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Discovering the Monterey Coast

Good food and wine abound in this strikingly beautiful part of California
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 28, 2014 11:00am ET

The Coast of California rambles 840 miles along the Pacific and somewhere about half way is the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur. You might find a more beautiful place, but you'd have to look hard.

It wasn't just the scenery that drew me to the Monterey Coast a few weeks back. There's an active food-and-wine scene to go along with all that outdoor adventure. I chronicled the best of what there is to do, eat and drink in the June 15 issue.

Two things stood out for me on the trip.

The dining scene is surprisingly sophisticated, including Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurants Sierra Mar and Marinus, plus another nine restaurants with a Best of Award of Excellence. Four of those are in the resorts of Pebble Beach: Pèppoli, Roy's Pebble Beach, Stillwater Bar & Grill and the Bench.

Wendy Heilmann, Pebble Beach's director of wine and spirits, oversees an impressive program. It's something her affluent and well-traveled guests demand. "We have to have great wines and a diverse selection," Heilmann said. "We put a lot of energy into wine education for our staff." Twenty staff members are certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and each restaurant always has at least one on duty.

While the top restaurants offer worldly wine diversity, Monterey is a thriving winegrowing region and makes for another good reason to visit.

The Santa Lucia Highlands region and producers such as Roar, Talbott and Pisoni might have lead the way for Monterey but smaller wineries such as Figge, Wrath and Chesebro are making better and better wines from Carmel Valley and other locations.

When winemaker Peter Figge came to the area nearly 20 years ago, "Eighty-five percent of the fruit was trucked outside the county," and mostly went into large California or Central Coast blends. Smaller wineries, many of them owned by local growers, are trying to prove to consumers that the region's terroir deserves better than a generic blend.

For now, most of these newer producers sell wine almost exclusively in California, but Figge looks to the south and believes that Monterey can redefine itself as successfully as Paso Robles and grab more national attention.

There are still many mediocre wines produced from the region, so much work remains. Who knows what the future will bring. Check out my full story in the magazine to read more. I'd like to hear your favorite places, wineries and restaurants on the Monterey Coast.

Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  May 28, 2014 9:45pm ET
Tim, the next time you're exploring the area, drive over the Santa Lucia Mountains via Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. Stunning drive through Los Padres Nat'l Forest and down into Jolon. One of the most beautiful and underrated drives in all of California. You can take back roads into Paso Robles from there, stopping at the "Way Out West" wineries along the way. It takes a while, but it's totally worth it!
Mike Philipp
San Jose, CA —  May 29, 2014 10:39am ET
My wife & I have been enjoying Passionfish in Pacific Grove for years. Wonderfully prepared dishes with an extensive wine list. Ten years ago, we ordered a bottle of Williams Selyem Ferrington Pinot from their wine list. The next day I made sure my name got on the WS order list. One good thing leads to another!

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