There's nothing quite like starting a day of wine tasting at 10.30am, but that's what we did on our recent jaunt up the coast. We've lived in L.A. since March 2008 and this was the first time we'd ventured into infamous Californian wine growing country.
After arriving in a foggy Carmel-by-Sea the previous day, we'd enjoyed an evening meal at Casanova, one of the restaurants we'd discovered about six years ago. This experience though wasn't as good as my memory suggested it should be (it's a three course meal, with copious amounts of antipasto, regardless of what you're in the mood for).
It was also a more cavernous place than I remembered and unfortunately we were seated near a table of screaming children for a part of our meal (never a nice way to spend an evening).
Inside Chateau Julien's wine tasting room
Anyway I digress, getting back to our fun-filled wine tasting adventure. The sun broke through the morning mists and we started our day at Chateau Julien in Carmel Valley. Daily wine tasting starts at 10.30am, whilst most of the other vineyards open their doors from 11am.
I'm not the biggest wine drinker in the world and definitely prefer a red to white (mainly with a meal), but we still sampled an assortment of wines and even purchased a bottle or two on our first stop of the day.
The wine tasting itself was free courtesy of a VIP flyer found in our hotel reception (keep your eyes peeled for those).
A short ten minute drive up the road and you reach a selection of other vineyard tasting rooms conveniently clustered close to each other. Next on our random list was Talbott Vineyards.
Talbott Vineyards tasting room
I'm pleased to say we weren't the only alcoholics, I mean wine connoisseurs, up and about that early in the morning. However we had been informed it wasn't the busiest time of the year, as that was imminent with harvest time just around the corner.
Inside Talbott Vineyards wine tasting room
Our next selection of wines was a bit heavy on the Chardonnay for my liking, but you have to try these things and my palate was saved by a couple of sips of red wine (and a few water biscuits to soak up the alcohol). Six tasting glasses of wine cost around $8.
Carmel Valley isn't as famous or well known for their wines as other Californian regions like Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara or Sonoma, but they seemed perfectly acceptable to me. In the back of my mind though, I was on the hunt for that perfect red that makes your taste buds go crazy when you take a sip.
Inside Georis Vineyard shop
Next on the list and right next door to Talbott Vineyards was the Georgis estate wine tasting venue. Here it was a bit more expensive at $15 for a mix of five wines, but bigger measures and a small plate of cheese and crackers (easily enough to share with all these consecutive wine tastings).
You taste the wines in the pretty, sheltered garden and you also get a fun tasting sheet to write down your guesses at the flavours in the wine. They also have two other $20 tastings for a different selection of wines.
Another short drive took us to the Heller Estate Organic Vineyards tasting room.
Heller Estate Organic Vineyards
Not only were these wines organic, they also tasted great too. More wine was purchased and our tasting fee wavered.
Inside the Heller Estate tasting room
Not only was there wine to sample, but also a small sculpture garden to enjoy (made important as one of the sculptures, 'The Dancers', features on the wine label for the vineyard).
Toby Heller Sculpture Garden
at Heller Estate Tasting Room
They were not the most revolutionary pieces of art, but they were fun to look at after a few glasses of wine on a hot sunny day.
By this stage of the early afternoon we were all feeling a bit of wine tasting fatigue. Usually you spend time traveling between vineyards in the hills and have a chance to recover, rather than simply popping next door for your next selection.
So we decided to leave the valley behind and head back in to Carmel with one last stop at the tasting room for Morgan Wineries.
Morgan Wineries tasting room in Carmel
I'm very partial to a glass of rose on a hot summer's day (or any day with a 'y' in it), and this was the only tasting room to offer a rose to try (tick, bottle purchased). They also had a lovely Grenache to try (another tick), which was a refreshing change from all the Cabernets and Pinot Noirs on offer earlier. Sadly we couldn't find any sparkling wine to sample though. (You know how I like my bubbles).
And with that last tasting, we merrily headed to Il Fornaio in Carmel for a delicious late lunch of pasta and pizza to absorb all that wine.
More of the further delights of Carmel tomorrow...