If you are visiting Monterey County and want to go wine tasting, the two most popular tasting destinations are Carmel Valley and River Road (the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA). They offer completely different experiences, with Carmel Valley primarily being made up of a concentration of tasting rooms, and River Road being a scattering of wineries and vineyards without many tasting opportunities. A 30 minute drive separates the two, at the closest points.

To begin to answer this question, we always explain that this wine location grew up very differently, and the experience generally does not follow the Napa model. While we grow tons more wine (and other produce) than some of the better-known regions, we have historically been more of a wine-growing location than wine tourism. The majority of the families who own vineyards here are are farmers or ranchers who converted their land into grapes over the last 60 years (ask us about Boekenoogen).

So, if you are interested in wine tasting in one of Monterey County’s most popular areas, which should you choose?  Although it is possible to visit both areas as they are only 30 minutes away from each other, that distance is a bit deceiving. You will find that trying to get a real sense of either area requires choosing one or the other for a days tasting, though our first-time guests enjoy a bit of both areas when we can offer that on the Cane and Spur Experience public tour.

Carmel Valley does not have public wine production facilities or even many vineyards. The majority of wineries in this area offer tasting rooms only, and don’t provide the full wine tasting experience of walking into the vineyards or tasting in a barrel room. However, Carmel Valley is not an area to miss if you are a wine lover. The valley has grown to be the hub of quality wine tasting in Monterey County, with several good quality tasting rooms consistently producing outstanding wine. Choose Carmel Valley if you are primarily interested in drinking great wine, and the proximity of lunch options like Cafe Rustica makes this area a local favorite.

River Road, on the other hand, is a very large area with the closest location being Odonata Winery. The most popular winery in this area is Hahn Estate which is another 30 minutes inland from Odonata. In-between these two wineries are about five other wineries. The biggest benefit to River Road is being surrounded by beautiful vineyards and seasonally getting to see how the wine is crafted.  If you are going to visit three wineries on River Road, you are likely to spend around 4 hours in this area for tasting and driving. There are no restaurants in this area, so you should either eat before your trip or pack a lunch. 

Cane and Spur specializes in learning our customers wine preferences as we craft your tour. For our standard tour we have been offering a glimpse of River Road for a more balanced experience for those who request it, though the bulk of the stops will be in Carmel Valley. It’s totally up to you for the private tour. Please call us today or book a tour online and make sure to mention your preference or ask additional questions so that we can craft your experience properly.