California produces 90% of U.S. wine, courtesy of its mild climate (over 200 sunshine filled days each year) and diverse terrain of mountains, valleys and vast plains. In recent decades Californian wines have forged a global presence, notably since 1976’s famed ‘Judgement of Paris’. In this international blind tasting event, California newcomers went head to head with established French favourites, and walked away with the honours.
California boasts over 2,000 wineries, spanning major producers to boutique family-run ventures. So how do you choose which ones to visit? Here we tempt your taste buds with seven of the finest.
Raymond Vineyard, Napa Valley
Established in 1970, Raymond is a longstanding Napa stalwart. The estate oversees 300 acres of vineyards in three locations, each featuring grape varieties matched to the prevailing soil and climate. The St Helena and Rutherford estates produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If you lean towards whites, try the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, cultivated on the rolling hillsides of Jameson Canyon in the southern Napa valley. Would-be vintners, don’t miss the ‘winemaker for a day’ experience. Guided by seasoned experts you’ll create your own bespoke red wine, complete with custom label. Afterwards you can take home a bottle or several, to impress your fellow buffs.
Malibu Wines, Santa Monica
Off the established wine track in the Santa Monica Mountains, this relative newcomer is conveniently positioned for LA and the Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu Wines’ walking tours give you a guided two hour exploration of its 1,000 acre Saddlerock Ranch estate and vineyards. The scenic tour passes vineyards and wildflowers, native American Chumash rock art, and some exotic residents including giraffes, zebras and llamas. If walking’s not your thing, opt for the 4×4 tour where you’ll take in some stunning mountain panoramas. Afterwards relax in the sunshine at their West Hills wine garden, where you can quench your thirst with a flight or two of jammy Saddlerock Cabernet Sauvignon, crisp rose and apricot hued Viognier.
Whetstone Wine Cellars, Napa Valley
Set in tranquil two acre grounds surrounded by stately oak and cedar trees, Whetstone favours a relaxed, informal wine tasting experience. Make yourself at home on the patio of the estate’s tastefully restored 19th century French-style chateau. Bring your own picnic or pre-order a cheese and charcuterie box to enjoy with your Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier. On colder days, tastings move indoors to the chateau’s atmospheric tasting salon, complete with a roaring open fire.
Presqu’ile Winery, Santa Barbara
A small family-run vineyard, scenically located in Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile sits on a hillside with idyllic views of the Pacific Ocean. Book a horseback tour though the 400 acre estate, followed by a laid-back Food and Wine Experience on the winery’s sunny terrace overlooking the vineyard. You’ll enjoy a tasting experience of six wines including Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, and tuck into Mediterranean-inspired mezze featuring the estate’s home grown produce.
Frog’s Leap Winery, Napa Valley
An innovative and eco-friendly Rutherford winery. Frog’s Leap began producing organic wine in 1989, and uses solar power and geothermal energy to run its winery and historic farmhouse. On a friendly, intimate guided tour around the farm and vineyards you’ll learn all about the estate’s dry farming techniques. Visit the distinctive red barn which dates back to 1884, where you’ll see how the wine is made. Afterwards, relax in tranquil flower filled gardens and enjoy a leisurely tasting session paired with local cheeses. The competitively priced labels include Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel and an exceptional plummy Merlot.
Ridge Vineyards, Central Coast
This Cupertino vineyard enjoys a spectacular elevated location in the Santa Cruz Mountains, accessed by meandering roads. Whilst the drive may challenge the vertiginous, on arrival you’ll be rewarded with incredible views. Ridge’s premium wine is ‘Monte Bello’, a renowned cabernet sauvignon named after the peak on which the grapes are grown. If its $225 price tag is a tad beyond your budget, try the superb Zinfandel or the black cherry Carignan.
Beringer Vineyard, Napa Valley
California’s oldest winery dates back to 1876 and was the first to open its doors to visitors and launch vineyard hospitality in the Napa Valley. A visit to the estate is a visual treat, where you’ll discover beautiful 19th century architecture set within expansive leafy gardens. Beringer’s quality roll-call includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Enjoy wine tastings on the veranda of the ornate Victorian Rhine House, followed by a stroll around the gardens and estate.
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