Wine and Travel: California

It’s a little known fact that he USA regularly makes more wine than any country other than France, Italy and Spain. Wine has never been more popular with Americans and the USA is now by volume the most important consumer of wine in the world.  Over 100 grape varieties are grown in California. The seven leading grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel.

California’s wine growing regions stretch from San Diego in the south and as far north to the border with Oregon, but the most famous wine regions are the Napa and Sonoma valleys, just north of San Francisco. It’s worth doing some preparation when planning a trip to wine country, learning in advance about the different regions and wineries.

Read all of our Wine and Travel blogs in the series including SpainPortugal and Italy.

San Francisco

San Francisco is the gateway city to the California Wine regions and well worth spending a day or two in exploring. A city on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, it is known for its hills and iconic mode of transport, the cable car. The most famous San Francisco site is the Golden Gate Bridge. Opened in 1937, it still ranks among the top 10 longest bridge spans in the world. But beyond the bridge, San Francisco has incredible ocean views and just a ferry ride away is Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison.

The wine regions of California

The wine regions of California are often divided into four main regions; North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast, and Central Valley.

North Coast

The North Coast is home to the grape regions that put California wine on the map and encompasses NapaSonomaMendocinoLake Solano and Marin Counties. It’s a large wine growing region that is home to more than half of the state’s wineries. From rolling hills to towering redwoods, the scenery along the North Coast is as memorable as the wine.

Although easily the most famous wine region in California, Napa Valley produces just 4% of all California wine. It’s home to 600 wineries, and arguably some of the best restaurants and finest wines in the country.

Top Tour: Take the Northern California Wine Country tour from San Francisco. Stop at three wineries – one in Napa, two in Sonoma- where you can taste the wines, take in stunning views of the vineyards and learn about their wine making process.

Central Coast

The Central Coast covers a huge stretch of the California coastline and can be divided into two distinct growing regions, north and south. The north part of the Central Coast is home to the Livermore Valley, along with the Santa Cruz MountainsMonterey and Carmel Valley. The north Central Coast region produces a wide variety of grapes with some areas favouring Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, whilst others produce excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Top Tour: Explore Monterey, Carmel and the Pacific Coast Highway without the hassle of renting a car during this 14 hour tour from San Francisco. Wind down the coast through Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, the 17 Mile Drive and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Central Valley

While California’s coast areas get the glory for producing some of the country’s finest wines, the Central Valley is California’s largest wine region stretching for 300 miles (480 km) from the Sacramento Valley south to the San Joaquin Valley. This one region produces nearly 75% of all California wine grapes and is often the source of wines simply labelled “California”.

Top Tour: Take a wine tasting tour to wineries in either the Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo/Edna Valley or Santa Barbara/San Ynez/Santa Maria Valley wine regions. Tours include visiting four to five wineries, pick up and drop off from your location.

South Coast

The South Coast includes all of Orange County and the western portions of Riverside and San Diego Counties. This warm southern California area is moderated by the Pacific Ocean, and Chardonnay has historically been the grape of choice. A wide variety of grapes grow from the cooler coastal communities to the warm inland valleys, with Malibu, the Temecula Valley and San Diego County producing some standout wines.

Top Tour: Take a Malibu Wine Safari and go on an adventure in an open top modified safari vehicle through Malibu’s largest operating vineyard. The tour includes stops to feed exotic animals including zebras, water buffalo, llamas, and other creatures. Visitors are taken through sprawling vineyards to a private tasting location and indulge in estate grown wines and appetizers paired with the wines to create a memorable experience.