If you think you’ve been there and sipped that in California wine country, think again.
In honor of California Wine Month, when the vineyards are buzzing with harvest activities and celebrations, many of the Golden State’s emerging wine regions are inviting wine lovers to go a little off road, and experience the unexpected, from hands on immersion experiences to cool classes. For more information on these California Wine Month activities, go to Discover California Wines or for other great wine and culinary ideas throughout California go to Visitcalifornia.com.
San Francisco Bay Area
If you’re visiting the San Francisco Bay area, known for Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as its proximity to Napa/Sonoma, there are various emerging regions you can explore, such as Livermore Valley, Oakland and the Santa Cruz Mountains. So for wine lovers who want to try something new, it’s easy to go off the beaten path to find an extraordinary wine immersion activity in the Bay area:
- Urban Legend Cellars in Oakland is offering a “Sip, Stomp, and Play” wine festival Sept. 29, featuring grape stomping, winemaking and more ($75).
- Like a little yoga with your wine? Head to Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley, which is hosting a “September Yoga & Wine Event” Sept. 12 ($20), combining invigorating utkatasanas and hand-crafted wines.
- Or check out their Chef’s Summer Garden Tour & Tasting on Sept. 11 ($20), including an exclusive tour of the restaurant’s organic production garden with tips for your own garden, followed by a delicious tasting menu featuring items picked that morning, paired with Wente wines. Nearby, Captain Vineyards, the first and only green winery in Contra Costa County, is offering a “Grape to Wine Class” on Sept. 14 ($43), which includes an in-depth tour and opportunities to test wine and punch wine.
- If you’re yearning to be on the water, head south to Santa Cruz, home to the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Region, touted by Wine Spectator a few years ago as the “most underappreciated appellation in the world.” Here you can “ Meet the Winemaker Aboard The Chardonnay,” featuring a renowned local vintner from Storrs Winery, who will share trends on local wines and the art of winemaking on Sept. 7 ($49.50/Adults, $29.50/Kids). Enjoy spectacular views and wines aboard this 70-foot luxury yacht.
- Want a little cheese with that wine? The master winemakers of Surf City Vintners are offering “Wine and Cheese: The Perfect Pairing” Sept. 9 ($30) as their final Wine University summer series. Uncover nuances in specially selected cheeses and award-winning wines with the help of a culinary and wine professional in a friendly, informal setting.
- Napa Valley , which put California wines on the map when their local wines trumped their French counterparts during the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, is world-renowned. However, there are still areas in this region that are relatively undiscovered, such as Calistoga . Here B Cellars Winery offers blending classes and more during Wine Month, and the Calistoga Bike Shop offers guided “Sip N Cycle” tour of various local wineries, such as Twomey, Dutch Henry and Tedeschi.
- If you don’t have time to leave San Francisco, you can still explore emerging regions. The Wine Institute, which created California Wine Month , is hosting a California Wine Road Trip event on Sept. 22 ($35) at the Ferry Building – featuring more than 60 leading wines from various famous and emerging regions statewide.
The North Coast boasts many emerging wine regions, such as the Anderson Valley in Mendocino, as well as famous regions such as Sonoma County, which still offers hidden pockets like the Russian River Valley:
- If you’re passionate about Pinot, check out the “Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Celebration” on Sept. 7 in Little River, where oenophiles can taste leading wines from 25 wineries as well as learn the inside scoop from regional winemakers.
- Champagne fans will enjoy the “Flavors of Fall” at Korbel Champagne Cellars in the Russian River Valley. Here they can step up their game in pairing food with champagne, and enjoy tram tours of the vineyards and crushing facilities.
If you’re heading to historic Sacramento, which has evolved in recent years into an amazing foodie playground, it’s just a short drive to wineries in the Sacramento Valley, Lodi and the Delta:
- Down in the Central Valley, just off road from Sacramento, take an “Adventure into Winemaking” Sept. 2-30 ($10) at The Lucas Winery in Lodi. With your tasting glass in hand, get an underground perspective as you compare Lodi’s soil types with worldwide wine growing regions, then visit their organically farmed vineyard to learn firsthand about their traditional centuries-old Zinfandel farming techniques and secrets about French Oak barrels.
Gold Country/High Sierra
For those who visiting the spectacular High Sierra, such as Lake Tahoe or Yosemite National Park, a great hidden gem wine region along the way is the Sierra Foothills wine region, which includes Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba counties:
- In Plymouth you can take a “Saturday Stroll with the Winemaker” at Andis Wines on Sept. 15 ($40/person, $75/couple). Here you can get the inside scoop on the aromas and flavors of harvest in Amador and learn the winemaking process from vineyard to glass.
- Or sip wines in an romantic castle during the “Preston Castle Wine Tasting and Tour ” on Sept. 8 ($35), including an historic tour, variety of gourmet hors d’oeuvres, and live music.
