Biking in California can have its challenges (ahem, hills), but the rewards are many, especially in a place as picturesque as the Carmel Valley in Monterey County. Nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea and its ocean views tends to get all the attention and accolades, but that just bumps the Carmel Valley into hidden gem status—and it’s well worth seeking out for its orderly grapevine-covered fields, tree-lined roads, and the willow-dotted banks of the Carmel River.
And then there’s the wine. About 20 tasting rooms fill tiny Carmel Valley Village, a quaint town that mixes antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants in with plenty of vino.
Head to the visitor center at Garland Ranch Regional Park where you can pick up information about its many trails and also park your car. From there, hop on your two-wheeler for what’s known as the Cachagua Loop. The trail is a favorite of Skip Latham, a local cyclist and expo services director of the area’s yearly Sea Otter Classic bicycle fest. “It’s hard nowadays to find places like that to ride where you’re not getting buzzed by tons of traffic,” he says.
To start, you’ll head down West Carmel Valley Road, past the park, with the Carmel River to your right. The landscape rises up on either side and a few inns, ranches, and houses pass by, as do neatly spaced rows of vines that are a harbinger to your first destination about three miles in.
It’s in Carmel Valley Village where the tasting begins. Your first stop should be Georis Winery, which specializes in Bordeaux varietals from a vineyard in the upper Carmel Valley. The draw of its tasting room is that it’s not a room at all, but a peaceful garden where you can sit and sip your choice of flights along with bread from the wood-fired oven at Jason’s Bread next door and delicious cheeses such as gouda and brie.
The winery’s owner Walter Georis (unrelated to his winemaker) owns three nearby restaurants: La Bicyclette, a French-leaning cafe with pizzas, rustic dishes, and a wine-friendly fromage plate; the seasonally focused Corkscrew Cafe with salads, hearty mains, and lovely cheese and charcuterie boards; and the romantic Casanova, with pastas and more delicious cheese. All are worthy of a stop.
For something completely different, go to the larger Talbott Vineyards, where you can view owner and clothier Robert Talbott’s vintage motorcycle and pedal car collection in the tasting room, while sipping on the wineries well-received chardonnays and pinots. No food is served, so why not pack a picnic with fresh fruit and a tasty Tillamook Cheese snack to pair with the wine (Check out this delicious easy-to-pack recipe for Garlic Cheddar Cheese Spread.) Enjoy your picnic at one of two patios or on the grass near the bocce ball courts.
To round out your wine tasting, stop at Boekenoogen, which produces a variety of excellent wines from its Carmel Valley Estate vineyard and Santa Lucia Highlands Estate. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, all the better to enjoy a choice of five or seven tastings.
Once you’ve had your fill of walking, shopping, wining, and dining, it’s decision time. Do you return back the way you came, to your car, and then to a warm bed for the night (more on that in a minute), or will you carry on for the full loop?
If you’re in it for the entire ride, which is about 26 miles, you’ll continue away from the Village on West Carmel Valley Road. Some riders like to stop at Cahoon Summit for the thrill of the climb and for the views, and then turn around and head back. Others continue onward until Tassajara Road, where a right turn will begin the loop back, winding along Conejo Creek. Another right turn onto Cachagua Road a little more than a mile down the way will wind you through Trampa Canyon.
A mandatory stop, if you’ve come this far, is at Cachagua General Store. It’s about the only place to refuel on water and snacks, or to enjoy Sunday brunch or Monday dinner at their restaurant.
Now’s the time to pedal on to the last, loopiest part of the trip. Once you rejoin East Carmel Valley Road, you’ll be back on mostly level ground and approaching your starting point, Garland Ranch Regional Park. Just keep in mind that the full loop involves climbing elevations of almost 1,700 feet (twice). If that’s a bit much, you can always take the easy way and just bike to the village and back, which is about a seven mile trip.
Of course no winery bike tour would be complete without a relaxing stay at a luxury hotel and spa. Enter Carmel Valley Ranch, situated about eight miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea and about six miles from the village. There’s no shortage of things to do on its 500 acres that encompass an 18-hole Pete Dye golf course, a 10,500-square-foot spa, hiking trails, a vineyard, organic gardens, bee apiaries, tennis court, and pools.
At the resort’s seasonally driven Valley Kitchen, beverage manager and sommelier Dave Eriksen has put about 500 wines on the list and about a third are local. The by-the-glass list usually carries about 16 local wines, everything from “little small guys” like a Boete cabernet up to the “well known guys” like a Talbott chardonnay, says Eriksen.
The extraordinary local wine—Eriksen says Carmel Valley’s unique climate of warmer days and cool nights make for excellent grape growing—gets a fun companion in cheese. The restaurant collaborates with several local cheesemakers to create standout dishes and cheese boards, including Charlie Casio of Big Sur goat cheese, who “makes a really killer goat cheese in many different fashions” and cheesemonger Kent Torrey of The Cheese Shop, long a presence in Carmel. “Every time we get a new cheese, it’s better than the last,” says Eriksen.
The resort’s commitment to fine food and drink, from cheese to wine and beyond, make it a stopping point for much of the valley, and an ideal place to settle for the night—or for the week if you have the time.