California produces more than 80% of the wine produced in the United States, making it the world's fourth-largest wine producer, behind Italy, France, and Spain. Wine grapes are grown in 49 of California's 58 counties, and wine districts stretch the length of the state. The most widely planted white grape is Chardonnay, and the most widely planted red grape is Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are currently 139 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California's wine country. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has legally granted appellation designation to these restricted, geographical grape-growing zones. AVAs highlight the wine region's diversity and excellence. Each American Viticulture Area (AVA) has its own "persona" that distinguishes it from the others. Climate, geology, and elevation all play a role in defining the different "persona." To show an appellation name on a California wine label, 85 percent of the fruit in the wine must come from that appellation.
As you can see California has a lot to offer when it comes to wine regions. If you are new to wine vacations, it could be hard to decide where to start since there are 139 options. We gathered up our favorite wine regions in California you must visit. Each region is a great spot to start or add to the next destinations of your wine trip.
The Temecula Valley is a couple of hours' journey inland, beyond LA county lines. Since its creation over half a century ago, this wine-growing oasis in SoCal's parched hinterland has grown in prominence. It offers very drinkable Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel as a wine destination (as well as less common wines like refreshing Vermentino and peppery Counoise). Its tourist hospitality infrastructure is excellent, and there's a sense of community here that isn't typically found in wine regions. Follow De Portola Road to find a wine trail with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, including Robert Renzoni's stunning Tuscan-style home. Fun visits include Churon Winery's mock French chateau and Briar Rose Winery in Temecula.
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles is one of California's most amazing wine regions, with a lot of fine wine to sample right at the source. In the seaside Malibu district, nearly 50 vineyards are nestled among the Santa Monica Mountains' exquisite undulations. Before descending to cool off in the waves at famed Malibu Beach, follow the Malibu Wine Trail to bustling tasting terraces with magnificent ocean views, such as Rosenthal's. A guided tour of this historic area is strongly suggested, with stops in Malibu, Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive boutique heaven, and Santa Monica's famous pier with its quaint nostalgic amusements.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County has a very lovely Californian landscape. Santa Barbara has long been a Hollywood hotspot, providing the sweeping golden hills that served as the setting for Alexander Payne's 'Sideways.' Santa Barbara is part of the Transverse Ranges, which are coastal mountains with an unusual east-west orientation. Its unique and beautiful geography has resulted in one of California's best wine districts for memorable tasting excursions. The wine isn't only found up dusty hillsides. Before heading down to East Beach for the 'Funk Zone,' take a guided tour of Santa Barbara's Spanish colonial past. Tasting cellars, art studios, chic boutiques, and restaurants are all housed in one refurbished warehouse. It is also a significant stop on the city's Urban Wine Trail.
The Santa Rita and Santa Ynez Valleys are Santa Barbara's primary wine-growing regions outside of the city limits. The Santa Ynez hills and oak-fringed meadows, in particular, provide a diverse range of microclimates for winemakers to take advantage of. In the scenic hills of this California wine region, you'll find high-quality Syrah, while closer to the coast, you'll find fruity Rieslings and Chardonnay.
Paso Robles has a long history of producing high-quality Zinfandel, but it has also earned a reputation for producing exceptional Rhône-style wines. Paso Robles (or "Paso" to locals) is one of the top wine districts in California to visit because of its diversity of quality and charming historic district. Vine farming here dates back to the Spanish missionaries and is located in laid-back San Luis Obispo County. Paso Robles, especially in the Adelaida District, has cooler, wetter weather than many other parts of the state.
Southern Rhône-style wines are typically mixes of local varietals and have a spicy, intense flavor profile. Tablas Creek is emblematic of the success of this French-American fusion, pioneering vineyard cooperation between the Perrins of France and the Hass family of America.
It's not all about the Rhône, though; in the warmer parts of Paso, you'll discover silky, plummy Merlot. Visit the Peachy Canyon Winery Tasting Room in Paso Robles to learn more about what a Zinfandel wine should be about.
