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SAN FRANCISCO — California’s dozens of scenic wine regions offer a wide variety of experiences and wines to enjoy. To help visitors explore them all, Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trip series highlights different regions each month. For March, the series offers tips for adventurous wine lovers looking for a taste of something new, which they can find in California’s memorable, off-the-beaten-path regions.
SIP: For those traveling on California’s Central Coast, turn east from Monterey County wine country and check out San Benito County’s wine region, known for Syrah and Pinot Noir. Technophiles are often surprised to find rustic vineyards in Silicon Valley’s backyard of Santa Clara County, which boasts 25 wineries and lies east of the Santa Cruz Mountains region. Napa Valley fans looking to venture off road can head just a few miles east to Suisun Valley, located in Solano County, midway between San Francisco and Sacramento. San Francisco travelers need only head north over the Golden Gate Bridge to find the Marin County wineries or east over the Bay Bridge to explore the Oakland Urban wine trail, which is walkable and easily accessible by ferry, BART, Oakland’s free Broadway shuttle and Amtrak.
Those looking for wine, mountains and wildlife can check out the wineries in the Far North of California. Humboldt County wineries are near the coast and Redwood National and State Parks. The Shasta-Cascade Viticultural Association represents the 25-plus wineries set amongst the mountain scenery of five North State counties. Manton Valley wineries (Tehama County) span the Trinity Alps to the west and Lassen Volcanic National Park to the east.
To explore these regions, use the discovercaliforniawines.com interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, art, food for purchase and more.
STAY: Looking for a place to stay after a day of wine discovery? There are plenty of options in or near San Benito County and Santa Clara County on the Central Coast. In the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounds, check out these Marin County, Oakland and Solano County accommodations. Click here for hotel directories in Humboldt County and here for Shasta Cascade and Manton Valley options.
PLAY: Wine trails and passport weekends are a great way to dip your toe into California’s under-the-radar regions. Santa Clara Valley recently launched a new wine trail with wayfinding signage, and their next passport weekend runs March 17-18. Many tasting experiences can be found along the Marin County wine trail and San Benito wine trail. The annual Suisun Valley Passport Sunday takes place this year on April 23, 2017. In June, Tehama County’s agricultural producers along the Tehama Trail open their doors for Passport Weekend, where culinary enthusiasts can visit wineries and vineyards along with family farms growing a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beef, olives and olive oil. Those visiting at other times of the year can download this self-guided trail map. On winding roads through redwood forests, Humboldt County wineries boast no clear wine trail, but finding them on off road adventures will reward visitors with the interesting people and wines they can discover.
MAKE: When one thinks wine, the first food that comes to mind is cheese. The California Cheese Trail runs through several of these regions. Many of these creameries offer cheese-making classes, especially in Marin, which along with Sonoma boasts the largest concentration of artisan and farmstead cheese makers, second only to Vermont. Marin’s Cowgirl Creamery offers an ongoing Cheese 101 cheese making and tasting class, which is very popular so reservations are required. Humboldt County’s Artisan Cheese Factory also offers classes.
GROW: Located along El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, rugged San Benito County was settled by Spanish missionaries in the late 1770s, but it was French and German immigrants who established its wine culture, planting the first grapes there in the mid-1800s. Although better known as Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County has one of the oldest wine regions in California. The first grapes were planted at the Santa Clara Mission in 1798. During the Gold Rush era, French and Italians recognized the rich soils and Mediterranean climate as a New World home for their European grape varieties.
The Suisun Valley American viticultural area was established in 1982 and is between two coastal mountain ranges southeast of Napa Valley. Growers produce 23 winegrape varieties with Petite Sirah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon most predominant. Shasta Cascade and Manton Valley are found in the highly volcanic region of Far North California, featuring red volcanic soils with unique composition that produce both red and white winegrapes from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Humboldt County in the Far North has a wide variety of soils and microclimates. In general, the southern portion of the county is informally known as “Pinot Noir country” and the northeast corner has earned acclaim for its Bordeaux-style wines.
EAT: These regions on the rise pose great opportunities for epicures not just for the wines, but for the abundant farm country surrounding them. Farm Trails are popular and offer opportunities to taste California’s 400 specialty crops from olives and almonds to apples and avocados. Great examples are this map of San Benito and Santa Clara county farm trails, the Happy Valley Farm Trail in Shasta County, the Tehama Trail in Tehama County, the Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail and the Humboldt Bay Oyster Tours, where visitors can go to oyster nurseries and pick fresh oysters. Solano Grown offers diverse wine experiences and events.
For ideas on California wine and food road trips in more than a dozen other regions of the state, click here.
Visit discovercaliforniawines.com for information on wine regions, wines and wineries throughout the Golden State and for planning a trip to California wine country. California is the number one U.S. state for wine and food tourism with dozens of distinct wine regions, 138 American Viticultural Areas and 4,600 wineries that produce 85 percent of U.S. wine. Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy association of nearly 1,000 California wineries. See: wineinstitute.org.
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