San Luis Obispo County
California’s Central Coast is known for its magnificent and iconic Highway 1, featuring sweeping ocean views and dramatic cliffs. Although places like Santa Barbara, Monterey and Paso Robles are well known, there are best-kept secret treasures that await discovery close by:
- Start California Wine Month off right by being a winemaker for a day – no experience necessary – at the “Art of Blending Wine” workshop in San Miguel, located on the northern outskirts of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo (SLO) County. Run by First Crush Wine Workshop, this Sept. 1 ($60), you’ll be able to make and purchase your custom blend, learn how to evaluate wines for aromatics, flavor, texture and aging characteristics.
- Over in the lesser-traveled Edna Valley in SLO County, check out the “Saucelito Canyon Experts Tasting” all month long ($8), featuring a tasting flight where you are the wine expert – creating your own tasting notes with aroma wheels — and then “compare notes” with Saucelito Canyon Vineyard’s winemaker.
- Serious wine and food lovers shouldn’t miss Sunset Savor the Central Coast Sept. 27-30 at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch and Vineyard (home to Ancient Peaks Winery) in the small town of Santa Margarita, featuring four days of culinary immersion activities, from classes with celebrity chefs and Geocaching at the ranch to a Perfect Pairing Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay & Clam Bake with Sunset Wine Editor Sara Schneider.
- Speaking of the Edna Valley, Tolosa Winery is offering a “Grape to Glass Winery Tour” Sept. 9 – 30 ($35), featuring progressive food and wine tours on select Sundays in September. Guests will be escorted to the exclusive, Heritage Room where they will enjoy a special food pairing with No Oak Chardonnay, then head to the vineyard to taste and test grape sugar and learn about sustainable farming practices. The tour will then lead guests to view the 2,500 solar panels and taste fresh pressed chardonnay juice, as well as watch Pinot Noir punchdowns and conclude with a barrel tasting of Syrah with a food pairing.
- If you’re looking seafood, check out the “Central Coast Clambake” Sept. 1 ($55-65) in the “if you blink you’ll miss it” town of Harmony, located in unincorporated San Luis Obispo County. Harmony Cellars, located in this charming town with a population of 18, is putting on an extravagant menu of locally-sourced seafood and farm fresh produce accompanied by Chuck’s lively wines. Cozy up in front of our ‘campfire’ at sunset with a glass of wine and dessert.
Santa Barbara County
Made famous in the movie “Sideways,” Santa Barbara’s wine regions are world renowned, close to the coast and sophisticated State Street. However, wine lovers don’t have to venture far for lesser known gems:
- Down south in Los Alamos, immerse yourself in a slow food “Winery & Winemaker Dinner” by Bell Street Farms featuring Buttonwood Farm Winery on Sept. 13 ($110). Here you can enjoy library and current release wines along with a delicious tasting menu featuring Buttonwood Farm wine, produce and herbs at Bell Street Farm.
- Over at the Margerum Wine Company, don’t miss the intensive “Winemaker for a Day” course, running Sept. 28 and select dates in October. This all-day course ($250) truly lets you be a hands-on winemaker for a day, rolling up your sleeves to help with hand sorting and crushing grapes, yeasting and inoculating ferments, laboratory analysis, plunging and punch down ferments. Your day will end with barrel tasting and finally the opportunity to blend your own wine to take home. To commemorate your day, you’ll get a bottle of your personal blend. The cost includes all supplies, lunch paired with wine and a bottle of your own blend to take home.
Southern California is known for its sunny beaches and dramatic deserts, world-famous theme parks, and Hollywood glamour, but few realize that there are many wineries in and near Los Angeles, such as Malibu, San Bernardino County and Temecula Valley – the latter of which is one of the fastest-growing emerging regions in California:
Inland Empire (Temecula Valley)
- Down in the emerging wine region of Temecula Valley – about an hour from San Diego and 90 minutes from L.A. and Palm Springs — don’t miss the “ Annual Blessing of the Wines Grape Stomp & Harvest Festival “ on Sept. 23 ($55 adults; $15 kids) at South Coast Winery. Enjoy grape stomping contests, a traditional blessing of the vines, gourmet barbecue, tractor rides through the vineyards, live musical entertainment, dancing and more.
Los Angeles County
- The roads of Greater Los Angeles are wonderful and well-traveled, but there’s a way to visit California’s emerging wine regions in one stop in Beverly Hills. The Wine Institute is hosting a “ California Wine Road Trip “ event at the Peninsula Hotel in Sept. 6 ($60), letting visitors explore wines from 12 regions on one tank of gas. Wine lovers can learn secrets from wine experts in high profile regions, such as Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Monterey and Santa Barbara as well as up-and-comers such as Temecula, Mendocino, Lake County, Lodi, SLO County, Livermore Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains.
These are just a snapshot of what to see and do in emerging regions during California Wine Month. For more information on other emerging wine regions in California, and tourism activities nearby, go to www.VisitCalifornia.com.