The morning rays of the sun rose over Monterey Bay and began to shine through the wooden shutters of our spacious room . Sounds of seagulls and waves gently splashing on the rocks below reminded us that we were no longer in the desert .
A quick breakfast on the patio and we were off to explore the many interesting aspects that Monterey County has to offer. Monterey County is famous for many things, however no true exploration of Monterey and the Salinas Valley could not be complete without exploring the works of Author John Steinbeck.
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas not far from Monterey. His novels East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday are among the stories that use Monterey county as the backdrop for his novels.
Monterey County Agricultural expert Evan Oaks, Owner of Ag Venture Tours took us on a journey through Steinbeck country like a true native. As we headed down Highway 68 towards Salinas he explained that Steinbecks Novels reflect his deep-seated roots in Monterey County.
Steinbeck first received attention with a novel set just after World War I in Monterey, titled Tortilla Flat. This book focused on Monterey residents of Mexican descent. His work at ranches and farms in Salinas informed his “California novels” set in the Depression-era farmland of the Central Valley, including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.
We arrived at Castle Rock which was the inspiration of John Steinbeck’s Camelot castle in his book The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, along with other stories, such as Pastures of Heaven, in which Steinbeck says that it has “so serene a beauty.” In this short story, “The Murder,” he starts the book with “This happened a number of years ago in Monterey County…At the head of the canyon there stands a tremendous stone castle, buttressed and towered like those strongholds the Crusaders put up in the path of their conquests. Only a close visit to the castle shows it to be a strange accident of time and water and erosion working on soft, stratified sandstone.”
The bluffs and castle-like turrets of stone that fascinated Steinbeck were featured in his Pastures of Heaven ( 1932 ). As Evan read to us from Pastures of Heaven we could not help but almost feel that John Steinback himself was looking down on us from the ramparts of his beloved Castle Rock.
As we proceeded down highway 68 to the Salinas Valley , Evan informed us that the Salinas Valley is the center for Monterey County’s 3.8 billion-dollar agriculture industry.
Due to its temperate, Mediterranean-like climate and fertile soils, the county has become the number one vegetable-producing region in the nation.
He continued to point out that this area supplies 80 percent of the nation’s lettuces and nearly the same percentage of artichokes. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, peppers, squash, carrots, asparagus, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, garlic, onions and flowers are also grown in abundance.
Local growers and shippers in the Valley lead the industry in all phases of crop growth including seed technology, planting and irrigation, harvesting and marketing. Pre-packaged salads and precut fresh vegetables were created in the Salinas Valley, and this innovation has changed the way we buy vegetables.
Today , Monterey County continues to be a leader in agricultural exports with over 570 million pounds of produce exported annually. Top importers of Salinas Valley produce include Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico and the European Union
The highly sought after Organic produce is and has been incorporated into the holdings of most large companies and many are continually working on experimental projects . There are currently over 14,000 acres of organic vegetables growing in Monterey County. More than 40 crops exceeded $1 million in production value in 2008.
80 Years in the making
Margaret D Arrigo , Executive Vice President was waiting as we pulled up to her family’s sprawling headquarters facility . She explained that she was going to take us on a drive to their cactus pear farm to show us a new project they are working on and then for lunch.
Our 30 min ride to the farm took us along side of the Santa Lucia Highlands and the ancient alluvial fans that produce some of the countries finest wines. We turned down a dirt road and into a cactus farm. It seemed quite out of place right between of some very famous vineyards.
Margaret explained Edible cactus is also known as nopales (no-PAH-les), nopalitos or cactus pads. This vegetable is popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia.
Its popularity is increasing in the United States where it can be found at Mexican grocery stores, specialty produce markets and farmer’s markets. In addition to the food aspect she has plans to use the cactus pear puree in various cocktails including Richard Oh’s OH Zone vodka. 80 years ago D Arrigo was a pioneer in the Salinas Valley. Margaret and her brother seem to be keeping up the cutting edge tradition with their latest project.
