Once upon a time—not so long ago—there was a pretty French chateau surrounded by vines next to a sleepy river. Even though it was not for sale at the time, Greg Ahn took one look and could see the potential. “The property was beautiful, but you couldn’t tell from the road,” he recalls. “It didn’t feel welcoming.” He envisioned turning it into a small-batch boutique winery and creating a vibrant cultural space and community hub on the estate. Three years later, he is well on the way to making that dream come true.
Ahn, founder and president of Folktale Winery & Vineyards in Carmel Valley, says it’s still a work in progress, fueled by people like hospitality vice president John Fitzgerald, who creates a welcoming vibe, and chef Todd Fisher, who was brought in earlier this year to direct culinary operations. Fisher says the property, winemaking and food are always developing and changing, “at is what makes Folktale fun and fresh.”
Folktale was inspired by the idea of stories—stories of people, places, life, love, laughter, nature, passion and celebration. Even the corks have stories printed on them.
While the atmosphere is playful, it’s also purposeful and stories are found everywhere around the 15-acre property, which includes the original residence and winery, a barrel room, greenhouse, gallery and wine garden. In the garden, tiny tables that support no more than a wine glass are repurposed from legs from a hefty table. African juju headdresses—a symbol of wealth and power—adorn a wall in the gallery. And shutters from a local 19th-century house have been installed to provide shade in the airy, glass-enclosed space called The Greenhouse.
Hospitality manager Erin Maxey, who has been with Folktale since the beginning, speaks admiringly of Ahn, calling him a dreamcatcher. Dreamcatchers attract dreams to their webs; the bad dreams get tangled up while the good dreams pass through. Ahn lets people’s dreams take the lead.
That’s how he came to create Talking Animals recording studio with Mark Governor. The original residence on the property, the River House, now hosts a place for professional musicians to record their work. About the name, Ahn says, “All animals seem to talk in folktales.”
The property holds a myriad of events in that spirit of community and generosity. When people pitch an idea, Ahn usually answers, “Let’s make it happen.” That’s how a concert series, cooking competition and other events were born.
Local radio stations partner with Folktale to host musicians in Live in the Vines and the Wine Country Concert Series. The barrel room, a 10,000-square-foot space stacked floor to ceiling with more than 1,000 wine barrels, also houses the Chef Duel, a Food Network-style throw- down in which local chefs compete to advance to the next round.
Folktale presents an Artisan Workshop Series, in collaboration with Carmel Valley Mercantile and Tacklebox Creative, where students can learn about terrarium building, brush lettering, flower pressing and more. And every Saturday, Esalen Institute’s Kate Balog leads a 90- minute “Yoga in the Vines” session in the rose vineyard. All classes include a glass of Folktale wine.
With all these activities, you might think Folktale’s plate is overflowing. However, there is more on the horizon. It’s that “let’s make it happen” attitude that led chef de cuisine Danny Leach to join the team where he’s been collaborating on the new menu for The Greenhouse.
Chef Todd is excited about the offerings, explaining, “The new menu centers on three priorities: food that pairs with our wines; local ingredients that promote Monterey; and food with soul and story.”
While the kitchen is adding salads, entrées and desserts to its shared and small plates, Ahn stops short of calling it a restaurant. “The food is meant to be an enhancement to the wine, and the experience is wine education based,” Ahn explains. “We will offer meal-sized dishes, but it’s not a sit-down restaurant.”
Weekends find chef Danny plating new offerings on his test kitchen menu. Eventually they will source ingredients from an on-site garden. Garden guru Kai Harper, who came to Folktale from Esalen, has a test plot where he’s growing tomatoes, basil, carrots and radishes.
Fully committed to sustainable farming practices, the gardens and 5-acre vineyard at the winery are cultivated organically. Owl boxes and raptor perches naturally manage pest populations of ground squirrels and gophers. In addition to the vineyard in Carmel Valley, Folktale has vineyards in the Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands AVAs.
Visitors are treated to a wine experience that transcends a traditional tasting. The glasses, mouth-blown Austrian Gabriel-Glas lead-free crystal, have a broad bowl and narrowing top. Form follows function and the elegant glass is designed for every varietal and style of wine from Chardonnay to brandy.
“Choose Your Own Adventure,” reads the wine club menu. “We educate. We interact. Our philosophy is for you to enjoy the experience,” says wine educator Kelly Zimmerman. Staff members offer tasting flights of six wines each, pouring two glasses at a time and inviting guests to linger and ask questions. They encourage the thrill of discovery, the joy of gathering, and they believe that every bottle of wine holds a story. The story continues to develop as community members add threads to the colorful tapestry that is Folktale.
Camilla M. Mann is a food writer, photographer, adventurer and passionate cook. She blogs at www.culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com and lives in Seaside.
8940 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel www.folktalewinery.com