Day 1: Coastal Connoisseur: Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey, California

When you spend three perfect days immersing yourself in Monterey Wine Country, you’ll leave with a deep sense of the character, history and excellence that infuse Monterey Wines. From the coastal tasting rooms in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea to the sunny countryside feel of Carmel Valley and the sweeping vineyard views of the Salinas Valley, all wine lovers will find a wine to satisfy their palate. Who knows? You might even discover a new favorite wine!

Begin your first day of wine tasting by walking through the charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This one-square-mile town has become a bonafide destination for tasting wine, with over a dozen unforgettable tasting rooms located just steps from each other. Stop by Scheid Vineyards Wine Lounge on San Carlos and 7th for award-winning Pinot Noirs in a contemporary yet cozy setting. Head to Trio Carmelto sample olive oils from around the world, balsamic and flavored vinegars, and exceptional small-vineyard Monterey County wines. Try a few bold reds at crowd favorite Galante Vineyards, and Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Santa Lucia Highlands at Wrath Wines in the Carmel Plaza.

Next, take a short drive to Monterey to explore a few more urban tasting rooms. A Taste of Monterey overlooks the Monterey Bay, and is a great place to sample an array of local wines. It also has an added bonus: The chance to spot marine animals like sea otters, harbor seals and migrating whales!

Known as the “Blue Grand Canyon,” this marine habitat is the deepest submarine canyon on the West Coast of the Americas, with a cooling effect that contributes to the unique character of Monterey wine. The cool temperatures and winds in the vineyards allow grapes to ripen more slowly and evenly in an elongated growing season. The increased “hang-time” leads to exceptional wines with intense fruit flavors, deep color extraction, fresh acidity and full varietal expression. Sample some of these coastally influenced wines at any of the several tasting rooms nestled along the recreation trail in Monterey and throughout Cannery Row.

Day 2: Rustic Charm: Carmel Valley, California

On the second day of your authentic immersion into Monterey Wine Country, explore the rolling hills and grapevines of Carmel Valley, California. Here, you’ll find plenty of quaint, tucked-away hotels, inns and lodges for every budget, many of which are walkable to tasting rooms and vineyards. Two lodging options include the esteemed Bernardus Lodge, located on the vineyards of Bernardus Winery, and Carmel Valley Ranch, which boasts a golf course, spa, lavender fields, and other amenities.

A quick 15-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley offers a wide selection of award-winning wine tasting rooms, most within close proximity of each other.

The Carmel Valley AVA (wine growing region) begins at the mouth of Carmel Valley Village. The closest AVA to the ocean in Monterey Wine Country, the Carmel Valley AVA has the least coastal influence of any of the AVA’s in Monterey County because of the surrounding and protecting mountains.

Most of the 300-plus acres of vineyards in the region are located at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) above sea level, are sheltered by mountains, and experience less coastal fog and wind play than the Salinas Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietals thrive here and make up 70% of the Carmel Valley AVA.

Once you arrive in Carmel Valley Village, spend time working your way through the wide variety of tasting rooms. All wine lovers will be able to find a wine to suit their palates, from the luscious wines and beautiful outdoor patio at Folktale Winery to the 100% estate-grown Burgundian varietals at Talbott Vineyards, to the delectable food-friendly pairings at Cima Collina, and the wine on tap at Joyce Vineyards.

Day 3: Vineyard Ventures on River Road Wine Trail: Salinas Valley, California

Spend your third day experiencing Monterey Wine Country’s true charm in the delightful, intimate tasting rooms scattered along the River Road Wine Trail. Here, local wineries specialize in limited-release vintages paired with genuine, unmatched hospitality. You’ll immediately feel right at home above the Salinas Valley while you meander in and out of tasting rooms.

Situated a short drive down scenic Highway 68, River Road is home to some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world and serves as the perfect landscape for producing some seriously delicious wines. With over 45,000 acres of vineyards, this region is vast, stretching from the Monterey Bay in the north to the border of Paso Robles in the south. The Salinas Valley boasts eight of the nine AVA’s in the county, including the famous AVA’s of Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, Chalone, Monterey and San Antonio Valley.

A “Thermal Rainbow” characterizes the Salinas Valley area’s climate. In the early morning, the entire region is cool, about 55 degrees in the summer, and largely covered by a thick marine layer caused by the influence of the deep submarine canyon in the Monterey Bay. As the sun rises, the valley starts to warm, creating striking temperature variations and strong winds that whip through the valley. Cool climate-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes thrive in the north. In fact, Monterey County is the largest producer of Pinot Noir in all of California and a close runner up for Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and many Rhone grape types flourish in warmer southern climates.

Along the River Road Wine Trail, you will find a plethora of unique wineries and tasting rooms nestled among rolling hills, lettuce fields, and vineyards. Start at the beginning of the trail at Odonata Wines, where they specialize in quality, sustainable wines, and make your way down to Smith Family Wines for breathtaking views of the valley. For a more adventurous spin on wine tasting, visit Hahn Estatesto take an adrenalin-pumping ATV tour of the vineyard; then stop by their vista-top tasting room patio to experience the expansive views of the valley floor.

Get an educational sneak peek into the wine-making process by booking a voyage with Ag Venture ToursVino Wine Tours or Behind the Scenes Wine Tours. These tour operators offer personalized wine tasting experiences and behind-the-scenes looks at several local vineyards — complete with wine tastings, of course!

This content was originally posted on WineEnthusiast.com.