Carmel Valley: From Culture and Cuisine to Cactus
The Epoch Times

View of hillside and vineyard_from Holman Ranch

HOLMAN RANCH: A view of the hillside and vineyard from Holman Ranch. (Beverly Mann)

A hidden haven cushioned by the spectacular Santa Lucia mountainside of Monterey County, Carmel Valley is considered by many to be California’s last frontier.

Miles of untouched nature are bathed by a perfect combination of warmth and cool ocean breezes. The mineral-rich soil provides an ideal living environment and the foundation for one of California’s finest produce and wine growing regions.


The sunny side of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming unincorporated town, lies east of Highway 1 and north of the Big Sur. From past to present, Carmel Valley has attracted an eclectic array of characters. It has been a magnet for missionaries, millionaires, cowboys, chefs, artists, writers, and winemakers—all with a dream and endless possibilities.


Over an extended weekend, I discovered the magical allure of this 12-mile pastoral paradise, where I felt a sense of calm, comfort, and inspiration for creativity.

A 2½-hour scenic drive from San Francisco took me to fields of cacti, chaparral-laden slopes, and golden-colored vineyards. The farmlands were dappled with purple-flowered plum trees and illuminated by crimson and turquoise sunsets.

Within less than a mile along the main thoroughfare of Carmel Valley Road toward the main village are more than 10 tasting rooms and a plethora of art galleries and fine restaurants. My mission was to explore the local flavors, farmers, and artists behind the wine labels.

Wining, Dining, and Artistry

Carmel Valley’s oldest winery and viticulture pioneer, Heller Estate & Organic Vineyards, has a tasting room on Carmel Valley Road with a distinctive sculpture of dancers in the entranceway’s garden. This sculpture was the impetus for the labels of Heller Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay. All wines are 100 percent organically grown on their 120-acre vineyard located 12 miles from here in Cachagua Valley.

  Co-owner/artist Toby Heller is an internationally-known sculptress and jewelry designer, whose large sculptures can be seen in her vineyard and in the back garden of their tasting room.

Directly next door sits the Corkscrew Cafe, where I dined al fresco, while enjoying a tasty Grilled Salmon Nicoise salad and a flight of white and red wines from the nearby Georis Winery.

Owner, artist, and winemaker Walter Georis has fulfilled several of his passions since his arrival here from Belgium in 1956. A renaissance man, Georis has opened up three successful restaurants, including Casanova and Bicyclette, in Carmel-by-the-Sea.


HELLER OFFERINGS: Heller Estate & Organic Vineyards is Carmel Valley's oldest winery and a viticulture pioneer. (Beverly Mann)


Also an accomplished painter, Georis finds time to work in his spacious studio and gallery across the street. The adobe-style structure is surrounded by plum trees, cacti, and a tiny vineyard which produces 20 cases of wine per year.

Next door to the restaurant is Talbott Vineyards Tasting Room, specializing in just two wines: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. All the six varieties of each are 100 percent estate-grown and consistently reliable for quality and taste. I favored the Kali Hart Chardonnay, which had a smooth melon flavor that lingered on my palate.

I knew the Talbott name from the famed men’s neckwear line, which was started by Audrey and Robert Talbott in in Carmel in 1950. In 1982, their vision of creating a winery came to fruition.

Inspirational Quilts

Further down the road toward the center of the village, I discovered Parsonage Village Vineyard Tasting Room, where co-owner/artist/quilt maker Mary Ellen Parsons exhibits her line of exquisite appliqué quilts. Her quilts are also photographed for their wine labels. Attached to the tasting room is an art gallery featuring other local artists.


Mary Parsons and quilt

QUILTED INSPIRATIONS: Mary Parsons showing one of the quilts exhibited at her tasting room and gallery at Parsonage Village Vineyards. (Beverly Mann)

Quilt-making came from Parsons’ sheer passion for working with fabric. Self-taught and determined, she had no background in quilt making when a friend wanted to start a quilt business with her some 30 years ago.

“I really didn’t know how to make a quilt, but I loved to sew,” says Parsons, who mentioned that it takes six months to a year to create just one quilt. She now teaches classes upon a rock on Point Sur where students actually bring their sewing machines and work outdoors.

In 1997, her husband Bill decided to follow his passion and opened a winery. Today both businesses are thriving and support each other. Their seven-acre winery produces world-class Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet. Mary’s studio overlooks the vineyard, and she admits that the surroundings greatly influence her artwork.
  A fun way to get around the wine-tasting venues and galleries is in a horse and carriage supplied by newly developed Happy Trails Wagon Tours. Just give Pistol Pete $20.00 for a ride with stately Belgium horses Bob and Bill, as the wagon makes personal stops around the village.

More Carmel Delights

Nestled below the main road in a tiny shopping center of boutiques and galleries is the Carmel Valley Art Association, a venue for local artists founded five years ago by artist Shelly Aliotti.

As I stepped outside the gallery, I couldn’t help but notice the glass jewelry and vases at Masaoka Glass Design Studio and Gallery. Owner and stained glass artist, Alan Masaoka, has been working in this medium for 35 years and gives glass blowing demos. He is presently creating two stained glass windows, about 25 feet by 8 feet, for the Acute Care Center at San Francisco General Hospital.


