California for wine lovers


By Nina Caplan, Wine and travel writer.

Photography by YinYang

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January 2018

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.

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, and it’s close to the truly excellent Terra restaurant. 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.

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 

    For the ultimate pairing, try Spruce’s famed duck breast with their light and fruity Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2015, finished with their sugar-dusted beignets.  £510 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. £409 pp

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  • 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.  £423 pp

    Explore California with car hire

Leadbetter Beach, Santa Barbara

It’s impossible not to fall for Santa Barbara, the laid-back and cosy beach town boasts top-draw beaches, pretty buildings and a booming food and drink scene. It’s also been a long-standing surfers’ hangout, and if you fancy trying it for yourself then there’s no better place than Leadbetter Beach, a favourite of local families and students from the college over the road. You’ll find hardcore surfers at other beaches in Santa Barbara (try Rincon Point) but Leadbetter, with its gentle waves, is a great place to get to grips with a surfboard or try a stand-up paddle boarding session.

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Zuma Beach, Malibu

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 restaurants both smart and informal, and a film museum full of memorabilia from the film director’s stellar career, including cameras from Apocalypse Now and a full-size vintage scarlet automobile from Coppola’s 1988 film Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Carmel Beach, Central Californian Coast

Forget people watching – at Carmel Beach on the central Californian coast it’s all about dog watching. In fact, this is one of the only beaches in the area where dogs are allowed off the lead, so expect a full-on show from the pups. Here the Pacific Ocean takes on a turquoise hue, and the water is speckled with surfers, otters and even dolphins. If you’re a big kid at heart, the annual Great Sandcastle Contest takes place every October, while you should also set aside some time to explore the romantic beach town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

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

    Wine and shrine 

    Explore the winery’s ‘movie gallery’ – a movie mecca exhibiting Coppola’s filmmaking memorabilia, including several Academy Awards and props from The Godfather. £314 return

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Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur State Park

Big Sur features on most people’s Californian must-visit lists and with good reason – as far as dramatic coastlines go, this is the best you’ll see. At the heart of the region is Pfeiffer State Park, where hiking trails thread their way through 1,000 acres of redwood groves (try the 2-mile round-trip hike to the Pfeiffer Falls for some of the best holiday snaps around). Pfeiffer Beach, however, is really the big deal here. The combination of offshore stacks and rocks, deep blue ocean and purple sand make for a simply unforgettable combination. Stay for sunset and you’ll see some of the best beach views California has to offer.

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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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