California Wineries and Vineyards
California has thousands of wineries and vineyards with the best wines you'll ever find anywhere else. California makes 90 percent of the wine made in the United States, and also ranks first in consumption -- Californians drink 20% of the wine produced in the US. If California were a country, it would be the fourth leading wine-producing country in the world behind France, Italy and Spain.
California wines accounted for 64 percent of the total 668 million gallons — both foreign and domestic — consumed in the U.S. in 2004, or roughly two out of every three bottles sold in the country. California winery shipments comprised roughly $15 billion of the $23 billion estimated retail value of all wine sold in the U.S. in 2004.
Wine is California's most valuable finished agricultural product. The overall economic impact of the wine industry on the economy of California exceeds $45.4 billion. The expansion of exports of California wine over the last decade has dramatically increased from $196 million in 1994 to $794 million in 2004.
Wineries and vineyards are the second most popular tourist destination in California after Disneyland. A total of 14.8 million tourists visit the state's wine regions each year.
California North Coast Wine Country
From quiet vineyards bounded by lush redwood forests along the Mendocino Coast to the sun-drenched rolling hills of rugged Lake County, the California North Coast has about as varied a wine country as you can get. Start near the Pacific, where summer fog and wet winters make for some of the coolest wine-growing climate in California. Organic, sustainable farming techniques are the norm in this tucked-away corner of the state; You can chat about grapes and grape-growing with local winemakers, who are often the ones pouring the wines in relaxed, unpretentious tasting rooms.
Historic Napa and Sonoma Wineries and Vineyards
Cradling California’s most famous wine country, these two world-famous wine regions, both about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, boast rolling hills planted with some of the most coveted grapes in the world. Napa Valley reigns as the land of grand estates, expansive tasting rooms, quaint towns, and elegant lodgings, many lining the celebrated Silverado Trail. Sonoma County tends to have a more intimate feel, especially as you head further north towards the Russian River. Whether they’re in a castle or renovated barn, the hundreds of wineries in Napa and Sonoma Valleys earn their gold medals and international accolades.
Mendocino Wine Country
Get ready for one of California’s prettiest—and least crowded—areas to sip and swirl. Known for ocean-cooled climates ranging from rolling coastal hills to vineyards wrapped with towering coast redwoods, the Mendocino County wine region is not only beautiful, it’s cutting edge too. The area is home to some of the state’s most progressive winemakers, who perfect organic sustainable techniques in their boutique vineyards. In fact, Mendocino County has the most acreage of certified organic vineyards in the country. See what it’s all about at Frey Vineyards, America’s first maker of certified biodynamic wines—they even say they are vegan and gluten-free.
California Central Coast Wine Country
Winding into the Santa Cruz Mountains of the California central coast, you expect the towering redwoods and the misty ocean views. But wineries? It’s surprising but true: the Santa Cruz wine region boasts more than 70 wineries, producing a wide range of varietals from its mineral-y soils. One of the state’s first AVAs, the region is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Microclimates abound, with warm sunny days, nights brushed with fog, and almost everything in between.
The west side of the Silicon Valley, where the land rises to meet the rumpled, wooded folds of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has become an inviting wine-country destination. The charming village of Saratoga is the region’s hub, with in-town tasting rooms including Cinnabar, where you can savor small plates and award-winning Mourvedre on a shaded patio. For a real treat, check the calendar and catch an evening of entertainment at the historic Mountain Winery. The legendary Paul Masson, who emigrated to San Francisco from Burgundy, France in the late 1800s, acquired a Saratoga vineyard where he developed fine California sparkling wines. Today, his winery is the site of summertime concerts in an intimate venue under the stars—a worthy splurge.
Sierra Nevada Foothills Wine Country
The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this northeastern region of California, with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days of the 1850's. Now, an explosion of wineries, wine tours, tasting rooms, and restaurants specializing in wine country cuisine has added a jolt of grape-fueled energy to the Sierra foothills wine country, where more than 100 wineries now produce a wide range of varietals, most notably Zinfandel, but also an intriguing variety of other varietals.
California's Inland Gold Country Wineries and Vineyards
Best known for big red wines, particularly old-vine Zinfandels, this American Viticultural Area 100 miles east of San Francisco is also a leader when it comes to going green. Upwards of 25,000 vineyard acres are certified sustainable, and this is the birthplace of Lodi Rules, California’s first third-party certified sustainable wine growing program. A variety of tasting rooms have sprouted up in recent years, with most of the action located within a 15-minute drive from downtown. A great place to start is the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, offering a rotating selection of varietals from nearly 80 local vintners.
Southern California Wineries and Vineyards
If you love wine, you’ve come to the right place. The San Luis Obispo region ranks as one of the state’s premiere wine growing regions, dating back to the 18th century and the time of the Spanish padres. But even if you don’t know a Cab from a Chardonnay, the wine country still beckons, with relaxed, cowboy-meets-winemaker towns, and vineyards blanketing coastal hills.
The Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, is one of most diverse grape-growing regions in the county. Near the Pacific, fog and cool air rolls in at dusk, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Thirty miles inland at Happy Canyon, it’s sunny and hot—perfect for Bordeaux varieties like Cab Franc and Merlot.
And scenic? How about rolling hills, endless vines, and ancient oaks to the horizon. Between the wines and the views, it’s easy to see why the region became a star in the 2004 surprise hit, Sideways. Take a self-guided tour of the film’s many shoot locations in Buellton, Los Alamos, and Los Olivos—even if you don’t remember the movie, these places are all worth a visit.
Temecula Valley Wine Country
For many visitors, the Temecula Valley wine country is still a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.
It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines, and summer concerts featuring top performers. Stroll the streets of Old Town Temecula, with quality boutiques, eateries, and a relaxed Old West feel. Take a hot-air balloon ride or tasting tour in a chauffeured limousine, or play a round of golf. Or just hang out in a tasting room with the winery owner or winemaker (they’re often on site), who can share their expertise and give you insights into this unique and surprising region.