California is America's leading wine producer, accounting for nearly 90 percent of all wines made in the United States, and serving as the world's fourth largest wine producer. With wine regions throughout the state supporting a vast array of varietals and wineries, going on a California wine tour can serve as either a pleasant day's diversion or the basis for a week-long vacation.
Wine Tourism in California
When you consider a California wine tour, what comes immediately to mind? Chances are you pictured time spent meandering through wineries in Napa and Sonoma. While these two powerhouse wine regions along California's North Coast AVA account for much of the state's wine tourism, many of the other regions in the state also provide spectaular wines and welcoming wineries.
Along with Napa and Sonoma Counties, the North Coast offers an amazing array of wines from AVAs such as Mendocino and Lake County. Varietals found in this region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, just to name a few. When you're touring California's North Coast, be sure to visit the following regions.
Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
With more than 15,000 acres of vineyards, Sonoma County's Russian River Valley has more than 100 wineries making over 30 varieties of wine. Russian River Valley is famous for its complex, juicy Pinot Noirs, powerful Zinfandels, and fruity Chardonnays. When in the Russian River Valley, be sure to stop by the following wineries.
- Martinelli Vineyards and Winery: This family owned winery has produced award-winning Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Syrah wines for five generations. Under the careful hands of winemaker Bryan Kvamme and consulting winemaker Helen Turley, Martinelli wines are lush, refined, and wonderful examples of the best Russian River Valley has to offer.
- Williams Selyem Winery: This boutique winery has gained nearly a cult following with consistently spectacular Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel wines.
- Korbel Champagne Celars: Bubbly lovers rejoice! Stop by the Korbel Champagne Cellars for a tour of a winery making American Champagne using the traditional méthode champenoise.
Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
The most densely planted AVA in Sonoma, the Alexander Valley has 15,000 acres of vineyards and more than 40 wineries producing distinctive wines made from Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Petite Syrah, Syrah, Chardonnay, and many other grapes. Wineries to visit include:
- Silver Oak Cellars: Try the delicious Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the winery's Geyserville location in Alexander Valley.
- Clos du Bois: Visit this popular winery's Geyserville location to taste Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.
Broken into many smaller AVAs, the Napa Valley plants more than 43,000 acres of grapes and has more than 300 wineries making Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and many other varietals. Some Napa Valley wineries to visit include:
- Beaulieu Vineyard: This historic property makes the spectacular Georges de Latour wines, among others.
- Beringer: Not only does this winery make some of California's great Chardonnays (and other varietals), but it also offers historic tours, educational seminars, and more.
- Domaine Chandon: Taste sparkling wines from the American sister of French Champagne great, Moet Chandon.
- Grgich Hills: This family-owned wineries consistently produces world-class wines of great distinction.
- Plumpjack Winery: Known for quality wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Syrah, the Plumpjack winery consistently creates excellent, well rated wines.
The Central Coast plants more than 100,000 acres of grapes. Wineries to visit include:
- Jalama Wines:This is a boutique winery located in Lompoc.
- Cambria Winery: Taste estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at this well-known winery.
Located in Southern California, South Coast vineyards grow around 3,000 acres of grapes. While in Southern California, visit:
Located inland, California's Central Valley features the Sierra Foothills and Lodi AVAs. Wineries to visit include:
Many commercial tours are available, such as the Napa Valley Wine Train. These activities take you to major wineries and allow you sit back, relax, and taste wines while someone else does the driving. Many also include a delicious wine country meal or picnic. If you plan to taste a large number of wines, commerical tours are a terrific option. Some wine tour companies include:
Planning Your Own Tour
If you'd like to plan your own wine country tour, many websites provide information about wineries and tour routes. Planning your own tour may be more affordable than a commercial one, and it gives you the opportunity to visit the wineries you'd like to see. For help planning your own tour, visit:
Whether you plan to take a commerical tour or just meander your way through California's wine regions on your own, be prepared to be surrounded by beauty. From the vineyards and gorgeous countryside to the equally stunning wines grown throughout the state, your California wine tour will be a feast for your senses.