We all know about Napa. But what about the rest of California? Truth is, some of the world’s best wineries can be found all throughout the Golden State.
From scenic Shasta to sunny San Diego, California produces 90% of the nation’s wine — and does it well. If you’re looking to break away from the central tourist hub of the California wine industry and explore some of the lesser known hot spots, check out these seven wine regions around the state.
Part of the Sonoma Valley, Russian River is California’s second most popular wine region. The area measures nearly 200 square miles, containing more than 80 wineries. The region is most known for its cool-climate varietals — namely Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
Russian River contains an eclectic variety of wineries, from family-owned establishments to big conglomerations. Close to San Francisco, it makes a fantastic addition to any Bay Area vacation. Driving tours are available and offer a gorgeous cruise through the rolling hills, small towns and charming wineries that characterize the region.
Recommended winery: Davis Bynum Winery – first Russian River Valley winery to produce a single vineyard pinot noir
Specializing in full-bodied red wines, the Sierra Foothills are somewhat isolated from the other California wine regions and contain some of the state’s oldest producing vines. It was here where Zinfandel originated, and many of the area’s wineries produce a renowned “Big” Zin.
Nicknamed the “Gold Country,” the Sierra Foothills harbor a rich mining history. The region attracted a great number of fortune-seekers during the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century. Fun fact: Amador County in the Gold Country was California’s only county to actually expand vineyard acreage during prohibition years.
Recommended winery: Windwalker Vineyard and Winery – ranked 3rd best California winery in 2011 in the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition
An hour east from San Francisco, the Livermore Valley boasts a rich history of grape-growing and over 130 years in the winery business. Spanish missionaries planted the first grapes in 1760, and the first commercial vines sprung up in the 1840s.
In 1889, Livermore won America a gold medal at the Paris Exposition, bringing California wine worldwide attention. The Valley was the first place to bottle varietal labeled Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah. Supposedly, almost 80% of the state’s Chardonnay vines have genetic roots in Livermore Valley.
Recommended winery: Murrieta’s Well – named for a legendary outlaw who camped by the artesian well on the property
Nestled in the Sacramento River Delta, Clarksburg is marked by beautiful landscapes of crisscrossing sloughs, swing bridges, drawbridges and, of course, fecund vineyards. Summer in Clarksburg is nothing short of idyllic, the days warm and the night cool. With 10,000 acres of vineyards, the region produces over 25 varieties of wine grapes. Clarksburg is essentially a collection of small towns, wineries, wine shops, vineyards, classy restaurants and sparkling waterways.
Recommended winery: Todd Taylor Wines – handmade wines aged in oak cooperage
Between Los Angeles and San Francisco on California’s Central Coast, Paso Robles is a sprawling 26,000 acres of vineyard with more than 40 wine grape varieties. Not only is the region large and diverse, but it is near a number of worthwhile travel destinations.
The historic downtown area is home to a number of upscale wine shops, restaurants and boutiques. The famous Heart Castle is not far north, and breathtaking California coast is not far off. The landscape of Paso Robles is diverse with river beds, rolling hills and picturesque mountains.
Recommended winery: JUSTIN Winery – focus on Bordeaux varietals and blends
Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation was the first wine-growing region in the nation defined by a mountain range. It stretches from Mount Madonna to Half Moon Bay with a minimum ocean-side vineyard elevation of 400ft.
Many of the vineyards boast astounding views of the coastline. The cooling ocean breeze and air from the San Francisco Bay create ideal grape-growing conditions. Though the region contains more than 70 wineries (most of them family-run), the Santa Cruz Mountains do not produce large quantities of wine. But what they do bottle is both distinct and sophisticated.
Recommended winery: Bonny Doon Vineyard – focus on terroir wines
A couple hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino is easily one of the most scenic regions in all of California. A beatific melange of rocky coastline, inviting beaches, lush hills and cozy villages, the region even houses multiple state parks. In addition to acres upon acres of vineyards, you can enjoy redwood forests and majestic landscapes.
Visitors even have the chance to catch a glimpse of migrating whales. Between wine tastings, you can go for refreshing hikes, visit organic breweries or walk along the beaches.
Recommended winery: Fetzer – sustainable wine-making
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