The dream California Wine Tour would let you experience the vineyards, people, scenery and history of wine in California, and do all that in a relaxed state of mind. Impossible? As long as you have the time and love road trips, a California Wine Tour is definitely possible.
Here we give you California Wine Country, the large picture! We start from the south of California and head north, ending in the supreme delight of Napa and Sonoma:
1) Santa Barbara Wine Country: This is a small angel of wine country between the ocean and soft hills. Take the historic San Marcos pass from Santa Barbara and forego highway 101. Cross Lake Cachuma, and soon you’re in the middle of vineyards and pristine horse ranches. These are mostly small, family vineyards and they are a delight. Stop in the Danish town of Solvang; visit the old stage coach stop, Cold springs Tavern; Los Olivos and Santa Ynez have uncrowded wine roads and produce excellent wine; do not miss the historic mission, Mission La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima. Small markets along the route can make you a perfect picnic as well as offer a banquet of local crafts and foods.
2) San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles: This is slow-paced and baby-new wine country. The area is historic, and the walks are a vacation in themselves. Enjoy San Luis Obispo’s winding and laid-back downtown meandering along the river. Paso Robles, about 30 minutes north of San Luis Obispo, is the heart of Central CA wine country. This historic CA town was the one stop between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Travel along gorgeous highway 46. There are more than 200 wineries nestled in the sweet, scenic California wine country here.
3) Monterey, Carmel, and the Santa Lucia Highlands: One hour (plus a bit) south of San Francisco, the Santa Lucia Highlands are known for their fine pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. As a matter of fact, a number of Napa and Sonoma wine producers buy their fruit from this area.The Carmel Valley and Monterey currently produce 40,000 acres of grapes in country that is indescribably gorgeous. Make sure you stop by Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium while you’re there.
4) Drawn to the beauty, the Santa Cruz Mountains used to be a haven for folks who wanted an alternative lifestyle. This is still a bastion of art and music, but the wineries are anything but alternative. The wine regions around the towns of Los Gatos and Saratoga, both pricey towns, produce fine chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon. Redwood forests climb up the slopes. The town of Santa Cruz is summer fun, and has the only roller coaster within walking distance of a tasting room!
5) The Sierra Foothills are part of CA wine country on the rise. El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras Counties are the places for wine tasting. If you love Zinfandel, this area will be your California wine dream, with some of the finest Zin coming out of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County. Historic Zin vines have been grown in this area since the 1880s. Other big reds, such as syrah and barbera, are growing well here. Stop by some wild west towns such as Murphys and Fair Play! This wine area probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Go exploring!
6) Mendocino County is a CA wine country sleeper. Its reputation is on the rise, and the amazing Anderson Valley is producing wines that are deep and delicious. You’ll find redwood forests and farms mixed in with extraordinary CA family vineyards. Pinot Noir, gewürztraminers and sparkling wine love this area. In eastern Mendocino, the wine is bolder, mostly red, and often organic. This is the Sonoma County of 30 years ago. Enjoy the quiet!
7) Sonoma County was the historic beginning of California wine country, and the historic beginning of the state of California as part of the U.S. If you are looking for art, culinary masterpieces, quirky shops and world-class wine, head for Glen Ellen and Los Carneros. Farther north in Sonoma County the weather changes. The cool Russian River, the warm Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley are masterpieces of a variety of wines to fall in love with. Hit the town of Healdsburg, the center of Northern Sonoma County. Stroll the historic plaza and enjoy the bounty that is Sonoma!
8) Napa Valley is considered THE California wine country. There are 15 appellations. Although there are as many in Sonoma County, Napa most definitely has the cache. There are CA wineries in Napa that produce millions of cases (it’s true!) per year, and those family and boutique wineries that turn out a few thousand cases of wine. (In the small winery category, you’ll mostly find exceptional cabernet sauvignons.) If you look for it, the old Napa is there. Kayak the Napa River. Take a bicycle tour through the vineyards. Get off the beaten path and enjoy Napa for an authentic wine country experience!