The hidden treasures of monterey _ wine enthusiast magazine

A region where princes and paupers can find their dream bottle, Monterey County plays to both the quality and quantity extremes of winemaking.

The Pacific-influenced Santa Lucia Highlands produce some of the best and priciest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in California. Italian sausage recipes food network Yet from the floor of the Salinas Valley come myriad wines labeled simply as “Central Coast,” which typically sell for less than $20.

Hiding in plain sight are the Arroyo Seco, Chalone and Carmel Valley regions, three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that provide an ample middle ground between distinctively pricey bottles and relative affordability.

Italian sausage soup recipe olive garden After years of being impressed with the wines from these AVAs, I explored them in greater depth this summer. Sweet italian sausage soup recipe Arroyo Seco Unrelenting Wind and Granite Graveyards

The Arroyo Seco, a tributary of the Salinas River, carves a wide gulch through the steep Santa Lucia Mountains, whose coastal flanks frame Big Sur just 20 miles to the west. Potato and italian sausage recipe It then spills rocks of all sizes onto the flatlands near the farm towns of Greenfield and Soledad.

Founded in 1983, the Arroyo Seco AVA predates the Santa Lucia Highlands by a decade, and it was historically dominated by large-scale growing operations. Italian sausage meat recipe It’s an especially promising place for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but its varied topography affords opportunities for aromatic whites as well as Rhône- and Bordeaux-inspired reds.

“I saw a lot of California,” says Kohne. Italian sausage recipe ideas “We wanted to carve our own niche and do something no one was really doing. Italian sausage skillet recipe And there was nothing really like the Arroyo Seco. Hot italian turkey sausage recipe It was just that rock.”

The Wente family’s foothold in the region, which today amounts to almost 1,000 acres of grapevines, started in the 1960s. Italian sausage recipe homemade As fifth-generation vintner Karl Wente drives me across the property that’s dominated by Chardonnay but includes Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Syrah and Pinot Noir, he talks about “farming for flavors.” Pinot Noir vines at Wente Vineyards / Photo by Michael Housewright Rocking the Region

Wente, a graduate of Stanford and University of California (Davis), sings along to tunes by his rock band, The Front Porch, which plays on the truck’s stereo. Pasta with italian sausage recipe Wente mentions that he was just appointed chief operating officer of the company, though he prefers that not much change.

“I want to stay as close as I can to having dirty boots in the vineyard and a purple tongue in the winery,” he says, ending our tour atop a crest that overlooks the whole appellation, the fog of Monterey Bay visible far to the north.

After crossing the river on a green bridge slung low over families playing in the pools below, I come to the vineyard of Luis Zabala, an eighth-generation Californian whose Spanish ancestors arrived in Santa Barbara in 1793, and settled here in 1862. Spaghetti italian sausage recipe As we drive through vines first planted in 1972, a coyote scampers toward the riverbed. Homemade italian sausage recipe Though his stretch of the river is dry as a bone on this day, it can flood in the winter. Sausage italian recipe Luis and Leslie Zabala / Photo by Michael Housewright

Unlike much of drought-stricken California, the Arroyo Seco’s aquifers are full of fresh, clean water that’s scrubbed by this natural stone filter. Italian sausage pasta recipe But those rocks are a bane when planting, resulting in piles and rows of “granite graveyards” throughout the region. Italian sausage hoagie recipe Zabala sells grapes to about two dozen producers, but only a few have listed Zabala Vineyard on the label.

Rocks and clean water are just part of the story. Italian sausage recipe food network There’s also constant wind, which hisses through a nearby orange tree as I sit down with Jeffrey Blair of Blair Vineyards.

His family settled in the region in the 1920s. Italian sausage recipe with rice Blair points over his shoulder to the house where, as a kid, he used to make wine with his grandpa in the basement. Italian sausage pasta recipe white sauce Cattle ranching and breeding was his primary focus until about 2007, when he planted vines and began to learn how to make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Best italian sausage pasta recipe Jeffrey Blair / Photo by Michael Housewright

He believes that the wind adds stress to the vines, cuts down sugar production and causes acid levels to climb. Mild italian chicken sausage recipes “Today, I leave my refractometer at home,” he says, referring to the sugar-testing device. Turkey italian sausage recipe “We decide when to pick on taste.”

