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March 26, 2008

Food and Wine and Pebble Beach

By Robert Farmer

TasteofCalifornia_RR.jpgDuring a recent trip to the Pebble Beach area it struck me - this place is actually pretty nice. Sure, postcard views of the rugged coastline and storybook houses in the hills are a dime a dozen here. But beyond that obvious stuff, there's a lot going on in Pebble Beach. I took time in between watching actors act like they know how to play golf (who am I kidding, most of them are a hell of a lot better than me!), to explore some of the region's finer establishments for culinary delights and the occasional beer. The list can take a month's worth of columns to fill, and I will devote the necessary time to that venture in due course. But in this case I wanted to tell you, faithful reader, that there's a simpler way to get up to speed on the region's best food and wine--during the first annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine Event, scheduled for March 27-30.

This all-encompassing four-day affair is held in four of Pebble Beach's premiere venues, including the famed Lodge at Pebble Beach and features the presence of the globe's top chefs and the fruit of the area's best wineries. Among the big names cooking for the event are Tom Colicchio, Gary Danko, Gérard Boyer, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pépin, Charles Phan, and Charlie Trotter. Wineries represented include Château Margaux, Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Opus One, PlumpJack, Silver Oak, and Veuve Clicquot. This heavy-hitter event, which was created to replace the wildly popular but now shut Masters of Food and Wine, is a rare opportunity to capture all this eating-and-drinking star power on a single peninsula. Numerous ticket packages are available in a range of prices. Check out www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com, or call (866) 907-3663 to find the one that best suits your Pebble Beach palate.

April 11, 2007

The Monterey Way - Great Grapes, hold the Wrath

John Steinbeck wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, in 1939 and in so doing solidified the Monterey region’s place in the canon of American literature. But in spite of the gloomy outlook of the novel’s protagonists and the commentary on the changes in the agricultural landscape and those who work in it, the novel at least hinted at a part of the prosperity on the horizon.

Today that prosperity can indeed be found in Monterey in the form of grapes. The Monterey Wine Country is an industry rooted in history but with an eye toward the future. Marked by unique terrior and playful microclimates, the countryside produces wines as varied and interesting as its beautiful landscape.

Monterey’s wine industry has grown up in the shadow of Napa and Sonoma, but it has not suffered from an inferiority complex. Rather, the wines from Monterey—from boutique wineries and large producers alike—have established a favorable reputation in their own right. That reputation is boosted by the efforts of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association (www.montereywines.org), who work to spread the word throughout the state and the nation about the many top-quality wines originating in the region.

Two hundred years ago, it was Franciscan friars who espoused the merits of winegrowing in Monterey. The birth of winemaking in the area is traced to the friars at the Spanish mission of Soledad California, who planted the first crop of wine grapes, the quality of which is the topic of some debate and pure speculation. But Monterey wines had their modern-day upswing during the 1960's when a report by Professor A.J. Winkler, a viticultural expert from UC Davis was published indicating that Monterey County could indeed be classified with growing regions similar to those in the premium regions of Napa, Sonoma, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Following the news, vineyards took root in large numbers throughout the region, both from upstart growers and established wineries looking to expand their operation. Among the trailblazers of the era were Chalone, Mirassou, and J. Lohr, all of whom continue to set the standard for Monterey wines.

Today, though, they have been joined by numerous wineries producing myriad varietals that each reflects the intricacies of the regional climate and terrain. Monterey Wine Country now boasts some 40,000 acres of vineyards with a combined worth of more than $200 million. The fruits of the area can be enjoyed at some 25 tasting rooms dotting the landscape and renowned for a certain welcoming hospitality that is as refreshing as it is in retreating supply these days.

Such wineries as Chateau Julien Wine Estate (8940 Carmel Valley Rd, 831-624-2600; www.chateaujulien.com) and Bernardus (5 West Carmel Valley Rd, 831-659-1900; www.bernardus.com) have set new standards for wine industry hospitality, providing tasting room climates as agreeable as their wines. The list of others like them is as long as the region’s history.

While pinot noir, cabernet, merlot, and zinfandel are produced in award-winning styles here, Monterey County is beloved for its chardonnay, representing some 40 percent of the acreage planted. The chardonnay produced in Monterey, however, varies greatly, from producer to producer, making tasting throughout the region an adventure in subtlety and palate education.

But while chardonnay may dominate, there’s still room enough for every kind of grape, because very grape grown in Monterey County is for wine (no table or juice grapes). And although they are often compared with the wines of Napa and Sonoma, Monterey wine grapes possess qualities that easily distinguish them from their California counterparts.

Their distinct quality and varying characteristics is part of why I love Monterey wine and why I can’t help but think Mr. Steinbeck might today have a different description for his grapes.

by Robert P. Farmer

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December 7, 2005

Monterey, A beautiful place for life

By M.L. Hilton

(MONTEREY, CA) -- I am falling in love with Monterey. My crush has evolved into a full-fledged affair. Over the past year, Monterey has gone from a favored place to visit into the I-could-live-here category.

The first spell was cast by the spectacular scenery: majestic ocean views, pulsing dunes, fog-covered pines knarled by wind and sea spray, cold mists and fireplaces, sunny valleys, and dusty farming towns. The area, in a quiet ever-present manner, reminds you of man’s diminutive stance against nature. And the residents have worked, and fought, hard to keep it that way.

Of course, maybe my affinity has something to do with the fact that every time I visit it is for some fabulous party of one type or another. The most recent event was the annual Great Wine Escape.

But my kinship has another reason. Every time I visit, someone I meet invites me to come back and stay with them. No, not the lecherous (or otherwise) single men, it has been young families, wine aficionado marrieds, sweet widows; in Monterey, either the people are incredibly nice or I have been incredibly lucky.

This last trip, my table mates at the Pairings at the Plaza, part of the Great Escape Weekend, kept me laughing so hard that by the end of the day I wanted to throw my carefully crafted schedule to the wind and finish the day with them drinking martinis at some fabulous Carmel bar.

M and M (names fully withheld to protect the exuberant) are an over-the-top (of their glass) couple who were married a decade earlier by an Indian Elvis in Las Vegas. They met in London and began a party that has been continuing ever since. They consume substantial quantities of wine and know what they like, and don’t like. Viognier was dismissed as the "Trophy Wife" of white wines. “Why?” Because, M quipped, it is low in sugar and low in calories.

As a journalist, I am typically embraced by the business world – “stay here,” “taste that.” But it is the people that I meet on every trip that give me the flavor of an area or an experience. Those that provide their email addresses, exhort me to stay, “drink this,” “laugh with me,” “come enjoy . . . .”

I have been seduced by Monterey, its people and its timelessness. If you haven’t already, open yourself and be pulled into Monterey’s spell.