California wine tours open a world of food, flavour and natural beauty. With so much on offer, where do you start? Find out more about what, where and how to discover California wine country, and be inspired to head to the ‘Golden State’ for a grape escape on your next luxury holiday.
What is California Wine Country?
Wine country in California is essential for exploring when you visit California. This is where you will find some of the world’s finest wines mixed with beautiful blue skies and the state’s signature sunny personality.
The story of California’s wine country success did not begin with a bang. When it emerged with new-world settlers back in 1825, California’s wine industry was considered second rate to the prestigious labels of Europe. After the phylloxera epidemic, and setbacks imposed by prohibition, the future didn’t look bright for California’s wine country. Luckily, a new wave of winemakers started to emerge, and a blind tasting against two renowned French wines in 1976 saw California take its place as top of the world for viniculture.
Today, the wine country in California is stronger than ever. Beautifully manicured vineyards and orchards carpet the landscape, while warm hospitality from family-owned estates welcomes in anyone who wishes to taste their pride and joy. There are also charming towns to be discovered and, if you decide to embark on a wine tour of California from north to south, plenty of urban gems to explore in the city.
Where is California Wine Country?
The wine country in California generally comprises the area north of San Francisco, covering Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mendocino County and Lake County. There are over four-hundred wineries in Napa and Sonoma alone – a big leap from the humble twenty-five wineries that made up California’s wine world in 1975!
However, don’t think that love for viniculture is confined to the north of the state. Any wine tour of California worth its gold knows that there is plenty to be discovered in southern California, where trendy bars and tasting rooms attract wines from across the entire state and offer a great way to experience the buzzing nightlife.
How to Tour California Wine Country
The best way to experience a wine tour of California is with a self-drive itinerary. The freedom of hiring your own car allows you to take your journey into your own hands and follow your own preferences. Our Contemporary California - City, Wine and Dine is a great starting point, taking you to San Francisco, where you can explore the acclaimed restaurant scene, before heading to Napa and Sonoma. Of course, we can personally tailor any itinerary for you, and incorporate in any California wine country resorts or destinations you have in mind. We can also arrange guided tours with experts or unique experiences, such as cycling the sun-dappled vineyard back roads, before enjoying a gourmet lunch or seeking out the best bottles in cities of the south, such as San Diego or Santa Barbara, with an expert.
Where to go on a Wine Tour of California
Just an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is a great place to start a wine tour of California. Here, you will find the famed Silverado Wine Trail, linking the towns of Napa and Calistoga with a scenic country road lined with prestigious wineries. Some of the best California wine country resorts are set up along this route, including Meadowood Napa Valley and Auberge du Soleil, where you will find Michelin-starred cuisine served at their restaurants to complement your new favourite label. Yountville is also nearby, which is home to Thomas Keller’s esteemed The French Laundry restaurant, where sommeliers pair wines with the daily-changing tasting menu.
Sonoma is another essential stop on a wine tour of California, which sits on the west side of Napa, along the rugged Pacific coast. A great place to stay in Sonoma is Farmhouse Inn. Run by a family besotted with Sonoma for five generations, the owners work with a selection of wineries in the area to offer exclusive experiences and benefits to its guests. There is also a Lead Sommelier who can offer a Personal Sommelier programme, plus wine tours can be arranged with a knowledgeable driver or certified sommelier – all this before you even sit down at the Michelin-starred restaurant!
If you want your wine tour of California to extend beyond the typical wine country area, there is plenty more to discover. San Diego is known as one of America’s favourite cities – and the array of wines and craft beers must surely play a part! Just outside the city is Ramona, where you can find another trove of wineries, though if you would rather stay central, there is a whole world of tasting rooms and wine bars to sip away at in the Gaslamp Quarter and beyond.
Santa Barbara is another great place to finish up a California wine tour. Known as the ‘American Riviera’, this stylish spot is made up of picture-perfect Spanish-style architecture and is home to an array of attractions, excellent museums and is simply a paradise for shopaholics. For those on a California wine tour, The Funk Zone is perfect. Created from converted warehouses, this hip leisure spot boasts a surge of boutique tasting rooms, such as Municipal Wines, which offers a number of crafty workshops to involved in throughout the year, too.
The Best California Wine Country Resorts
In Napa Valley, stay at Meadowood Napa Valley or Auberge Du Soleil for Michelin-starred cuisine or Bardessono to be based in a romantic retreat just a stroll away from The French Laundry.
In Sonoma, Farmhouse Inn boasts more Michelin-starred food and excellent wine tours, though if you would rather a real hideaway from which to enjoy the scenery, try Timber Cove.
If you head down to San Diego, Pendry San Diego is ideal for being in the heart of the trendy Gaslamp Quarter and boasts six unique bars and restaurants including local craft beers at Nason’s Beer Hall. In Santa Barbara, be based on the beach at the elegantly restored Spanish colonial retreat of Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.