“The region has suffered from having so many very large wineries and not many small ones,” Coventry says. Fresh italian sausage recipe “The large ones bring attention, but the small ones bring greatness.”

If there’s one man who helped bridge the gap between quantity and quality in the Arroyo Seco, it’s Jerry Lohr. Recipe to make italian sausage He greets me with a wide smile and firm handshake outside of the massive white-wine facility he built in 2014 to celebrate his J. Italian sausage recipe easy Lohr brand’s 40th anniversary. Jennie o italian turkey sausage recipes He recalls jumping into backhoe pits in 1972 when he gambled by planting grapes here.

“I feel blessed to wake up every morning and know that my belief has been proven,” says Lohr. Italian sausage bean soup recipe Left to right: Kristen Barnhisel, Jeff Meier and Jerry Lohr / Photo by Michael Housewright

Inside, Kristen Barnhisel, the winemaker, shows off all the bells and whistles of the facility, which was expected to crush more than 5,000 tons this vintage. Rigatoni recipe with italian sausage Despite that volume, Barnhisel says, “We have a chance to taste it all.”

A few minutes later, I’m riding along with Michael Griva in his 1928 Buick Country Club Coupe, an antique car he maintains as meticulously as his vineyards. Homemade italian sausage recipes Since 1868, his family has run diverse farming and ranching operations, raising everything from cattle and grain to corn for the popular snack, Corn Nuts, and peppers for Ortega Chiles. Recipe homemade italian sausage Griva planted grapevines in 1997, and he quickly became a source for high-quality fruit, including the Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc, which Arroyo Seco growers helped save from extinction. Johnsonville sweet italian sausage pasta recipe Michael Griva / Photo by Michael Housewright

“I love growing Sauvignon Blanc,” says Griva, the current president of the Arroyo Seco Wine Growers Association. Sweet italian turkey sausage recipe “It’s like a racehorse. Homemade hot italian sausage recipe It’s late in bud break, and then it goes fast, so we have a really narrow target for harvest.”

As the sun sets, Griva pulls up to his renovated barn, where grilled links from Roy’s Sausage Factory in nearby Greenfield, cheese from Schoch Family Farmstead in Salinas and more winemakers await.

We taste through a slew of Pinot Noirs in search of typicity. Italian sausage recipe crock pot Maybe’s it’s all that talk of rock, but I detect crushed stone in each of the wines, a pleasantly rustic character that binds the region together.

In the remodeled kitchen of the main house, built by a state senator in 1936, proprietor Ann Hougham scrambles eggs as I take a stroll past the very chickens responsible for breakfast and then through her 14-acre vineyard of Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel.

I conduct a similar tasting later in my trip with the Chardonnays, which can be a diving board for California-style lovers to spring toward Burgundy. Authentic italian sausage recipe The wines are just ripe and rounded enough for Golden State familiarity, but with freshness, savory salt and chalky tension that hint at the Old World’s best.

The next morning, fog-laced sunlight streams into the window of my bedroom at Mesa Del Sol Vineyards, one of the few overnight options in the area. Ground italian sausage pasta recipe Dramatically perched high above the Arroyo Seco riverbed, the property was once a stagecoach stop and health spa frequented by Teddy Roosevelt.

In the remodeled kitchen of the main house, built by a state senator in 1936, proprietor Ann Hougham scrambles eggs as I take a stroll past the very chickens responsible for breakfast and then through her 14-acre vineyard of Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel. Italian sausage recipe slow cooker Ann Hougham / Photo by Michael Housewright Reds Do Well Here

Because Mesa Del Sol is located farther up canyon, it’s protected from that fierce wind, which allows warm-weather varieties like Zinfandel to do well. Mild italian sausage recipes The same is true a few miles away at Wiley Ranch, where Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Verdot and other grapes are planted among its 500-plus acres.

