Play: Wine tasting in the SLH is beautiful – it’s not crowded; the expansive area is agriculturally rich with a focus on sustainability, and the wines are delicious.
We started at Hahn Estate, nestled in the highlands with wonderful views of the Valley and Pinnacles National Park. Favorites included the 2011 SLH Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Hahn Merlot.
Next door is Paraiso Vineyards, passionately guided by multiple generations of the Smith family. Take in the stunning hills and valley as you sip their wines. The 2008 “Wedding Hill” Syrah and 2009 “Irie” Zinfandel are especially good.
At Pessagno Winery, the owner, influenced by his grandfather, concentrates on small lot wines. The open-spaced tasting room and outdoor patio are fun places to taste some of their stars: The 2010 Intrinity Chardonnay and the 2010 Idyll Times Vineyard Syrah.
Carmel Valley Village offers a difference experience. Stroll around the quaint town and choose from several tasting rooms.
The wines at Talbott Vineyards are 100% estate grown. Both 2011 Pinot Noirs – the Sleepy Hollow and Kali Hart – have a beautiful color, smooth texture and flavors of ripe fruit.
Discover Georis Winery in an old adobe building that houses the tasting room and distinctive gift shop. It’s set in a flourishing garden with a cork tree and quirky pieces of sculpture. Try the 2009 Georis Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Georis Estate “Clos des Moutons” (100% Merlot).
At Carmel Valley Ranch, the mantra is play. If you’re energetic, there’s top notch golf, hiking, biking and fitness centers. Or just wander through the gardens, settle into a yoga class or get hands-on classes about bees or lavender. And when total relaxation is your thing, there’s a full-service spa and two salt-water pools.
Shop: It’s easy to walk from one end of picturesque Carmel Valley Village to the other – the few streets are lined with small shops and wrought iron and blooming flowers. Find art galleries, antique and home furnishings and accessories stores and olive oil and balsamic vinegar tastings. Wineries and tasting rooms hope you’ll buy wine and other products when you visit.
For unusual French hand-carved statutes and fireplaces for home and garden, visit Jan de Luz. He’s a charismatic figure who also sells linens and his own olive oil.
OTHER ESSENTIALS: Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Destination Monterey Bay; Monterey County Wineries; Santa Lucia Highlands Wineries
PATTY BURNESS can be found on Twitter at @pattygb