California is home to dozens of distinct wine regions, including some of the world’s most famous destinations. But hidden among even the high-profile appellations are the wine roads less traveled, featuring stunning rural scenery, delicious wines and, often, fewer visitors. To help wine lovers discover new wine roads and wineries this summer, Wine Institute’s California Wine Country Back Roads series highlights off-the-beaten-path wine roads and regions. The five-part series begins with the back roads of California’s North Coast.
Home to nearly 500 wineries, plus green valleys, rolling hills, regal redwoods and 55 miles of spectacular coastline, Sonoma County is one of the most well-known wine regions in California. Even so, there’s always something new to explore along Sonoma’s rural roads.
TASTE: The region is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but Sonoma’s diversity of climate and soils allows vintners to grow dozens of other varieties as well. You’ll find a more relaxed pace in the Alexander Valley where winding country roads lead to some of the county’s most delicious Cabernet Sauvignon wines, known for their elegant style. As one of Sonoma’s larger appellations in terms of vineyard acres, Alexander Valley’s back roads include more than two dozen wineries. Hidden treasures can also be found in the nearby Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.
TOUR: On June 22-23, Experience Alexander Valley invites small groups of 20 or less to experience everything from blending seminars with winemakers to ravioli-making workshops to bocce in the vineyards. Also on June 8 – July 14 is the Art of Wine with a Vintage Palette at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts, featuring 60 artists celebrating the wine country culture of the North Bay. The free opening reception is June 8.
For more information on lodging, dining and upcoming events, see Sonoma Tourism.
A small region with a deservedly large reputation, the Napa Valley is known the world over for its acclaimed wines—primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and other Bordeaux varieties—and a thriving culinary scene that includes Michelin star restaurants, delicious food truck fare and every level of cuisine in between.
TASTE: Bordered by two mountain ranges—the Vaca on the east and the Mayacamas on the west—the Napa Valley is rich with less-traveled mountain roads that invite visitors to meander and discover. Spring Mountain Road, just a few minutes off busy highway 29, is a rural respite of family owned and operated wineries, along with 1,000 acres of gorgeous hillside vineyards. Likewise, Mount Veeder, Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountainreward travelers with mountain vistas and limited-production wines. (Due to their remote locations, some wineries require advance appointments.)
TOUR: Festival Napa Valley is in July, featuring performers SEAL, Patti Lupone, jazz artists the Yellow Jackets, and a full slate of the finest concerts, operas, and fabulous winery parties. Free outdoor concerts will be at the St. Helena Concert Series, held on alternating Thursdays, June-August, in Lyman Park. Wind down the summer season at the Calistoga Harvest Table on Sept. 8, where local restaurants and 40-plus wineries team up to produce an epic feast laid out on 1,000 feet of tables in the center of Calistoga’s picturesque downtown.
For more information on lodging, dining and upcoming events, see Visit Napa Valley.
Fifty miles north of Healdsburg lies ruggedly beautiful Mendocino County, home to towering redwoods and a foggy coast. More than 90 percent of the land is wild and undeveloped, and the region is known for its small-town vibe and relaxed hospitality.
TASTE: Drive along Highway 128 in the Anderson Valley and find more than two dozen small wineries producing everything from crisp sparkling wines to gorgeous cool-climate Pinot Noir to aromatic whites. The region’s producers are proudly “green,” with a high percentage of wineries using sustainable, organic or Biodynamic methods.
TOUR: Celebrate Father’s Day weekend June 15-16 with A Taste of Redwood Valley, a chance to sample library wines, small-production lots and even spirits. Anderson Valley wineries host their Barrel Tasting Weekend July 20-21, featuring previews of new wines and tastes of current releases.
For more information on lodging, dining and upcoming events, see Visit Mendocino.
Bordering Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, Lake County was named for the region’s many picturesque lakes. Vineyards are planted throughout the county, from the agriculturally rich valley at 1,370 feet elevation to the rocky red soil around Mt. Konocti—a dormant volcano—at elevations above 2,000 feet.
TASTE: Home to more than 30 wineries, Lake County is known for its high-elevation Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wines. Mini-tours around Clear Lake include Upper Lake and Lakeport, Nice and Clearlake Oaks, Lower Lake, Middletown, and the volcanic slopes of the Red Hills American Viticultural Area.
TOUR: On June 16, the Lake County Beer, Wine & Swine Baconfest brings together dad-friendly favorites for Father’s Day. Red, White, & Blues celebrates the best of Lake County wines on July 6 at Langtry Estate Vineyards in Middletown.