Big Sur Vineyards of Monterey County, California can be called bold, but considering owner Lenora Carey, that’s probably not just referring to the wines. Earlier this month, she held a daring wine tasting event at which guests tasted her wines alongside the French Rhône counterparts that inspired them.
Big Sur Vineyards is a bold newcomer in a wine region that has seen tremendous growth and notoriety in the last decade. The fruit is sourced from all sustainable vineyards in Monterey County including from the Arroyo Seco and prized Chalone appellations, or AVAs. Under 1,000 cases are produced annually, with some single-barrel limited release specialties, like the 2015 Syrah which was just too good to blend. Bottles are hand-labeled and artistically reflect the wildlife and landscape of California’s Central Coast.
Lenora’s inspiration for the winery came during her previous career as a documentary filmmaker for National Geographic, Nature, Nova and the BBC. A film project about wine barrel making brought her to Southeastern France, to the region known for Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône.
When she decided to leave that career and the city to raise her children in the more rural Monterey County, she didn’t yet realize that the varietals she had come to love there grow particularly well in this area. With a good range in temperature from day to night and its proximity to the sea, it is an area similar to the cooler Mediterranean climate that is perfect for Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Petite Sirah.
She opened the tasting room in 2016 in sunny Carmel Valley Village, just 10 miles east of Carmel-by-the-Sea. There, visitors can sample her wines made locally in Monterey County and enjoy Rhône varietals expressed in California style.
With over a dozen tasting rooms within walking distance, Carmel Valley has become a hotspot for wine enthusiasts looking for boutique and local wines.
The Rhône Tasting event, her first ever comparative wine tasting, was held after hours at the tasting room, with wine club members and enthusiasts alike attending. The innovative program involved three flights that paired each Big Sur Vineyards wine next to its Rhône equivalent. To further add to the experience each local and French wine was paired with a specialty cheese selected by Kent Torrey of the famous Carmel Cheese Shop. Torrey is a renowned cheese and wine pairing expert and can be seen at major epicurean events across the country.
The evening was truly a tasting event and not just a sip-and-chat. Kerry Winslow, wine writer and Big Sur Vineyards’ Wine Educator curated the event, offering interesting and relevant details on terroir, climate and winemaking styles which further enhanced the comparison, and allowed the guests to better understand what the same varietal can produce in different locations, and from different winemakers.
Big Sur Vineyards’ winemaker, youthful and talented Ryan Kobza, is a believer in the wide range of varietals that can thrive in this county and is known for making high quality product for wineries with an adventurous spirit.
Lenora’s courage to hold such a bold tasting event may have come from lessons she learned after the 2016 Soberanes Fire that burned for months and scorched over 130,000 acres from the Big Sur coast east to Carmel Valley.
That same fire destroyed everything on her property: her vineyards, olive trees, lavender fields, and her family home.
The one thing not taken away from the fire was her dreams. Lenora is fearlessly forging ahead and replanting, rebuilding. Finding some positive amidst the devastation, the manzanita roots discovered while clearing the property have been repurposed by a local artist. The result is a collection of beautiful bowls now on display in the tasting room.
When asked about rebuilding after the fire, she comments that she takes her inspiration from the animal that graces her Big Sur Red label, the California Condor, which was near extinction in the 1980s and now making a strong comeback, something she sees on her horizon as well.