INSPIRING VIEW: A lovely view of the Santa Lucia Mountains from the Bernardus Lodge. (Beverly Mann)


Carmel Valley’s artistic community also includes some creative chefs and cuisine. At the juncture of Highway 68 and Carmel Valley Road, I entered the Bernardus Lodge. The luxurious 57-room resort a comfortable marriage of simple elegance with a country feel.

The handsomely appointed rooms face the magnificent Santa Lucia Mountains, which can also be viewed while dining outside or indoors by the 12-foot-wide stone fireplace in the lodge’s upscale Marinus Restaurant. Also renowned for its wine cellar, Marinus houses 1,850 different wines and is a recipient of the coveted Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Some 10,000 bottles come from the nearby Bernardus Winery & Vineyard.

holman ranch vinyards

HOLMAN RANCH: The vineyards at Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley. (Beverly Mann)


For a more relaxed, casual atmosphere, many locals dine at the lodge’s adjacent Wickets Bistro. Here, I savored a tri-colored beet salad and grilled halibut dressed in delicately prepared greens. House-made chocolate there is a definite must for any chocoholic.

Chef Cal Stamenov’s fine, wholesome dishes (the fresh ingredients come from the resort’s organic vegetable gardens) can be experienced at both establishments. Stamenov’s highly-regarded reputation stems from his work in Paris, New York’s Four Seasons, and San Francisco’s Masa’s.


MORNING MOMENT: A delightful repast at the Toast Restaurant in the early hours with a view of the Santa Lucia Mountains. (Beverly Mann)


Close by, Will’s Fargo Restaurant is yet another local favorite, where I was able to sample Chef Stamenov’s and Chef de Cuisine Jerome Viel’s organic vegetables, fresh fish entrees, and succulent steak. A landmark steakhouse since 1959, the restaurant was purchased by Bernardus founder Ben Pon in 2002.

Los Laureles Lodge, approximately three minutes from Bernardus Lodge, was a cozy and reasonable overnight stay, with a colorful history dating back to the early 1830s as a Mexican land grant.

With white buildings trimmed in forest-green decor amid landscaped grounds, the lodge maintains its historic charm and is a perfect setting for weddings and retreats. I slept in a spacious, modestly decorated cottage. The adjoining restaurant/bar appeared to be popular with locals and visitors, who can enjoy entertainment there on the weekends.

The next morning, I ventured off Carmel Valley Road and up Holman Road to the Holman Ranch. I made my way past stables and a winding hillside with breathtaking vistas of the valley and vineyards. Part of the original Spanish land grant, this 400-acre resort has attracted Hollywood celebrities, including Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, and Joan Crawford. In the summer months, the smell of lavender permeates the air. The aromas were quite intoxicating on this early February day.


Prickly Pears

As I continued over the hill on Los Laureles Grade to Highway 68 toward Salinas, just 30 minutes away, I met with 86-year-old Andy D’Arrigo, owner of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. (Andy Boy), and visited his 350-acre cactus farm. The company is the sole domestic grower and shipper of cactus pears (known as prickly pears).

D’Arrigo discussed the rich history of his farm started in 1923 by his Sicilian father and uncle who came to America with little money in their pockets. They grew everything from broccoli rabe to sweet anise, and eventually prickly pears.

CACTUS FARM: Andy D'Arrigo at his cactus farm in Carmel Valley. (Beverly Mann)
  We then walked among these spiny plants, which have been a staple in the Mexican diet for thousands of years. The cactus has two different edible sections: the pad, or nopales, (eaten as a vegetable) and the pear (a seedy fruit). I was surprised to learn how healthful cactus was and the novel ways the fruit, which tastes like a cross between watermelon and kiwi, can be prepared— from sorbet to a puree, vinegar to vinaigrette, and even a cactus pear martini.

On my final morning back in Carmel Valley, I enjoyed a yummy breakfast scramble and a foamy cappuccino at the newly opened Toast Restaurant. I then took a delightful hike in the nearby Garland Ranch Regional Park inhaling the fresh pine and green scents, while enveloped by the fertile mountainside. There, I reflected on the talented people I had met and their inspiring stories. I was convinced that Carmel Valley and its surrounding region is a place where dreams do come true.

If You Go

Carmel Valley Chamber of Commerce-

Where to stay:
Los Laureles Lodge,
Bernardus Lodge,

Where to Eat:

Will’s Fargo Dining House & Saloon, 831-659-2774      
Wickets- at Bernardus Lodge, 831-658-3550      
Marinus- Bernardus Lodge, 831-658-3595      
Corkscrew Café,

What to See:
Holman Ranch,
D’Arrigo Bros. Co. (Andy Boy),
Parsonage Village Vineyard Tasting Room & Gallery,
Heller Estate Organic Vineyards,
Carmel Valley Art Association,
Talbott Vineyards Tasting Room,
Carmel Hills Winery in LyonsHead Gallery,


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