San Diego County
Vine was originally planted in California in 1769 at Mission San Diego De Alcala, which is today part of the city of San Diego. Ramona County and the more established San Pasqual Valley are the only AVAs wholly within San Diego County today. Grapes, on the other hand, are planted throughout this vast region, from the glittering sea level to the cold highlands over 4,000 feet. After the riotous success of the north, it's been a matter of refocusing attention on the south of the state for San Diego. San Diego's boutique wine market is in the process of accomplishing just that, with 115 wineries, most of which are smaller, family-run businesses dedicated to quality.
The wine types here are as diverse as those found in practically every other AVA along with the coast's microclimates. Orfila in Escondido's bucolic hills is leading the way with outstanding Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel, while Hawkwatch in Warner Springs' high altitude is a must-visit for its delectable Rhône and Bordeaux flavors.
The Monterey AVA's lush corridor cuts a fertile stripe through the rocky chaparral where the Santa Cruz Mountains ebb southwards. Quality winemakers have relocated to Monterey, helping to release the true potential of one of California's most underrated wine regions. Previously known for its affordable wine production in the Salinas Valley, oversubscription of top terroir north of San Francisco has seen quality winemakers relocate to Monterey and help release the true potential of one of California's most underrated wine regions. That isn't to suggest that quality is difficult to come by. Chalone, Lockwood, and Morgan, among others, have created unique representations of the region, including multi-layered Pinot Noirs and unusual Chardonnays that reflect the terrain's complicated geology. You'll also find an innovative spirit here, as evidenced by the production of odd grapes like Albarino, a citrus dry white type from the Iberian peninsula.
If you visit the historic Carmel Valley AVA's famed Cabernet Sauvignon region, it's worth your time to continue west along the valley to the small hamlet of Carmel.
Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is the most spectacular of California's wine regions, situated at a high height among soaring redwoods and swaying mountain roads. This AVA, which begins approximately half an hour south of San Francisco and extends south to Mount Madonna and the pleasant city of Santa Cruz, features smaller-scale vineyards planted from Half Moon Bay to the friendly city of Santa Cruz. Expect breathtaking views of the coast. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted on the seaward side of the mountains to take benefit of the ocean's cooling influence, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Merlot are planted inland to take advantage of the warmer environment. Many of these smaller, more isolated vineyards are focusing on Old World winemaking techniques, resulting in lower alcohol wines with distinct tannins.
Los Carneros is the place to go. This AVA crosses the southern extremities of both the Sonoma and Napa valleys, providing the most attractive two-for-one of all of California's wine regions to the indecisive oenophile. Los Carneros is known for its excellent, crisp Chardonnay, but it also produces Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah. Fans of sparkling wine will enjoy themselves here as well; take a seat on Gloria Ferrer's panoramic patio for top-notch bubbles.
Sonoma County is a Pinot Noir lover's paradise. Sonoma County's 400-plus vineyards produce more of this beautiful red than any other county in California, making it one of the top wine regions in the state. But world-class Pinot Noir isn't all that Sonoma has to offer. Sonoma's unspoiled coastline and lush hinterland, located west of Napa and between the Pacific and the Mayacamas Mountains, provide winemakers with various microclimates in which to grow over 50 grape varietals at often optimal circumstances.
Napa Valley is the wine world's superstar, making it one of the best places to visit for a California honeymoon. There are imitation Tuscan castles, Michelin-starred chefs like Thomas Keller, and 240 wineries serving some of the world's most sought-after vintages in this four-mile-wide, thirty-mile-long valley. Driving Highway 29 into Napa, about an hour north of San Francisco, feels like you've taken a detour through Tuscany. Napa's prized soil produces award-winning wines thanks to its lush scenery of rolling hills interwoven with vines. It is particularly well-known for its lush, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon. The American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Napa Valley is separated into smaller AVAs.
Best Wine Under $10 in Los Angeles
The American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Napa Valley is separated into smaller AVAs. Fans of Cabernet Sauvignon should look for Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Stags Leap on labels to ensure that they are getting something great. Zinfandel aficionados will appreciate the Chiles Valley, while white wine enthusiasts will love the valley's excellent Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and Semillons.
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