Approximately 90 percent of America’s wine production is from California, with its 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), which as the world’s fourth largest producer is surpassed only by France, Italy, and Spain.
Napa Valley And Sonoma Valley In Northern CaliforniaWhile Napa Valley has the more famous name, neighboring Sonoma Valley is equally deserving, if less flashy. Head north over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Napa’s scenic Silverado Trail reveals a lineup of prestigious brands with mega-watt names, stunning views, and gorgeous tasting rooms like the one at Trinchero Winery , as well as charming tasting rooms with picnic tables at smaller family-run estates. In downtown Napa, visit the Culinary Institute of America at Copia, with its museum, gift shop, classes, and restaurant. Browse the Oxbow Public Market for artisan makers and rent a bike for the new Napa Valley Vine Trail which will soon span all 47 miles north to Calistoga. No car? Take a journey on the restored vintage Napa Valley Wine Train right through the heart of Napa, stopping for tastings at wineries like Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug, Raymond, and Grgich Hills.
In Sonoma Valley, the Wine Road provides a wonderful discovery route for Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys; many offer a single- or multi-day pass good at dozens of participating wineries. From winter’s bud burst to harvest crush, both destinations present wine-themed concerts, vineyard and cellar tours, barrel tastings, film festivals and food fairs, including the big Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. The Wine Institute taps April as Down to Earth Month with a focus on sustainable, biodynamic winemaking and September as California Wine Month.
Dozens of wine trails embrace 200 wineries in seven major AVAs from Loudoun County on the outskirts of Washington D.C. to the rolling landscape of Shenandoah Valley. Explore Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home where the third U.S. president was a grape grower. Sniff, swirl, sip, and sleep at romantic country inns and farmstead B&Bs along the way. Don’t miss the local Viognier, Virginia’s cornerstone white varietal that has caught international attention for its success in the Monticello AVA.
Agricultural authenticity abounds in this corner of the Pacific Northwest, where the sight of a farm tractor is likely, a tour bus is not. As in other US wine regions, tasting fees are typically set against the optional purchase of a bottle. Casual wineries with a cozy fireplace may offer estate tasting flights, private reserve tastings, vineyard and cellar tours, plus food and wine pairing dinners and plenty of opportunities to meet winemakers.
Upstate New York’s Finger LakesAbout two million years ago, in a landscape sculpted by slow moving glacial sheets of ice, 11 long and narrow lakes were carved out. In upstate New York, the shores of these clear and deep inland lakes presented a cold weather opportunity for cultivation of “Vitis vinifera” European grape varietals. This attracted a mid-20th century viticulturist immigrant, Dr. Konstantin Frank, who used methods studied in his native Ukraine to plant on the west side of Keuka Lake. Vineyards throughout Finger Lakes AVA’s 120 wineries are often compared to those in Germany’s Rhine River region, where Riesling is also king. It’s a classic European grape that, shielded by the lake shores, withstands cold and snowy winters, producing award-winning sweet and dry wines. Other notable Finger Lakes varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc Gewürztraminer, and sparkling wines.
When adults wish to take a break from wine tasting, the Finger Lakes is a scenic family-friendly region with farm tours, water parks, railway rides, boating, and science museums. Corning Museum of Glass has interactive glassblowing studio sessions and Watkins Glen State Park offers spectacular hiking, 19 waterfalls, and impressive gorges clawed out by Mother Nature. For three days in July, the state park hosts 80 wineries at the Finger Lake Wine Festival.
On the way to Santa Barbara, a Mediterranean-style city dubbed “The American Rivera,” you’ll find Santa Ynez Wine Country, a diverse grape-growing region of exceedingly pretty little towns featured in the movie “Sideways.” The very large Central Coast AVA has 360 boutique wineries, many with downtown tasting rooms sprinkled throughout Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the first and foremost varietals of note.
Sources: Wine Institute, Visit California, Monticello.org, Visit Oregon, FingerLakes.com.