No mat­ter the sea­son, wine tast­ing is al­ways fes­tive

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY MARCY GOR­DON

In Praise of the Grape


Sam­pling lo­cal wines is a pop­u­lar ac­tiv­ity in the many wine grow­ing re­gions up and down the state. Cal­i­for­nia wines be­came fa­mous when a Chardon­nay from Chateau Mon­te­lena in Napa Val­ley won the Judg­ment of Paris in 1976. It was an event that rocked the wine world, and the qual­ity of Cal­i­for­nia wines has only grown since then.

There are so many wines, va­ri­eties and re­gions in Cal­i­for­nia that fig­ur­ing out where to go and what to taste can be daunt­ing. Aside from tak­ing a tour, one of the best ways to get ac­quainted with an area is by at­tend­ing a lo­cal wine fes­ti­val. Think of it as Wine-re­con, a most de­light­ful way to gather in­sight and in­for­ma­tion on lo­cal winer­ies in a short span of time. From large-scale food and wine fests to small, quirky events, wine fes­ti­vals can cater to both the ca­sual wine fan and the ex­pe­ri­enced wine en­thu­si­ast de­ter­mined to dis­cover the next great pro­ducer.


Napa, Sonoma, Men­do­cino, Liver­more, Santa Cruz Moun­tains

The most fa­mous Cal­i­for­nia wine re­gion by far is in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Napa Val­ley is known around the world for its ex­cep­tional wines, and draws more vis­i­tors than any other area. The quin­tes­sen­tial wine coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence was per­fected here, with more than 300 winer­ies vy­ing for your taste buds along High­way 29 and the Sil­ver­ado Trail. While the ma­jor­ity of vis­i­tors go to the big­name winer­ies such as Robert Mon­davi, Beringer and Ster­ling, those in the know are head­ing for Coomb­sville.

Food­ies and wine lovers will want to check out Fla­vor! Napa Val­ley, an an­nual event fea­tur­ing world class Napa Val­ley wines along­side food pre­pared by the mas­ter chefs and grad­u­ates of The Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica at the Grey­stone Cam­pus in Saint He­lena.

Pre­fer some­thing more pas­toral? Wind your way up High­way 128 in Men­do­cino County to An­der­son Val­ley for two ex­cep­tional fes­ti­vals, the highly re­garded An­der­son Val­ley Pinot Noir Fest in May, and the Al­sace Fest in Fe­bru­ary, fo­cus­ing on Al­sace-style white wines.

In Sonoma County, Healds­burg reigns as the king of the tast­ing rooms in Cal­i­for­nia. Healds­burg is also home to one of the most eclec­tic wine events of the year—the uber

hip 7% So­lu­tion Fest ded­i­cated to rare, lesser grown grape va­ri­eties with ex­tremely lim­ited pro­duc­tion.

Vis­it­ing North­ern Sonoma in Jan­uary? Win­ter Wineland, a self-paced win­ery tour, is the toasty event of the sea­son.

One of the old­est re­gions, Liver­more, is just 30 miles east of San Fran­cisco and best known for its Chardon­nay pro­duc­tion and the well-es­tab­lished win­ery es­tates of Wente and Con­can­non.


El Do­rado, Amador, Calav­eras

The min­ing towns of the Sierra foothills— Plac­erville, Amador City and Sut­ter Creek—used to draw prospec­tors in search of gold. Now wine lovers come in search of riches in liq­uid form, such as Gre­nache, San­giovese and par­tic­u­larly Old-vine Zin­fan­del.

The main street of Mur­phys is lined with Gold Rush-era build­ings and more than 20 tast­ing rooms equal parts rus­tic and so­phis­ti­cated.


Mon­terey, Santa Lu­cia High­lands, Chalone, Carmel Val­ley, Paso Robles, Edna Val­ley, Ar­royo Grande, Santa Clara Val­ley

The Cen­tral Coast is one of the largest and most di­verse wine grow­ing re­gions, and Mon­terey is home to the grand­daddy of all wine fes­ti­vals, the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Clas­sic in April, where you can sip fine wines and en­joy small plates by star chefs.

If you are a Pinot or Syrah fan, head for the high­lands, the Santa Lu­cia High­lands, an ap­pel­la­tion with many note­wor­thy winer­ies such as Mor­gan, Mer Soleil, and Hahn.

Santa Clara Val­ley is one of the old­est wine re­gions in Cal­i­for­nia. Founded by Ital­ian im­mi­grants in the early 1800s, this re­gion has now grown to ap­prox­i­mately 23 winer­ies.

Look­ing to meet the next great wine­maker? The Garag­iste Fest in Paso Robles will in­tro­duce you to the small guys with bright fu­tures. And if bub­bles make you

happy, Bub­blyfest by the Sea in Pismo Beach is one of the only fes­ti­vals in the coun­try ded­i­cated to sparkling wines.


Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Val­ley, Los Olivos, Te­mec­ula, Lodi, Madera, Clarks­burg

The South­ern Cal­i­for­nia coastal re­gion vine­yards in Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Val­ley pro­duce pri­mar­ily Chardon­nay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Santa Ynez Val­ley be­came the poster child for wine tourism when the 2004 film Side­ways

con­firmed its sta­tus as a Pinot Noir hot spot (or cool spot, as Pinot grapes don’t like too much heat). But the ghosts of Side­ways’

Miles and Jack are long gone and it’s safe to drink Mer­lot again. Fall brings the an­nual Cel­e­bra­tion of Har­vest with Santa Barbara Vint­ners of­fer­ing free wine tast­ing over Colum­bus Day Week­end along the lo­cal wine trails.

Zin­fan­del grows well in the Cen­tral Val­ley, and Lodi Zin Fest is the most fa­mous and long­est run­ning fes­ti­val for Zin­fan­del lovers. Lodi’s star is on the rise, and it’s now rec­og­nized as one of the top wine re­gions in the new world, a hot­bed of pro­duc­tion grow­ing over 100 va­ri­eties in ad­di­tion to it’s leg­endary Zin.

Vine­yards in­land in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s mostly hot and arid re­gion are gain­ing no­tice, and Te­mec­ula in par­tic­u­lar is gen­er­at­ing an ar­dent fol­low­ing for its wines and sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion to grow grapes in a chal­leng­ing lo­ca­tion.

San Diego usu­ally means sun and sand, but just an hour north you’ll find there’s wine too. An­i­mal lovers will en­joy the an­nual San Diego Zoo Wine and Food Fes­ti­val where you can stroll the grounds and sip wine in the midst of the wild king­dom.

Cal­i­for­nia wine fes­ti­vals and events fill the cal­en­dar all year long, like a roulette wheel of juicy prospects. Whether you plan ahead, or spin the big wine wheel and see where it lands, the odds are de­li­cious.

WINE TAST­ING in Saint He­lena, top; grape clus­ter, Solvang, above.

SANTA BARBARA WINE COUN­TRY, op­po­site; a Healds­burg red, top left; Jamie Slone Wines, top right; wine­tast­ing bike tour, Napa Val­ley, left; Yorkville Cel­lars Win­ery, Men­do­cino County, above.

TESTAROSSA WIN­ERY, Los Gatos, right; Paso Robles red and white, bot­tom.

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