In a conversation with OutThere’s Rupert Mellor, Gregory and Madigan Ahn reflect on their move to Monterey County, California. From Madigan’s immediate connection with the nature-rich surroundings to Gregory’s passion for creating a community-centric atmosphere with Folktale Winery, the couple express their love for this coastal haven and offer a glimpse into the region’s rich cultural offerings.
Gregory: I remember Madigan called me at work one day, about five days after we moved here. We’d both grown up in LA, then lived in San Francisco, before a job brought me to Monterey County in 2006. She was hiking and whale-watching in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and she said, “Just so you know, I’m never leaving this place”.
Madigan: Access to nature is so immediate here, whether it’s tide pools along the beach, a hike in the mountains, or a walk along a river valley. I call getting out there ‘feeding the soul’. I’ve wondered whether I should share this but… one of my favourite spots is Carmel Meadows, a beach trail not many people find because you have to drive into a private neighbourhood to get there, down Ribera Road. It’s spectacular.
G: I love that you can taste our local landscape in our wines. Monterey Bay is one of the deepest points on earth; we call it the Blue Grand Canyon. So it’s very cold, which cools the ocean breezes that blow into Carmel Valley, where Folktale Winery is. Combined with our soil, the terroir adds a minerality and spice to the richness of the grapes that is akin to European wines’, like those from the Rhône Valley.
M: The sense of community was something else that struck me as soon as we moved here. It’s coastal, it’s beautiful and there’s a lot of wealth here, but I found the community very welcoming, very authentic and down to earth. You can just be yourself, whether you live here or are here visiting.
G: When we launched Folktale, we wanted it to be for the community, to add something new, and that’s true of the other businesses we’ve set up here since. There are world-class attractions nearby, such as Monterey Bay Aquarium and Big Sur, but there’s a small-town feel and, because we’ve lived in big cities, we saw an opportunity to bring something new to the community we love, whether that’s the perfect croissant, from our bakery Rise + Roam, a really good steakhouse, which we hope our Seventh & Dolores restaurant is, or really great music. That’s why we started putting on live music at Folktale, and we’ve had Grammy winners. Sometimes friends tell us, “Folktale is like my country club, it’s where I go to chill,” and that’s the best compliment.
M: Not that we’re the only place to catch cool music. The city of Monterey has lively bars and dance venues because of the university population. And they revamped this gorgeous historic live entertainment venue called the Golden State Theatre. Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest-running festival in the world, and an amazing array of jazz artists live in the area. They might pop up anywhere – in a coffee shop, at Folktale Winery, at a fairground.
G: It’s true, though, that signature local charms are typically pretty mellow. We have a great crafts scene; there are amazing ceramicists and glass-blowers and lots of artisanal food producers. Happy Girl Kitchen’s fantastic products are to me today’s echo of the Monterey canning industry Steinbeck wrote about.
M: And Revival Ice Cream is incredible. They really tap into the local agricultural community and seasonality. Their award-winning Bee’s Knees flavour, with honey and crunchy honeycomb, is fantastic. The farmers markets here are phenomenal, too, especially the Old Monterey Farmers Market and nearby Del Monte Farmers Market – you can just graze half a day away.
G: We’re an up early, hike in nature, early cocktail (which we love to have at the Highlands Inn in Carmel, by the way – it has the best Pacific views) and dinner kind of town. But my tip for a totally Carmel tipple is the Running Iron, a seriously no-frills, classic American saloon bar, with cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling. It’s a beautiful mix of high- and low-brow. You’ll get everyone from a celebrity to a dude who lives in his van having a drink together. I doubt a visitor would ever chance on it. It’s a magical spot.