Today, D’Arrigo Bros. Co., of California (Andy Boy) specializes in Romaine, Romaine Hearts, Iceberg Lettuce, Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Butter Lettuce, Broccoli Rabe, Broccoli, Shrink-Wrap Broccoli (with heat shrink tape used to seal it shut), Cauliflower, Cactus Pears, Nopalitos and Fennel. They service customers in the retail food, foodservice, and the food wholesale sectors and farms some 24,000 acres . On the way back to the headquarters building and what promised to be a great afternoon with lunch and a Pinot Noir focus tasting , Margaret explained that she conducts cooking classes for local children to educate them on eating and cooking better and she added the program as has had fantastic results.
D Arrigo Lunch was nothing but spectacular After spending most of the morning in the farms and fields of the Salinas Valley we were now ready to enjoy some the great food and of course wine that they are so famous for. Margaret D’ Arrigo pulled out all the stops and put on a lunch that has to be one of the best we have had the pleasure to enjoy.
When you combine the talent of a great local Chef and a 5th Generation winemaker those are all the ingredients you need for a wonderful time.
Karl Wente , Fifth Generation Winemaker , Wente Family estates joined us for lunch. Karl explained that his family’s vineyard is the country’s oldest , continuously operated vineyard and was founded in 1883. With over 3000 acres of Sustainably farmed grapes , they have created a very well known and vast portfolio of wines.
He went on to add that Wente Vineyards has a restaurant , golf course , does catering events and even concerts. On this day , he enjoyed the fresh creations from Chef Todd Fisher with each course being paired with a Wente wine.
Chef Todd Fisher showed off his culinary talent and created a lunch that showed off the products of this fertile valley. His Caesar salad with Andy Boy Romaine Hearts was probably the freshest that we have had, understating we were very close to where it was grown. Of course a lunch in Salinas would not be a lunch with out Guacamole and Fresh Salsa. Chef took it one more step and made a Guacamole Rabe and ended our lunch with Prickly Pear Sorbet and Lemonade.
\Broccoli Rabe & Carne Asada Tacos
paired with Wente Vineyards 2006 Small Lot Syrah was a pairing that was spot on.
Chef Todd Fisher really captured to flavors of the Salinas Valley with his
Colored Cauliflower Enchiladas and contrasted it by pairing the Nth Degree 2007 Pinot Noir
THE CUISINEIST Culinary Magazine takes a “foodie” look at this wonderful lunch and speaks with Chef Todd Fisher. Stop in and take a look !
Just when one may think the afternoon could not get much better , It did. Vino Las Vegas sat down with some of the founding winemakers in Monterey County and explored 5 of the 8 AVAs at a Pinot Noir Terroir Focus Tasting
Some of the best Pinot Noirs’ in our opinion come out of Monterey County. With its cool climate and maritime influence , Pinot Noirs do well in most of the AVAs in the county. This area provides the proper temperature , warm days, a shorter frost season and less chance of unseasonable and damaging rains. The primary attribute of this singular climate is the cooling air of the Monterey Bay, which creates a longer growing season. As air in the southern part of the county warms at noon each day and rises, cool air from the Bay fills the void left by the rising warm air.
Grapevines in Monterey County tend to produce buds in the Springs, two weeks earlier than vines in other regions. Due to the cool growing season, the Fall harvest typically beings two weeks later than other regions. Thus, local grapes remain on the vine a full month longer, developing the characteristic intensity of flavor.
We had the opportunity to sample Pinot Noirs from Arroyo Seco. This AVA is almost in the middle of the county next to the Santa Lucia Highlands. The first Pinot Noir we sampled was 2007 J Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir . This was a young Pinot but represented itself well. Monterey County legonary founder Steve
McIntyre was on hand and presented us with his 2006 McIntyre
Vineyards Misson Ranch Pinot Noir. Having more time in the bottle , this Pinot Noir showed what the Arroyo Seco AVA is all about , showing off the AVAs unique qualities. The Santa Lucia Highlands may be the county’s biggest name. Located in some of the highest elevations of the county. This AVA is well known for its Pinot Noirs. Several Pinot Noirs were sampled from this appelation. The 2007
Bernardus Vineyards Rosella’s Santa Lucia Highlands , 2007 Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir , Steve McIntyre was up to the task with his 2007 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir and was followed by Morgan Winery with there 2007 Morgan Winery Twelve Clones Pinot Noir and 2007 Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The next AVA we explored was the renowned Chalone AVA which is the oldest and located on eastern side of the county at very high elevations. Who else could start the tasting of this AVAs Pinot Noirs was legendary winemaker Michael Michaud. His 2005 Michaud Vineyard Pinot Noir was a great way to get our Pinot Noir trip started. Of course Chalone Vineyard was on had to show off their 2007 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir as well.
