The moment before sunset, when the sky is filled with softening streaks of red and orange and the calm of dusk starts to settle on the land, can be strikingly beautiful almost anywhere. In the town of Carmel, of course, there’s something extra special about it. Partly, it’s the light sparkling on the dancing waves of the Pacific. The gentle breeze and soft ocean air play a part, too. But, what gives sunsets their additional bit of magic in Carmel is the aura of the town. It’s quaint and simple, without tall buildings or street lamps. There’s nothing to impede the view and nothing to drown out the light, so the spectrum of colors stands out, vivid and bold.

The picturesque nature of Carmel sunsets is certainly not a secret. People travel from far and wide to experience their splendor. The town’s proximity to wine country hasn’t quite gained the same renowned status. With such a focus on sunsets, escaping into wine country has flown a bit under the radar, and that’s part of what makes it unique.

Monterey County’s wine country isn’t like many of the other growing regions in the state. There aren’t rows of wineries lining the streets nor long, steep winding roads to navigate. Following River Road, you’ll travel through the fertile Salinas Valley and take in all the color and spectacle of this rich agricultural region. From the road, there are some impressive views of the mountainside vineyards, which line the walls of the valley. There is plenty of open space, so one can admire the scenery without the hassle and disruption of crowds. While a number of wineries dot the landscape in this area, two highlights of the region were Robert Talbot Vineyards and Hahn Family Winery, both for the beauty of their estates and the quality of their wine.

Winemaker Dan Karlson


At Talbot Vineyards, they only make wine from what they can grow best, and in the Santa Lucia Highlands, that’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Winemaker Dan Karlson has spent years in the industry honing his craft, and once you taste his wines, you’ll understand that his experience has been put to good use. In general, his offerings are lush, balanced, and layered. Dan has a simple winemaking philosophy, “Drink more and think less.” He allows the vines to do what they do. He’s not one to get involved in all the science and numbers associated with grape growing. As he succinctly puts it, “My parents weren’t in the wine industry, but the grapes’ parents were, so I’m gonna listen to them.” The homey tasting room, along with Dan’s grand charm and winemaking abilities, make Robert Talbot’s place a stop one shouldn’t miss.



The view from Hahn Winery



The Hahn Winery is located a bit farther south. To reach it, there is a long hill that must be navigated. It’s a slow and steady drive to the top, but once you reach the pinnacle, the trip is more than worth the effort. From this mountain-top estate, the views of the Salinas Valley and the town of Soledad are nothing short of spectacular. If arrangements are made ahead of time, the winery offers ATV tours through the vineyard, which provide a splendid, up-close look at the wonders nature has bestowed on this mountain region. Atop this perch, it’s easy to leave the rest of the world behind. Of course, a glass of wine can really help, too. At this estate, they have roughly 650 acres under the care of Andy Mitchell, their Director of Vineyard Operations. The SLH Estate Pinot Noir and Syrah, both grown on site, are each rich with fruit flavor and nicely balanced. For something a bit different, they also make a Grenache, only available out of their tasting room, that’s a fine example of what California can do with the Rhone varietal. Besides the views and great wine, if you visit on the right day, it’s possible to find assistant winemaker Greg Freeman playing his bag pipes. His performances are fairly impromptu, so keep an ear out for classical tunes on the wind.



Assistant winemaker Greg Freeman playing his bag pipes


Out on these tranquil roads, wrong turns can be a problem, but thanks to new directional signs, placed at many intersections, detours will be much easier to avoid. These tall, white beacons list each winery you can visit with an arrow pointing out the correct route. There’s also a new Monterey wine tasting mobile application that’s due for release in January. It will offer users the ability to map out their routes and plan visitation times based on tasting room hours. So, if you’re in King City on a Saturday at 3pm and you want to know what tasting rooms are still open, you’ll have the information at your fingertips.

On your next trip to the Carmel and Monterey area, enjoy the great restaurants , the little shops, and the great dog-friendly beaches. Keep in mind, though, that with just a short drive, it’s possible to escape into wine country as well. Really, what could be better? Tasting wines during the day and enjoying the amazing sunsets come evening. After all, a favorite bottle from your day of tasting just might be the perfect compliment.

By Jason Barlow