valley of the Carmel River, there are a plethora of laid-back wine tasting rooms, a few chic beach resorts, and plenty of great restaurants mixed with family farms and a 60s hippie vibe.

Some vineyards line the road while others cling to the steep sides of the coastal range, dotting the dusty landscape with patches of green. Geography creates various growing options for winegrowers, but not a lot of space. There are only 300 hectares of vines in the appellation (Napa has 43,000).

A flock of wines at the Joyce Wine Company in Carmel Valley, Calif. That included four whites, one refreshing rosé, and five reds.

Frank whitman

Fortunately, just inland are some of America’s best cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards – the Highlands of Santa Lucia and Arroyo Seco. The diversity allows for an exciting mix of wines in the local tasting rooms.

Russell Joyce, owner / winemaker at Joyce Wine Company, is skilled in sourcing fruit from these vineyards. He still makes Cabernet from the family’s five-acre hillside plot of Carmel Valley. But the majority of its production comes from land on the other side of the mountains.

The Joyce Tasting Room, in a mixed retail group, including shops and restaurants as well as wine tasting opportunities, is typical of Carmel Valley Village in California.

The Joyce Tasting Room, in a mixed retail group, including shops and restaurants as well as wine tasting opportunities, is typical of Carmel Valley Village in California.

Frank whitman

Known for his expressive pinots noir from a single vineyard, he also produces white wines, notably Riesling, Albarino, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc as well as a blend of Grenache-Syrah, Syrah and Merlot, i.e. a total of about 8,000 cases per year.

The Joyce Tasting Room, in a mixed retail group that includes shops and restaurants, is typical of Carmel Valley Village. A vintage Chevrolet farm truck with a load of wine barrels points to the entrance.

Ari Jimenez, Director of Operations at Joyce, walked us through a series of wines including four whites, a refreshing rosé and five reds.

Under the Joyce label, Russell produces terroir wines with a minimum of intervention under the motto “Old vines, honest agriculture, transparent winemaking”. The result is French-style wines with less alcohol, balanced acidity and little or no wood influence – delicious and friendly wines.

Our tasting started with a lean, shiny, pear-flavored Arroyo Seco Alberino ($ 24) and then continued with a Burgundian-style Escolle Vineyard Chardonnay ($ 35) from the Highlands of Santa Lucia. A seductive Grenache-Mourvèdre rosé ($ 24) was my favorite for daily drinks. “We’re about to get out of it,” Ari told us.

Joyce Wine Company (in Carmel Valley, CA) Pinot Noir from the Escolle vineyard was elegant with supple tannins and finesse.

Joyce Wine Company (Carmel Valley, CA) Pinot Noir from the Escolle vineyard was elegant with supple tannins and finesse.

Frank whitman

Submarine Canyon, the name of Joyce’s flagship Pinot Noir ($ 24), refers to the Monterey Bay underwater trench that raises cold Pacific water to cool the air above the vineyards. It’s a well-rated three-vineyard blend that is a favorite of the tasting room staff.

Two Pinot Noirs from a single vineyard followed. From the Gabilan vineyard ($ 45), the pale wine was bright and juicy – Ari’s favorite. Escolle Vineyard wine ($ 45), on the other hand, exhibits elegance, supple tannins and finesse.

There’s also the Russell Joyce Collection label – wines crafted with a little more (but not too much) intervention and winemaker blending that create the flavor profile you want. A dry, mineral Alsatian-style Riesling ($ 24) was a favorite of our group. The Chenin Blanc ($ 35), a rising variety in California, had a honey aroma and a crunchy finish, ideal for seafood. Grenache and Syrah ($ 38) were blended for a hearty, tannic red meat wine. .

As we were settling in, Ari encouraged us to try another – a limited edition Eden Rift Valley pinot noir available for Wine club members only. Joining the club is a good idea. Joyce wines are not distributed in Connecticut, but they do ship and the member discount is significant.

Traveling beyond the international destination of Carmel-by-the-Sea took us to the Carmel Valley for an off-the-beaten-path experience. It’s a bit out of the way, but worth it.

Frank Whitman writes a weekly column “Not Bread Alone” and can be contacted at [email protected]



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