California offers a fantastic array of vacation options for
wine-lovers. There are grape-growing regions from Mendocino
County in northern California to Santa Barbara in southern California to
the foothills of the Sierra. Wine tours abound for those who want
to focus on a particular appellation or region. Most of the
wineries offer tastings, tours or special sales of their
products. Many have restaurants, picnic areas, gardens or shops
on grounds. The major California wine-producing regions with wineries/tasting rooms or tours are:
Napa Valley area
Livermore Valley area
Paso Robles/Templeton area
San Luis Obispo region
Santa Inez Valley region
Southern Lake County
Our Scenic Drives
and Top Destinations
sections include maps to these
areas with wine tour options. Plan to take extra time if you
visit any of these areas as they are best savored, not gulped – just
like fine wine.
California is a major supplier of wine worldwide - many are based in the hills and valleys of Napa and Sonoma Counties
Major Wine Regions of California
No other state compares to California in wine production – 93% of the
country’s wine is produced here. Some California vineyards date from
the early 19th century, started before the Gold Rush of 1849. The
most famous regions are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valleys north of San
Francisco but there are many more to explore.
California has a "Mediterranean" climate of wet winters and warm, sunny
summers with little or no rain– just what grapes love! Huge grape
harvests from the very hot Central Valley produce most of the table
wines from the state. Throughout the state, there are numerous
microclimates, varying in elevation, rainfall, humidity, soil type,
slope and seasonal temperatures. Growers can creatively match a
wide range of grape varieties to the microclimates.
The very largest producers, Mondavi, Gallo, Sutter Home are well known
and often have well-advertised tasting rooms. Many of the smaller
producers take a bit of effort to find but you might discover a new
favorite or at least meet some really interesting vintners.
From North to South -
Mendocino County Region: The most valuable crop here is not
grapes but that is changing. This rugged, sometimes foggy coastal
area is still a known mostly as a romantic vacation
getaway. With the increase in growers, producers and overall
quality, this is a great place to explore. Primary town: Mendocino.
Lake County Region: Not far from its famous neighbor to the
south, Napa Valley, Lake County is farther from the ocean and lower in
elevation. The warmer climate has is excellent for Zinfandel, and to a
lesser extent, Chardonnay. Primary town: Hopland.
Napa Valley Region: Some of the best known names in California
wines are made in the Napa Valley, and some of the best wines, as well.
Over 200 wineries are based in the region. Cabernet Sauvignon based
wines have proven to be the most successful, although Chardonnay and
many other grapes are plentiful. Primary towns: Napa, St. Helena.
Sonoma County Region: Wineries here are smaller, older and more
varied than those in neighboring Napa Valley. The Pacific Ocean
sends cooling fog over the hills and the Russian River runs through the
valley. Almost every type of wine grape known can be found in one or
more of the many microclimates in the county. Primary towns:
Carneros Region: Perhaps the most exclusive region just south of
where the Napa and Sonoma valleys, close to the cooling effects of the
San Pablo Bay. Many sparkling wine and Pinot Noir producers are
associated with this region. Primary towns: Sonoma and Napa, to the
Sierra Foothills Region: Rising slowly from the vast expanse of
the Central Valley, the foothills have a long tradition of winemaking.
More than a century after the Gold Rush era closed, a growing number of
wineries have made these foothills home. With higher elevation
comes cooler temperatures. Mature vines produce superb Zinfandel
grapes in the region but new grape varieties are slowly being planted
as the region expands. Primary town: Placerville.
Santa Cruz Mountains Region: Steep hillsides, dense forests and
poor soils weed out the large corporate wine producers, leaving the
hearty, committed winemakers to pursue their craft in these mountains
between Silicon Valley (Los Altos) and Santa Cruz on the coast.
Monterey County Region: Famous for the coastal attractions, this
region has gradually built up an impressive list of wineries over the
last forty years. The cool ocean breezes follow sunny Carmel
Valley to the plains of the Central Valley, making grape growers happy.
The wines produced have improved significantly as this region has
gained prominence. Primary Towns: Monterey, Carmel and Salinas.
Paso Robles Region: A wine growing region on the edge of the Central
Valley that is often overlooked. Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are
produced in this hot, relatively dry region. Primary town: Paso Robles.
Edna Valley Region: This Central Valley region extends from
the coast inland to Templeton. Because it is a transverse valley, one
that runs perpendicular to the ocean coast, drawing cooler, moister air
well inland, wine growers have flocked here. Edna Valley specializes in
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Primary towns: San Luis Obispo, Templeton.
Santa Maria Valley Region: One of the coolest growing regions in California due
to an ocean-facing valley is also home to many flower growers. Santa
Maria Valley is efficiently cooled by the ocean breezes making it ideal
for the cool-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Primary towns:
Santa Ynez Valley Region: Hollywood has put this region on the
map with the movie Sideways. Located inland in Santa Barbara County,
cool ocean breezes keep this valley temperate enough to grow
top-quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The region is tiny
compared to Napa and Sonoma but visitors will not be
disappointed. Primary towns: Santa Ynez, Solvang.