In 2004, the offbeat movie “Sideways” renewed interest in California’s winemaking industry, thanks to the main characters’ road trip through Santa Ynez Valley wine country. But genuine wine lovers know that California has been producing excellent wine for many decades. In a blind tasting competition known as The Judgment of Paris in 1976, wine connoisseurs in Europe were shocked when Californian wines swept both the red and white wine categories.
Winemaking began in California in the 18th century, when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards and produced wine for use in religious sacraments. Today sunny California includes over 1,200 wineries and accounts for almost 90% of America’s wine production.
Here we consider five of the best wineries to visit if you’re in the region, due to the quality of their wines, beautiful surroundings and other features that make them worth the road trip.
Castello di Amorossa
As you drive around North of Napa, just off North Saint Helena Highway, you wouldn’t be blamed for coming to a screeching halt upon seeing a 13th century Tuscan-style castle. Castello di Amorossa, which took 14 years to complete, features a drawbridge and moat, a courtyard, church, secret passageways and five defensive towers with battlements. The castle is located on an estate that produces award-winning Italian-style wines under the direction of fourth-generation vintner, Dario Sattui. It sits atop a two-acre barrel cellar, where visitors can sample the wines.
Situated at an elevation of 1,300 feet on the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain, Viader winery offers a commanding view of Napa Valley. Established in 1986, Viader has been consistent in producing award-winning red wines. There’s no better way to enjoy the wines than overlooking the rolling vineyards from which they’re carefully produced.
Southern California’s oldest winery, Bernardo Winery, has been run by the same family since 1889. Although it’s located a mere 25 miles north of the bustle of San Diego, this winery seems to have escaped the ravages of time. Visitors can explore the rustic estate, including the buildings that house wine-making equipment, gardens, studios, galleries and village shops, as well as sampling some of its best wines.
Preston Vineyards, located at the confluence of Dry Creek and its tributary, Pena Creek, has succeeded in making superb wine using sustainable farming practices. As well as their wide variety of vines, the estate grows olives, vegetables and grains. It was certified as organic in 2001 by the US Department of Agriculture and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). It’s worth visiting Preston Vineyards to sample its excellent wines, served together with freshly baked bread and farm produce, and for the beauty of the estate, which is home to deer, eagles, ducks, blue birds and even foxes.
Schramsberg Vineyards took first place at the 2013 Tête de Cuvée Tastings for its sparkling wines. The vineyard was first established in 1862 by pioneering German immigrants, Jacob and Annie Schram, but is now owned and managed by the Davies family. Today you can still see the tunnelled network of underground caves that the Schrams carved into the volcanic rocky hillside to store their barrels of wine. Over two million bottles age in the cool climate provided by the caves, where riddlers pound and turn the bottles daily.