California for wine lovers


By Nina Caplan, Wine and travel writer.

Photography by YinYang

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Updated March 2019

With more than 3,000 wineries and three billion bottles produced annually, it’s safe to say that the sunny state of California is pretty serious about its wine. But where to sip? Here are the spots which should be on every oenophile’s must-visit list, says travel and wine writer Nina Caplan.

San Francisco

Whet your palate at High Treason Wine Bar, which offers around 45 wines by the glass and serves an array of delicious small bites to fortify you for a few more vintages. Or push the boat out at Spruce, a farm-to-table restaurant with a truly exceptional wine list.

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Napa Valley

The most famous wine region in California is Napa Valley and some of the best vineyards are happy to welcome visitors, although it’s always best to book ahead. Shafer Vineyards have lovely wines and their Cabernets are world-renowned; while Spottswoode in St Helena offers a tour of the historic house and vineyards as well as a seated tasting For something a little different, Getaway Adventures organise a Calistoga Sip ‘n’ Cycle Tour, where you pedal between northern Napa wineries, admiring the fantastic scenery, with tastings and a picnic lunch along the way.

Book an excursion to the redwoods and wine country

The Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, a replica of the old San Francisco streetcars, stops for private tastings at a series of wineries and includes a picnic.

Sonoma Valley

Next door to Napa is Sonoma County where the wines are excellent and still, in general, a little cheaper. Take a six-hour guided tour by old-fashioned tram – the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, a replica of the old San Francisco streetcars, stops for private tastings at a series of wineries and includes a picnic from the lovely Girl & the Fig bistro. It’s worth noting that the cost of the tour doesn’t include tasting fees.

  • Choose from over 2,500 wines on the menu at Spruce, San Francisco.

    Wine down 

    Most of the ingredients served at Michelin-starred restaurant Spruce come from less than an hour’s drive away. Now, that’s eating local.£498 pp

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  • Enjoy some seasonal goodness at acclaimed Sonoma restaurant, The Girl & The Fig.

    Wine on wheels 

    Look out for The Girl & The Fig’s mobile food truck, the fig rig, serving gooey grilled cheeses and duck fat fries at various spots and events throughout Sonoma County. £398 pp

    Experience California 
  • Discover one of California’s best-loved wineries at Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles.

    Liquid lunch 

    Book yourself in on one of Tablas Creek’s Vineyard tours, taking guests around the estate, grapevine nursery, and winery cellar twice daily.  £379 pp

    California car hire

Healdsburg

At Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, a little farther north, you can take part in an organised pairing of cheeses with their beautiful wines or simply sip and stroll - the winery is right near the Russian River. Nearby is the family-owned Dry Creek Vineyard, the first winery established in the Dry Creek Valley after Prohibition ended in 1933. Expect excellent wines, a charming tasting room, bocce (Italian bowls) in the garden, and events including an annual concert in the grounds.

Geyserville

Everyone is welcome at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville – even children. There are two pools in the grounds (summer only), as well as both smart and informal restaurants. Owned by the academy award-winning film director Coppola himself, there's actually a film museum on site full of memorabilia from hisstellar career, including cameras from Apocalypse Now and a full-size vintage scarlet automobile from Coppola’s 1988 film Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Glen Ellen

An energetic option is a ride with the Triple Creek Horse Outfit; they’ll put you on a horse and guide you through the Jack London State Historic Park in the Valley of the Moon – past vineyards, oak woodlands and groves of California’s famous redwoods - before taking you for a tasting at the renowned Benziger Family Winery. Riding out between the trees, feels just like being in the Wild West – but with none of the discomfort and much better wine.

  • Take a peek into movie history at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville.

Paso Robles

Farther south towards LA is the scenic wine region of Paso Robles, an area where you can get a taste of France's Cote du Rhone, thanks to the Perrin family. The family moved some of their stock from France to replicate their amazing Châteauneuf du Pape at Tablas Creek, their Paso Robles vineyard. There’s a lovely tasting room and a shop, plus you can bring your own picnic and lunch on their patio. Don’t miss the River Oak Hot Springs Spa, where the vine-friendly soil gives way to the California earth’s other great gift – natural thermal springs. There are outdoor and indoor mineral springs, plus massages and other beauty treatments.

Midway between Paso Robles and Los Angeles is Stolpman Vineyards, which is definitely worth a stop – the Ruben’s Block Syrah is a particularly delicious example of what they do. They also organise occasional hikes through the stunning scenery of Ballard Canyon.

Los Angeles

In LA, there are plenty of places to try any of the wines you’ve missed. Bar Covell on Hollywood Boulevard has most of them – about 150 wines by the glass, with well-known winemakers popping in for a tipple when they’re in town. Patina, in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, has a much-admired list and a three- six- or ten-course tasting menu. If, on the other hand, you’ve already bought more wine than you can carry home, have dinner at Mh Zh (pronounced mah zeh –  it’s Hebrew for ‘What’s that?’), an Israeli café-style joint so hip they don’t have a working website, but where the local produce can be enhanced by one of your purchases – the restaurant is Bring Your Own.

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