10 cool Californian wineries and wine trails

The very same California sunshine, rolling hills and salty sea air which conspires to attract tourists and travellers from all over the world to America's Golden State also combine exceptionally well to grow the grapes that go into California's award-winning wines.

Californian wineries & wine trails © James Dalsa - Flickr Creative Commons
Californian wineries & wine trails © James Dalsa - Flickr Creative Commons

Here we round up a selection of California wineries that you'd be mad to miss out on. There's a saying that calls Californians 'serious about wine and relaxed about everything else' - which sounds like a great approach life. In fact, California produces serious amounts of world class wine, accounting for 90% of all the wine made in the USA, and bringing in over 20 million tourists a year to see just how it's done and sample a selection of these vintages at the source.

10 cool Californian wineries and wine trails

So get ready to adopt a Californian attitude to work and wine (namely that the former should take a back seat to the latter) with our guide to must-try Californian wineries, in well known Napa Valley and beyond.

In and around Napa Valley

1. Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, Healdsburg

This Sonoma County winery harvests grapes from multiple vineyards, including one on the banks of the Russian River, and specialises in creating high quality wines in small batches, keeping a discerning eye firmly on quality.

Bella Vineyards Tasting Room © Megan Cole - Flickr Creative Commons
Bella Vineyards Tasting Room © Megan Cole - Flickr Creative Commons

The tastings are held in its atmospheric caves, where amazing parties are rumoured to be thrown too, and they're also home to a thriving wine lovers club.

  • Signature tipple: it's all about the Zinfandel here
  • Tasting cost: tasting is £10 per person

2. V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena

There's a delightful family history to the V. Sattui Winery, which started when a Genoese immigrant and baker's son came to California in the late nineteenth century, and began making wine in his spare time.

V. Sattui Winery, Napa Valley © V. Sattui Winery
V. Sattui Winery, Napa Valley © V. Sattui Winery

Fast forward to 2015 when this wine aficionado's paradise, complete with tours, food pairings, barbeques, picnics and an on-site Italian deli, was named Winery of the Year on California's North Coast for the fourth consecutive year.

  • Signature tipple: grab yourself a cab - The 2011 Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon holds a platinum award
  • Tasting cost: £15 for a selection of six wines

3. Cakebread Cellars, Rutherford

A second generation family winery which is best known for its Chardonnay, its scenery and its service, helped by the fact that as one of the only 'by appointment' tasting rooms in the area you're guaranteed to get dedicated attention and information from the knowledgeable staff.

Cakebread Cellars wine tasting © star5112 - Flickr Creative Commons
Cakebread Cellars wine tasting © star5112 - Flickr Creative Commons

Cakebread's premises were recently remodelled making them swisher than ever, and its food pairings are talked of in revered tones.

  • Signature tipple: the Chardonnay has a particularly loyal following
  • Tasting cost: tastings here are by appointment and start at £15 for a selection of six new releases rising to £40 for reserve tastings

4. Silver Oak Winery, Geyserville & Oakville

Silver Oak is a must-try for lovers of red wine. The winery also sets itself apart with a built-in focus on sustainability, recycling its corks and powering the estate completely with solar panels.

  • Signature tipple: the Cabernet Sauvignon is Silver Oak's top-seller
  • Tasting cost: current release tastings are £25 and offered on a walk-in basis, while tours and tastings combined cost £35 and must be pre-booked - though £10 of the tasting fee will be refunded with a wine purchase

5. Domaine Chandon, Yountville

Domaine Chandon specialises in growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, the traditional varieties of grape that produce French Champagne, all on 1,000 acres of prime Californian vineyards.

Pinot Noir grapes at Domaine Chandon © Mack Male - Flickr Creative Commons
Pinot Noir grapes at Domaine Chandon © Mack Male - Flickr Creative Commons

The winery also hosts the sort of kick-up-your-heels high-end events you'd associate with a champagne lifestyle, from cocktail parties to lobster feasts, and serves a host of snacks to soak up the bubbles in its tasting room. There are also a selection of house recipes on the website for you to try at home.

