Carmel Valley wine tour

Our first month after moving to Monterey from Australia I had no clue how many top-notch wineries were on offer in the area. Carmel-By-The-Sea, Carmel Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands just to name a few.

At the time I thought Carmel Valley and Carmel-By-The-Sea were the same place, oh how my wine world was about to change!

A visiting mother of a fellow Australian had told me about her plans to check out the Wine Trolley a few days after independence day – I jumped at the chance to join her.

We bought two High Life packages for about $139 which included a bottle of wine, five wine tasting passes, a wine glass and a lunch platter.

We were collected at the Wharf Marketplace (also a new favourite spot for wine tasting) at 11:00am where we met our fellow wine-lovers, tour guide Gary and Nugget, the golden longhaired dachshund (sadly no photos of Nugget, you’ll just have to do the tour yourself to witness the cuteness).

I instantly fell in love with Nugget and tried to sit as close as possible to her in the trolley – I’m sure I’m not the first or last to try and become her best friend for the day.

Much to my surprise we started driving through the Salina’s Mountains – I still thought we’d be driving into Carmel-By-The-Sea for the tour!

It was the first time I’d seen the mountains – and sunshine – since being in Monterey. A welcomed surprise.

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When we arrived at the Carmel Valley village I was a little confused why we were getting out of the trolley as most wine tours I’ve been on the bus takes you to and from each winery. However, we were travelling by trolley, foot and tractor and it turned out to be the perfect way to experience Carmel Valley and the wine on offer.

Gary our tour guide gave us some tips on the best wineries to try if you’re a red, white or in-between wine drinker – and we were off.

The wine cellars we were welcome to try with our tour passes included:

First stop – Parsonage

Gary recommended red drinkers start with a fresh palate at Parsonage Winery – good advice!

Walking into their tasting room we were welcomed to a gorgeous space filled with light, a long copper wine bar, wine barrels and Aztec cushions.

The walls showed off Mary Parsons’ (part owner of Parsonage) quilt work which is also featured on the wine bottles.

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The family run winery claims to produce big, bold reds and I’d have to agree.

We tried Pinot Noir, Syrah, Rosé and topped it all off with a glass of The Aussie. Now I may be biased but this was the best red I’d tasted in a long time, and subsequently ended up buying.

My wine partner in crime and I decided to buy a wine glass from each winery we visited as a memento – it was a brilliant idea seeing as I had no wine glasses at home after our move.

Second stop – Heller Estate Organic Vineyards

After a great first impression on what Carmel Valley has to offer, we made our way to Heller Estate. They offered a variety of wines, however, as red drinkers we were only interested in their Pinot Noir and red blends.

Gary eased our minds, letting us know the folks at Heller are accommodating and would be happy for us to ask for reds only.

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When we arrived and asked to try some organic reds we were greeted with a Chardonnay.

After a disappointing experience with an uninterested sommelier we left empty-handed and were on to the next stop.

I’ve since tried their wine at other events and enjoy their Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Port so I do recommend you try their wines – I’ve heard they’re hangover free.

Third stop – Cima Collina

Cima Collina was next on our agenda and was just what we were after. We were treated to a large glass of Pinot Noir each, grabbed our lunch platter and waltzed over to the Cima Collina courtyard.

The lunch platter was just what I was after, tasty charcuterie, cheese, fresh bread, olives and pickles. Always a good match with a glass of Pinot Noir.

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We also received our take-home bottle of red at Cima Collina that was included in our High Life package. I chose the Howlin’ Good Red, normally $25 per bottle with 25% of profits going to the SPCA of Monterey County. The wine was so good that my partner drank half the bottle with me the next night.

The ladies at Cima Collina – who Nugget seemed smitten with – said we were welcome back anytime and could bring our own picnic to enjoy in their courtyard.

Fourth stop – Idle Hour Winery

After a full belly, Cowboy Pete (a tractor driving local dressed as an authentic cowboy) was happy to drive us up on his tractor to our next stop, Idle Hour.

If you head into Carmel Valley, I recommend jumping on Pete’s tractor for a quick ride, he’s a laugh and you also don’t have to walk to your next winery, win-win.

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Idle Hour’s winemaker uses traditional winemaking methods to produce Pinot Noir’s and they’re focused on making small lot, single-vineyard wines. This combination made for gorgeous Pinot Noirs.

The sommelier also made us feel at home as we discussed Californian wine regions and the difference between Shiraz and Syrah. Turns out, they’re the same wine, just a different name!
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Fifth and final stop – Cowgirl Winery

Our fifth and final stop has to be one of my favourite wineries in California.

First of all, they are very generous with their pour so you can sit down and really appreciate the flavours in each wine.

We also discovered their funky gift shop which is always dangerous after a day of wine tasting.

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The indoor/outdoor winery houses roaming chickens you can feed, a cat named Pinot you can pat and the best view of the surrounding mountains.

Cowgirl made such an impression on me I’ve even joined their wine club (more on that in another post coming soon).

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Final thoughts

As a newcomer to the area having absolutely no idea where Carmel Valley was or what it had to offer I was glad I’d bought a ticket on the trolley. I would definitely recommend the tour to newcomers and tourists to experience the trolley and most importantly – the wine.

I also recommend collecting the wine glasses from each winery, I now have a collection of wine glasses that bring back wine-tasting memories whenever I use them. They’re also a great talking point whenever we have visitors over for drinks.

After being here for a few months now I’ve signed up to a few wineries so I don’t need to do the tour again. However, when my visitors arrive in 2017 I’m jumping straight back on the trolley so they can experience Carmel Valley for the first time the same way I did.

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