“This is the power stroke right here,” says the ranch’s grower Roger Moitoso, who also farms Chardonnay for the Scott Family Estate down in the cooler zone.

I finish my expedition at Ventana Vineyards, the best known of the Arroyo Seco’s brands, with about 20,000 cases sold in 36 states. Spaghetti and italian sausage recipe It’s one of the only places with a tasting room, which is a converted dairy barn. Homemade italian chicken sausage recipes That’s where I meet Sabrine Rodem, the winemaker, and Bruce Sterten, a retired TV producer. Italian sausage seasoning recipe Sterten took over the brand in 2005 with renowned farmers Steve McIntyre and Randy Pura.

“We don’t have a lot of those artisans. Jennie o sweet italian turkey sausage recipes They’re coming, but they’re not quite here yet. Recipe for homemade italian sausage Our premise is, ‘Build it and they will come.’ ” —Bruce Sterten

Jackrabbits and quail scatter as we drive through the Ventana Vineyard, home to the grapes used in their four primary wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Rubystone, a Grenache-Syrah blend. Johnsonville mild italian sausage recipe We continue to the Mission Ranch Vineyard, a powerful Pinot Noir site that’s across the road from the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Rodem and Sterten have high hopes for the region, and they plan to build a custom-crush facility to attract boutique producers. Italian sausage rigatoni recipe Some are already starting to pay attention, best evidenced in my tastings of alternative whites, where brands such as Lepe, Harrington, Scratch and Chesebro excel in varieties like Riesling and Vermentino.

“We don’t have a lot of those artisans,” says Sterten. Spaghetti with italian sausage recipe “They’re coming, but they’re not quite here yet. Italian sausage spices recipe Our premise is, ‘Build it and they will come.’ ” Chalone Vineyards / Photo by Michael Housewright Chalone Rugged and Remote

Like the out-of-place volcanic spires of the nearby Pinnacles National Park that shoot toward the sky, the remote, rugged Chalone AVA is an anomaly. Italian sausage soup recipes olive garden Despite scarce water, nearly impervious soil and treacherous chaparral all around, about 300 acres of vineyard survive against all odds. Mild italian sausage recipe It also produces what just might be the most distinctive wines in California.

The region’s late pioneer, Dick Graff, built the Chalone brand into one of the first globally respected American wineries, thanks to success at the historic Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976. Italian sausage stew recipe The region’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay remain incredibly ageworthy and reflective of the terroir.

Today, the Chalone AVA is being discovered by a generation of winemakers that is finding success with more obscure varietal grapes like Mourvèdre. Italian sausage seasoning blend recipe After years of relative isolation, due in part to Diageo’s hands-off ownership of the Chalone brand from 2004 until earlier this year, the public is being invited back, with tasting rooms slowly opening in the area.

“There’s a wild element to the wines up here,” says Michael Michaud, who worked with Graff in the 1970s. Ground pork italian sausage recipe Michael Michaud / Photo by Michael Housewright

Michaud bought his own property in the early 1980s to produce his namesake wines, which can now be tasted on site. Italian sausage potato soup recipe He’s also back consulting with Chalone, a move made by Bill Foley when he bought the brand in January from Diageo. Italian pork sausage pasta recipe Too Much of a Good Thing?

“The thing you’re fighting is tannin,” Michaud says. Italian sausage and pasta recipe “There is so much sunlight that you get the flavors naturally, but you get tannins, too. Homemade spicy italian sausage recipe The wines age beautifully.”

The five-acre Boer Vineyard is becoming popular among Pinot Noir, Grenache and Mourvèdre makers, including Ed Kurtzman (Sandler) and David Rossi (Fulcrum). Hot italian sausage pasta recipe Meanwhile, the 20-acre Antle Vineyard is all the rage with millennial-appealing brands like Dirty & Rowdy, Birichino, Enfield and Hobo. Ground turkey italian sausage recipe Antle Vineyards / Photo by Michael Housewright

“There’s a lot of tension in this soil,” says Bill Brosseau. Italian beef sausage recipe He tends to Antle, whose granitic soils are surrounded by white sage, chemise, elderberry, buckwheat and thyme.

