When John Steinbeck wrote “Grapes of Wrath,” in 1939, the Salinas Valley and Monterey Peninsula were broken plots of land where migrant workers fought for jobs—and their lives. Now, 70 years later, the same ground is ripe with fertile, burgeoning vineyards and growers who are supplying the United States with everything from fine wines to strawberries.

Every year the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association celebrates its rich history with an annual Great Wine Escape Weekend. During the three-day festival guests are treated to a cornucopia of events, including The Literary & Agriculture Tour of Steinbeck’s Wine Country. Led by Ag Venture Tours, guests are taken to venues that Steinbeck writes about in his many novels and short stories. From “Of Mice and Men” to “East of Eden” the van stops at innocuous locations through the rolling hills of Salinas Valley, where guests step out of the van and onto the moist gravel, and listen as Evan Oakes from Ag Venture Tours reads from the pages of Steinbeck’s novels.

For those who are less literary inclined, 40 world-class wineries in Monterey open their doors for guests of the Great Wine Escape Weekend and offer tastings and wine seminars. At the end of each grueling day of wine tasting, various restaurant throughout Monterey offer Great Wine Escape Weekend dinner packages. These packages include wine pairing with a local vintner. We were lucky enough to enjoy the incredible ocean views at The Ocean Club Room at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. Our chef was James Waller James Waller and our winemaker was Ivan Giotenov.

Scott Kelley of Estasia Winery hosted a dinner in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Kelp Forest. The dinner was prepared by Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Chef, David Anderson, and features pairings with Estancia Reserve Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meritage.

Other dinner venues included:
Fandango Restaurant
with wines from Chateau Julien Wine Estate

Montrio Bistro
with wines from De Tierra Vineyards

The Sardine Factory
with wines from Pessagno Winery

Anton & Michel
with wines from Boekenoogen Vineyards & Winery

The Terrace Grill at the La Playa Hotel
with wines poured by Ray Franscioni Wines

Grasings Coastal Cuisine
with wines from Ventana Vineyards

Pacific’s Edge
with wines poured by Wrath Wines

One of the glorious parts about wine tasting in this area is that the winemakers in Monterey County enjoy teaching novice wine drinkers about the subtleties of the art. At these events questions are welcomed and the wine makers answer with great description and detail. For example do you know why some wines taste “earthy” while others taste “smoky” even though wine is all made from grapes? If not, you’ll have to attend the next Great Wine Escape Weekend to find out.

Monterey’s charm is its size. The wine region is not a commercial giant, so there is still a sense of genuine ownership and pride. It is the actual winemakers that you get to meet, not their representatives or press people. And if you happen to get bored of wine tasting and meeting the souls behind the vines, then you can take a day to enjoy the Monterey Bay Aquarium, visit the famous Farm, or just spend a day at one of the many spas in town.

Next year’s Great Wine Escape Weekendwill be held on November 12-14, 2010. All dinners were sold out, so if you are interested I attending next year, I suggest that you make reservations soon.


Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
400 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA. 93940

InterContinental Hotel: The Clement Monterey
750 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
831.375.4501 fax

Boekenoogen Wines
Santa Lucia Highlands
(831) 595-7741
8940 Carmel Valley Road
831-624-2600 Telephone

Scheid Vineyards Wine Lounge
751 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940 

Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room
499 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-8900
Josh Pierce

Pessagno Winery
1645 River Road
Salinas, CA 93908
(831) 675-9463


The Farm
7 Foster Road, Salinas, CA 93902
Spreckels Blvd and Hwy 68
(831) 455-2575

Ag Venture Tours
Evan Oakes, Owner
PO Box 2634
Monterey, CA 93942
831.601.5864 cell
831.761.5461 fax