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Grapes come from wine appellations, a defined region of climate and soil types.


California Vacations ·  Wine Vacations

California Wine Vacations - Wine Tours

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
    Sonoma County     
    Livermore Valley area
    Carmel Valley
    Paso Robles/Templeton area
    San Luis Obispo region
    Santa Inez Valley region
    Mendocino County
    Southern Lake County
    Amador County
    Calaveras County
    Temecula area

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.

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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: Sonoma, Healdsburg.

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 north.

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 Maria

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. 


© Yeoh Chun Heng
California's wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms extend all along the coast from Santa Barbara to Mendocino and inland to the Sierra foothills.

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