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Explore the Inland Valleys on a California Wines Road Trip
Wine Institute Offers Tips on How to Sip, Stay and Play in this Wine Region—Rich in Agritourism and Fertile Farmland
—California’s beautiful wine regions offer a wide variety of wines and experiences to enjoy and are a key reason that many travelers choose the Golden State as a vacation destination. To help visitors learn more, Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trip series highlights different wine country destinations. This month take a trip to California’s Inland Valleys wine region
, a bountiful cornucopia that’s ripe for exploration.
Running 450 miles (720 km) from San Joaquin Valley
in the south to the Sacramento Valley
in the north – the Inland Valleys are located in California’s geographic center, one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. More than 250 crops are grown in this area, including winegrapes, almonds, apricots, tomatoes, cotton, asparagus and rice.
Numerous wineries call the Inland Valleys home, the majority of which are family-owned, small producers. As in most of California, this often means that winery visitors can find the owner – usually the winemaker – pouring in the tasting room. Browse this list of wineries in the San Joaquin Valley
, Madera County
, Sacramento Valley
or use the discovercaliforniawines.com interactive map
to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, picnic areas, food for purchase, concerts, art and more.
Wine enthusiasts can find a number of boutique and resort properties throughout the region, from quaint inns to trendy lifestyle hotels. Top picks for Sacramento include: The Westin
, where it’s all about the location on the Sacramento River; the historic 1926 Citizen Hotel
, located two blocks from the State Capitol; and the Delta King Hotel
, an authentic riverboat permanently docked in Old Sacramento. In Madera, sure bets include Chateau du Sureau
, Chukchansi Resort and Casino
and Queen’s Inn
. Another great home base for traveling north of Sacramento is the Chico/Oroville area, featuring a wide variety of lodging options
A great way to experience the Inland Valleys is through wine trails and passport events. The Madera Wine Trail
features nine wineries serving their renowned dessert, port-style and late-harvest wines, among others. Many visitors start tasting at the wineries near Yosemite National Park
, and work their way down to Madera. Further to the south, the Fresno County Wine Journey
is a passport event taking place each spring, fall and Valentine’s weekend, offering tastings at 11 wineries, two breweries and two retail tasting rooms. Don’t miss Fresno State Winery
, the first university in the U.S. to have a fully licensed winery. Visitors can taste or buy the wine at Fresno State Gibson Farmers Market
where offerings are all produced by Fresno State students. Up in Sacramento, taste at multiple wineries in one stop at the Old Sugar Mill
. Or go further north and experience the Sierra Oro Farm Trail
in the Chico/Oroville area in Butte County where one can taste at 16 wineries and explore working farms offering olive oil, cheese, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, and more.
As the most productive growing region in the state, the Inland Valleys offer the most abundant agritourism experiences. A standout is Sacramento, known as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. The region boasts a variety of cooking experiences sourcing abundant local ingredients. One unique option in the region is The Kitchen
, where guests can sip local wines and view their dinner being prepared in “acts” by expert chefs who actively engage the audience. Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
lets food lovers can try their hand at making everything from Indian Street food to udon noodles, while Taylor’s Market
teaches guests the basics of butchering, using regionally-grown meats, and includes lunch at one of the Sacramento region’s most well-known marketplaces.
The Inland Valleys stretch far across the state and naturally feature diverse soil types, topography and microclimates. The two valleys, Sacramento and San Joaquin, encompass about 49 percent of the state’s winegrape acreage, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay the biggest red and white varieties. As one of the oldest grapegrowing regions in America, Madera County boasts a rich wine heritage, producing winegrapes since the late 1800s. Just 20 minutes northwest from downtown Sacramento on the Sacramento River, the Clarksburg appellation
spans 7,000 acres and grows over 35 varieties, the most popular being Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s no surprise that the region is known for its farm-to-fork lifestyle. Local Roots Food Tours
takes serious gourmands on a walking tour of farm-to-fork Sacramento eateries. Visitors can go nuts at the downtown Sacramento visitor center and gift shop for the local Blue Diamond Growers
, which has the largest almond processing plant in the world. Another local specialty is Sterling Caviar
, which sustainably farms 80 percent of domestic caviar (white sturgeon) and is principal supplier to many top restaurants around the world. Popular foodie festivals include the Grape Escape
in June and the Farm-to-Fork Festival
in September. Over in Madera County, the top fig producer in the state, figs are celebrated in restaurants, specialty food products and the big Fig Fest
event every August. Pomegranates are also a prominent crop and featured in the annual Pomegranate Festival
every October or November. Down in Fresno, billed as the Agricultural Capital of the World, visitors won’t go hungry on the Fresno County Fruit Trail
, a self-guided tour with food ranging from seasonal fruits and vegetables to nuts and olive oil tasting rooms. Home to the town of Selma, the Raisin Capital of the World, the Selma Raisin Festival
takes place each May. Every October the Big Fresno Fair
celebrates the region’s bounty with exhibits including agriculture, livestock and floriculture, paired with food, rides, entertainment and horse racing.
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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