Not be be left out Carmel Valley AVA was well represented by Bernardus Vineyards and their 2007 Bernardus Vineyards Ingrids Carmel Valley Pinot Noir. The Monterey AVA was represented by
Carmel Road Winery and its 2007 Carmel Road Sierra Granite Pinot Noir. And Scheid Vineyards with their 2007 Scheid Vineyards Pinot Noir to finish this very special Pinot Noir journey through the hills and valleys of Monterey County.
A Visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium
If your staying on Cannery Row the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is worth a visit. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on the site of a former sardine cannery and has an annual attendance of 1.8 million and holds 35,000 plants and animals representing 623 species.
The basic design of the aquarium pumps 2000 gallons/minute of Monterey Bay ocean water, night and day, through the more than 100 exhibit tanks. During the day the water is filtered for viewing clarity. During the night, raw (unfiltered) seawater is pumped through exhibits, bringing in food in the form of plankton. Waste ocean water from the aquarium is returned to the Bay. This design makes the aquarium ecologically essentially part of the ocean in the Bay, and allows the culture of organisms such as Giant Kelp which are not suitable for ordinary saltwater aquariums.
We stolled amongst numerous sea life and were in totall awe of their beauty. This Aquariium is one of best known in the world and just another aspect that Monterey County has to offer to its visitors. Located on Cannery Row it is easlity accesbale and walking distance to many of the hotels.
In addition to appreciating the beauty of the sea life, we were at the aquarium in the evening for a very special event. There were winemaker dinners all over the county and ours was right here in the middle of the aquarium with great wine from Estancia and Chef David Anderson’s culinary delights.
Estancia wines are very well known. Their winemakers strive to combine the best of both worlds with a state-of-the art winemaking facility, and a traditional, hands-on approach to to take advantage of the beneficial advances in winemaking technology that has developed over the years.
Scott Kelly joined Estancia in 2007 as Director of Winemaking and is responsible for the day-to-day activities of winemaking this includes walking the vineyards, tasting each barrel to determining blending, aging and bottling.
Scott knew wanted to be a winemaker from the time he was 17 years old. He worked his way to assistant brewmaster for Carmel Brewing Co. in Salinas, managing all aspects of brewing.
A year later, he joined Golden State Vintners in Napa Vally as a laboratory supervisor then promoted to cellar master and eventually assistant winemaker. Following Golden State Vintners, Scott then worked as winemaker for La Famiglia and then Robert Mondavi Private Selection before joining Estancia in 2007.
He continued on to earn Bachelor of Science degree in fermentation science from University of California at Davis and was also awarded a Certification of Master Brewers Program.
We walked into the Aquarium and realized at night this was a whole different experience than during the day. Guests had the very special opportunity to walk amongst sharks , large kelp forests , and even penguins while sipping on some great wines and tantalizeing treats from Chef David Anderson , Portola Resturant Executive Chef.
It was now time to dine. and dine we did. Each table had a winemaker or host from the winery to enjoy the wine , dishes and answer any questions we may have.
Chef Anderon’s Farmed Artic Char Blanquette Crep paried with Estancia Reserve 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands paired great with the dish as its soft silky tanins and spice lead to a lingering finish which was a true complement to the dish.
Braised Beef Short Rib, red wine risotto was paired with the 2006 Estancia Mertage Paso Robles which melted in our mouth. Flavours and aromas of chocolate , black cherries and even rosemarry combined for a great marriage with this dish.
Chef David Anderson , Scott Kelly , Estancia wines and the Monterey Bay aquarium gave us all a memorable experience in a venue that was created by nature itself. We walked along the famed Cannery Row, marveling at the stars and taking in ocean aromas on the way back to the Monterey Bay Inn and preparing for a visit to Carmel Valley the next day.