“The thing you’re fighting is tannin. Hot italian turkey sausage recipes There is so much sunlight that you get the flavors naturally, but you get tannins, too. Italian sausage and potato recipe The wines age beautifully.” —Michael Michaud

Brosseau’s primary focus, though, is his family’s 42-acre vineyard. Italian sausage pasta recipes for dinner It surrounds the Inn at the Pinnacles, a bed-and-breakfast owned and operated by his parents.

Wooed by a bottle of old-vine Chenin Blanc in the 1970s, his father planted the vineyard in 1978 and had to truck in water to keep it alive. Italian pasta sausage recipe Today, it’s a loudspeaker for the region, with winemakers from across the state using its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Italian sausage soup recipe Bill Brosseau / Photo by Michael Housewright

“There’s no other vineyard like this,” says Brosseau as we taste through 37 wines from different vintages and brands in his dining room. Italian sausage and peppers pasta recipe “Even within the appellation, they’re all different.”

Unlike the fog-shrouded seaside hamlet of the same name, the Carmel Valley bathes in sun most of the year. Recipe for italian sausage and pasta Of the appellation’s 19,000 or so acres, only a few hundred are planted to grapevines. Italian sausage and kale soup recipe Their surroundings vary widely, from breezy, hilltop, ocean-view vineyards to properties further up the canyon, where the heat is relentless.

There are plenty of places here to try the wines, from the dozen tasting rooms that line Highway 16 to restaurants throughout the valley. Spaghetti recipe with italian sausage My introduction was at Roux, a restaurant opened by Fabrice Roux in 2015. Homemade italian sausage recipes from italy Chef Fabrice Roux / Photo by Michael Housewright Tiny Vineyards, Giant Potential

There, winemakers for Albatross Ridge, Chesebro and Joyce shared their latest wines, from zippy pét-nats to romantically rugged Rhône-style blends. Mild italian sausage slow cooker recipes They explain that there are three types of earth here—chalk rock, decomposed granite and sandstone—and that a 30-acre vineyard is considered big, since the topography is severe. Pasta italian sausage recipe Albatross Vineyard / Photo by Michael Housewright

Albatross Ridge’s Garrett Bowlus drives me to the top of a ridgeline that stares at the Monterey Bay, where his family recently planted 25 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Italian sausage pasta recipe jamie oliver On land near where his grandfather tested Albatross sailplanes decades ago, it’s one of the most dramatic vineyards I’ve ever seen, but presents a lot of challenges.

A couple of crests over, veteran vintner Dan Karlsen peers over the Diamond T Vineyard, planted by the Talbott family on a wind-wracked site in 1982. Recipe italian sausage pasta As a red-tailed hawk soars above, he praises the site’s high-acid Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

“I never had to learn the idiosyncrasies of winemaking, because we were never making wine,” says Karlsen, who has 37 harvests under his belt. Italian sausage pasta bake recipe “We were growing it.”

At nearby Carmel Valley Ranch, I taste a wide variety of wines, from crisp Pinot Gris to hearty Bordeaux-style blends, from Carmel Valley stalwarts like Bernardus and Joullian as well as newer players like Holman Ranch and Figge Cellars.

Respected Monterey County grower Peter Figge, owner of Figge Cellars, started a custom-crush facility recently in the nearby seaside town of Marina. Homemade italian chicken sausage recipe Among other producers from Arroyo Seco and Carmel Valley, it’s where Mike Kohne makes his Mercy Wines. Italian turkey sausage recipes Mark Drickson and Mike Kohne / Photo by Michael Housewright

Both join me for dinner at La Balena in Carmel-by-the-Sea, along with Hougham from Mesa del Sol and Heather Brand, whose love of wine led her husband, Ian, to start the Le P’tit Paysan brand.