May 31, 2011
The two young winemakers looked at one another with the same eyebrows-up way of communicating Whoah without saying a word.
Robert Karlsen and Russell Joyce (above), both able heirs to their respective families' wine operations (Chock Rock and Joyce, respectively)—and both central to the recent openings of each vineyard's new Carmel Valley Village tasting rooms—were discussing Sunday's crowds.
"Did the Japanese group come here?" Karlsen asked. "They were either tossed or just know how to have fun—they were rolling on the ground laughing in front of our place."
"We had a group of hipsters take the place over," Joyce replied. "They were hanging out in the booths, dancing, making out. As it got late I had to close the front door and turn up the music."
There are plenty of handy explanations how that happened: It was another nice sunny day in Carmel Valley, it was a holiday weekend, and the appellation's wines are increasingly admired with every passing harvest.
In an informal survey of valley tasting rooms, there was also another reason: the new advertising co-op between area wineries and the Weekly makes it easier to find the many options. "What's with the two-for-one tastings?!" one Parsonage rep wailed as a sudden full house threatened to crush like Syrah grapes, referencing the special discount imbedded in the map.
So yes, the map is a beautiful thing, for at least a couple of reasons.
For one, summer means weather—and time—for wine. And two, a flurry of new tasting rooms have made Carmel and Carmel Valley the deepest goblet for summer wine tasters to dip into as the heat creeps. It can be hard to keep all the magnetic destinations straight.
Out in the valley, a wealth of standout spots like Joullian Vineyards, Heller Estate, Bernardus, Georis, Boekenoogen, Talbott and Parsonage remain ready to receive visitors—whether they descend by Wine Trolley, Grapevine Express or limo—and new outposts coming on line widen the opportunities, like aforementioned Joyce and Chock Rock and Carmel Hills near Cafe Rustica.
In Carmel proper, the trend is toward collaborations. Caraccioli Cellars is doing its distinguished sparkling and still wines in a slick new stand-alone—and Wrath is opening next to The Cheese Shop around August—but worthy brands like Figge, Aiena Wines and Tudor have partnered with Winfield Gallery, Anton & Michel and Andre’s Bouchee, respectively, to provide superb wines at tasting bars within those businesses. The Cheese Shop has its own to achieve precisely that.
Still, even with the new inspired partnerships and welcome growth, the most exciting thing about the community remains unchanged: The welcoming personalities that the industry inevitably attracts. You could make an argument that this hospitality is best represented in the indomitable and smiling spirit of the tasting room manager at Chateau Sinnet in Carmel Valley. And poetically, Mr. Singh’s first name, Sunny, couldn’t be much more appropriate for summer.