  • Signature tipple: the drink to celebrate here is the Champagne - well, of course, as this is the USA not France, it is in fact sparkling wine
  • Tasting cost: there are two well-respected Chandon tours to try, Rose or Vintage, each at £40

Beyond Napa Valley

California wineries are often seen as synonymous with the state's most famous wine-producing regions the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, which everyone knows offer wonderful wine and fabulous food, giving visitors a taste of the good life.

However, beyond Napa, the rolling hills and ocean climate of coastal California makes it just as suited to winemaking, often with smaller, more intimate and family-owned California wineries to discover.

If you're hoping to explore just a fraction of the 427,000 acres of vines planted across California at a slower pace than neighbouring Napa, try the area around San Luis Obispo, also known as SLO wine country.

1. Talley Vineyards, Arroyo Grande Valley

Talley Vineyards is a family owned winery that specialises in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which are grown using the ideal soils found in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys.

View over Edna valley, San Luis Obispo ©  Malcolm Carlaw - Flickr Creative Commons
View over Edna valley, San Luis Obispo © Malcolm Carlaw - Flickr Creative Commons

The pretty panoramic views of the vineyards and ultra-friendly service make this a great choice for a romantic interlude, and the location in the San Luis Obispo area makes Talley an off the beaten path winery that's far less likely to be overcrowded or feel commercialised. Look out for its secondary label Bishop's Peak, which produces good entry-level wines.

  • Signature tipple: a thorough selection of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
  • Tasting cost: tastings start from £8 for five core wines rising to £15 for a bespoke selection, both refunded with the purchase of £50 or more in wine from the estate

2. Harmony Cellars, Cambria

Just off the famous Highway 1, yet with scenic views of the California coast and countryside, Harmony Cellars Winery may have more than tripled its production of wine from 2,000 to 7,000 cases a year, but remains a boutique winery, run with family values at affordable prices.

Niven Family Wines cellar dining © Niven Family Wine Estates
Niven Family Wines cellar dining © Niven Family Wine Estates

Situated just outside the tiny artisan town of Harmony, this is a real antidote to the big hitters of Napa Valley with very personal service, and a wide selection of wines including Syrah and even Port, that you can enjoy in the gardens, under the gazebo, or after your Saturday morning yoga class.

  • Signature tipple: there's something for everyone though the best picks are the value reds
  • Tasting cost: tastings are £7, and for £10 they'll throw in the glass for you to keep as a souvenir

3. Niven Family Wines, Edna Valley

The umbrella brand for a selection of six labels, from Baileyana, Tangent and Trenza to Cadre, Zocker and True Myth, all of which can be tried under one roof.

The stunning views and beautiful picnic grounds are something to write home about but more so is the winery's pioneering of the wine on tap movement. This ensures wine remains as fresh when the last glass is poured as the first by sealing it in kegs which save on production of glass bottles and corks ensuring the wine industry lowers its carbon footprint.

  • Signature tipple: each brand has its own strengths and across a choice of six you'll find everything from Grenache Blanc and Viognier to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris
  • Tasting cost: tastings in the 1909 schoolhouse are £8.00 (traditional) and £12.00 (reserve); tasting fee waived with the purchase of one bottle of wine

You can find information on visiting SLO wine country and the wineries along California's Highway 1 Discovery Route by checking out some of the wine trails on offer:

1. Pacific Coast Wine Trail

This joins six small producers of hand-crafted wines along the scenic coast from San Simeon through Cambria and to Harmony.

2. Avila Wine Trail

Features nine family-owned and operated wineries with award-winning vintages that capture the essence of what's on offer from California wineries on the Avila beach section of the Central Coast.

If you're tempted to try these fine wineries and wine trails for yourself, don't miss our selection of travel deals on flights to the USA including British Airways and Norwegian, plus special offers on car hire for UK residents from the likes of Alamo Gold.

Jaillan Yehia

Jaillan Yehia
Posted on Monday 18th May 2015 in: Excursions Food & drink North America

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