From Napa Valley in the north to Temecula Valley in the south, California is home to many of the best wine destinations in the entire country. Napa Valley, in particular, is perhaps synonymous with wine, as the region continues to produce some of the best wine in the country, year after year. Visitors here will find gorgeous vineyards and Michelin-starred restaurants, all set against a stunning mountain backdrop. First-time visitors will not be disappointed after spending a few days exploring the areas and meeting the people who produce the award-winning wines.
However, the Golden State offers a number of other incredible wine regions that should not be missed. The following are five of California’s top wine regions that you should keep in mind when scheduling your next vacation.
1. Temecula Valley
Not far from the desert, Temecula Valley has emerged as the premier wine region of Southern California. Set among rolling hills, Temecula is home to several wineries that have been producing great vintages since the 1960s. What makes this area really stand out is its wide variety of different kinds of grapes, from cool-climate species like Chardonnay to warm-weather varieties like Grenache and Syrah. With a granite-based soil, the region has a unique microclimate that provides the ideal environment for grapes despite its location so close to the desert.
One of the region’s premier wineries is Callaway Vineyard & Winery, but another highlight is Europa Village, which offers a bed and breakfast where each of the 10 guest rooms is named after a different wine varietal. For a really fun experience, tourists can head to Briar Rose Winery, which has a tasting room designed to replicate the cottage of Snow White’s seven dwarves.
2. Russian River
Russian River, part of Sonoma Valley, is a wine region second in popularity to Napa, due in part to its proximity to San Francisco and its 200 square miles of countryside.
Home to more than 80 wineries, Russian River is known for its cool-climate varietals, including Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, while its stand-out winery, Davis Bynum, was the first in the region to offer its own single-vineyard Pinot Noir.
Visitors to Russian River can really customize their experience because of the diversity of its various wineries. These options range from small, family-owned operations to large corporations.
Those who want to soak in the pure beauty of the region should investigate taking a driving tour, which will take them all over the countryside and through small towns full of character.
3. Paso Robles
Located in the Central Coast region of California, Paso Robles is accessible from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Just 26,000 acres of vineyards are home to more than 40 different varieties of grapes.
Paso Robles stands out as a great destination for tourists because of its many attractions—aside from vineyards—that can inject some variety into a vacation. For example, Hearst Castle and the California coastline are both relatively close, while the region itself has beautiful mountains diving into sparkling river beds. Tourists should also explore the historic downtown area, which has numerous upscale restaurants and wine shops.
For those who enjoy Bordeaux varietals and blends, JUSTIN Winery stands out as one of the top options.
4. Santa Cruz Mountains
The very first wine-growing region in the nation defined by a mountain range is the Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation, which includes the land between Mount Madonna and Halfmoon Bay. One of the best reasons to visit this region remains the picturesque views of the coasts many of the vineyards offers. The high elevation of the area combined with the cool air coming in from the ocean create the ideal conditions for growing grapes. With just around 70 wineries, mostly family-run operations, the Santa Cruz Mountains does not put out large quantities of wine, but what it does produce is sophisticated and characteristic of the area.
5. Sierra Foothills
Even though the Sierra Foothills is rather isolated from the majority of the other wine regions in California, it has some of the state’s oldest vines and vineyards, and has even secured a reputation among wine aficionados as the originator of the Zinfandel variety, particularly the “Big” Zin.
Visitors should be sure to check out Windwalker Vineyard and Winery, which has earned recognition as one of the top producers in the entire state. Outside of its vineyards, the Sierra Foothills is known for its storied history. During the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, droves of people came to the area in search of fortune, leading to Sierra Foothills’ nickname, “Gold Country.” Additionally, Amador County, located in the Foothills, was the only county in California to expand vineyard acreage during Prohibition in the United States.