Between Los Angeles and San Jose, Monterey County’s wine scene is booming, and Carmel Valley Ranch is in the spotlight with its house brand, Swing, which emphasizes the terroir of the coastal region.
Set on 500 wild acres in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the luxury summer camp-inspired resort places guests among four acres of pinot noir vineyards bathed in sunshine and cooled by ocean breezes. The vineyard is young, but with well-drained, calcium-rich soils, it is the perfect breeding ground for the mineral Pinot Noir for which the region has attracted attention.
“Montrey County is considered California’s new ‘It’ wine region, and we’re located at its epicenter,” Harlan Spiva, restaurant manager for Valley Kitchen at Carmel Valley Ranch, said in an interview with TSWT.
“The farm-to-table food philosophy has led customers to want a ‘ground-to-glass’ drinking experience where they can sample local wines, beers, liquors and other ingredients they can’t find anywhere else,” Spiva continued. on the decision to launch a wine label to satisfy the expectations of contemporary customers. “They want to see and touch the sources of what they eat and drink. People want experiences to be related to what they buy; they want memories to accompany their meal.
At Carmel Valley Ranch, guests have access to ordering the Swing label at the on-site restaurant, Valley Kitchen, and purchasing at their boutique, Market & Creamery, which effortlessly elevates their dining experiences. But also, the memories Spiva talks about can be created at the customer’s own pace, with the vineyard open for customers to explore at their leisure. “As they meander through the vines, they easily form a connection with the wine that is there,” Spiva pointed out.
Since initiating the pinot noir label created with grapes grown on the property, Carmel Valley Ranch has worked with an award-winning local winemaker to expand the Swing portfolio, including sauvignon blanc, rosé and another pinot noir produced at from vineyards further inland. Below, Spiva discusses this process as well as how this offering distinctly reflects the hotel and its surroundings.
Jillian Dara: What about the wine that is most unique to the property?
Harlan Spiva: With a climate and topography comparable to Napa, the Carmel River Valley and nearby Santa Lucia Highlands are the coolest Pinot Noir growing region in the state. Our vineyard sees high levels of calcium in the soil, which contributes to the minerality of the wine combined with the unique ability to use native vineyard yeasts in our fermentation process. Cool ocean breezes and fog contrast with warm days and plenty of sunshine to contribute to a very late harvest in October – all embodied in our Swing varietals.
Dara: And what about the wine that sets it apart in a state renowned for its wines?
Spiva: The wine is a balanced, old style pinot noir with high acidity paired with slow ripening fruit. One-third of the whole grape clusters add herbal and herbal flavor components, which sets it apart from other California wines. No enzymes, fining or filtering are used in its manufacture and aging on yeast contributes to its complexity and depth.
Dara: Who did you work with to launch this program and how did you choose these key partners?
Spiva: The Ranch has many personal connections in the wine community that began and continue to contribute to Swing wines. With close assistance from Ian Brand, the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year, we created the Swing label with the intention of telling the story of Monterey County’s varied terroir. Brand produces our Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Pinot Noir from vineyards further inland.
Dara: How has the equipment or offer evolved since its launch?
Spiva: Our young vineyard epitomizes the region’s recent maturity in the world of wine, but since its launch, as the vines have become more mature, they have developed deeper, rounder flavors for our wine. Additionally, as our guests have become more enthusiastic about Swing wines, we have also expanded the tasting opportunities at the Market & Creamery. From now on, customers can also taste our own wine accompanied by goat cheese and honey produced on site.
Along with this, we have also found ways to incorporate local wine into other activities on the property. For example, the Equine Experience program has just added an “Equines & Wine” session – a session where attendees can befriend the beauty of the Ranch horses and get to know the herd while enjoying their dinner and enjoying a glass of wine.
Dara: When did you decide to add Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Pinot Noir from other vineyards to the collection? Why these varieties?
Spiva: Our culinary team wanted to supplement our wine list by the glass with affordable, high-quality choices, which made the decision to expand our collection easier. Our tight-knit community here in Carmel and our connection to the local wine world have helped guide the careful selection of varietals and vineyards for our collection.
Dara: Why do you think it is so important to offer this type of equipment to your guests?
Spiva: Creating our own wine here on property has been a wonderful way to connect guests directly to the destination and our local treasures. We have found this to be a great way to bond with customers and share a mutual love of the riches of Carmel Valley. It’s exciting for them to see products created right on The Ranch featured on the Valley Kitchen menu and for purchase at Market & Creamery – making it the perfect memento to share a memory of their time in Carmel.
Dara: Apart from your specific label, how has the offer of bars at your resort evolved since its opening? What do you attribute to this?
Spiva: Besides our own Swing label, we have continued to focus on a selection of more local wines. Since the first opening, we have also noticed that the wine choices vary according to the origin of our customers: they want what is familiar to them while wanting to discover new wines. With this in mind, we have learned to diversify and expand the selection of wine wines to pair with menu items and allow guests to taste before committing to a bottle.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.