The Central Coast of California is very laid back… think Santa Cruz and its granola element, Monterey and its golf courses, and Carmel with its artistic community. Nothing hurries, and unlike other viticultural areas, it’s not a “wine on steroids” destination. Wine lists in high end restaurants are bare in comparison to the North Coast. In fact, a “house wine” is coming from the same company that produces Two Buck Chuck. They have wine in most restaurants, because they have to, not because they’re featuring the locals to grow a wine and food destination. It appears that too many other dominant focuses are going on. (Nothing wrong with this; just a different wine culture than the one I’ve lived in the last 20 years.)

Jose and I had a vacation in Monterey, given to us in great part by our daughter Lyla and son-in-law Jamal. Right after putting on a major wine and food event, Jose and I were ready to step away from our computers.  Going to Monterey and staying at my favorite Hotel Pacific was a true luxury. At first, I didn’t even want to visit any wineries… It’s like if you’re a lawyer, would you want to spend any of your time off in a court room?

(Yeah, it can actually be like that for those of you who think, “How could you not be seeking out wineries 24/7?)

After a several days of enjoying Monterey, we headed back. This was when we thought about beginning our wine journey.

Can you say “off season,” boys and girls? That’s what we discovered about Monterey and the surrounding areas in early March.

If you know your way to Monterey…

Plan ahead of time. Call people and set up appointments, or at least get their “off season hours.” Even with their off season hours… that also doesn’t mean that they’ll arrive on time to open up a tasting room as written on their sites, which is why I say… “Call ahead.”

We left Hotel Pacific and decided to visit a Petite producer in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We did our research, and were going to be visiting Galante Vineyards & Winery. I thought it would be fun to meet someone new… We’d have a Petite connection. Their website says, “Visit us Daily from 12:00 noon to 6:00 PM.” So, we arrived a little before noon in the very gorgeous town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. We spent some time shopping first, because this is a tourist paradise, getting things for our grandchildren. Once it was 12:00 noon, it was time to find the winery.

It’s extremely tricky to find, so by 12:45 we finally found it (only being a few feet from it the entire time). It’s right in their downtown, but their shops are set up in a maze of sorts. If I was marketing for this winery, I’d make sure that a small map would be on the Website, because if you don’t know where you’re going, you might give up in the process. As we were trying to find Galante, Jose actually called them (after 12:00 noon), asking for some guidance. That was on February 28, and we’ve not had a call back yet. Once we found the winery, a sign said that the winery would open at 1:00 o’clock.

As I said when I started… very laid back. The Web says one thing, the sign says another, and I wonder how many consumers have had to connect the dots themselves?

We decided to head north toward home, and let this one go… Waiting another 15 minutes would only push up my blood pressure, and I wanted to stay “laid back.” I then got the idea that we could visit a member winery in Santa Cruz. That didn’t work out, because the sign on their door said, “Open Thursday through Sunday…” This was a Wednesday… We failed, again; but had we called them ahead of time, they would have come in, I know…

Then, Jose remembered that Bonney Doon is in downtown Santa Cruz, so we GPSed it and headed in that direction. We found what appeared to be a backdoor to an office. Jose could see people moving around inside and believes that someone saw him. He knocked on the door, but no one answered (#laidback). We were having a really difficult time, and I was about to just give up, when Jose spied a neighboring winery, just a couple of doors down…

And that’s going to be my next blog story…#success

MJA Vineyards is the shining star of our journey. I’ll be writing about this winery as part II to this “Laid Back Central Coast” story.

The gems are there, friends, but it’s best to be prepared as you seek them out ahead of time. We got lucky with MJA Vineyards, and we highly recommend this winery as part of your Central Coast journey. Owner Marin Artukovich greeted us and is a hoot… Also owning the KOA Coffee Plantation, his passions are in Santa Cruz and Hawaii.  One of the other visitors said that Marin is a cross between Jason Robards and Lee Marvin. I agree, to which I’d add, Jason Robards is the wine side, and Lee Marvin is the coffee side. Later… with more to come about MJA Vineyards.

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