Tips for Touring Wine Country during Harvest and the "California Wine Celebration"Harvest in California's wine regions, typically from mid-August through October, bursts with vibrant golden yellow and crimson colors, mingled with aromas of ripening fruit and crushed grapes. Visitors witness first-hand the dynamic energy of grape growers, winemakers and cellar workers ushering in the year's bounty. The annual California Crush is a once-a-year opportunity. Driving the country roads in the cool, early morning, visitors can watch the mastery of vineyard hands as they rapidly pick the grapes, carrying them in bins to a waiting truck for transport to the cellar. Or, depending on the region, they might view mechanical harvesting, where large machines travel the rows of vineyards, harvesting the fruit in their mighty jaws. As these fall scenes of activity take center stage in the industry, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has acknowledged the many contributions that California's winemakers and winegrape growers make to the state with his proclamation of September as "California Wine Celebration." Winegrapes are grown in 46 of California's 58 counties, and the state is home to more than 2,000 wineries with a wine history dating back to the late 1700s when the first Missions were established here. Special events abound during harvest time, from winery lunches, tastings, crush events, seminars, food and wine festivals, winery concerts and vintage wine auctions. Local restaurants feature seasonal cuisine; balloon rides offer spectacular aerial views of the vineyards; bocce ball courts invite cheerful recreation; and winery museums and gardens provide artistic diversions. As the tourist season abates, tasting room staff can spend more time with individual guests, giving an exclusive experience to professionals, collectors, and budding wine enthusiasts alike. It is an ideal time for wine lovers, and anyone interested in learning more about wine, to visit one of California's five major wine-producing areas. By exploring a wide variety of wineries, alternating between large, medium and small facilities, experiencing wineries that make still wine and champagne/sparkling wine, and visiting both longtime favorite and new producers, guests can experience the fascinating process of winemaking and the many winery personalities.
Tips for Touring California Wine Country:Even for the experienced wine lover, the most challenging aspect of touring California's wine regions can be deciding where to go because there are so many wonderful locales. With more than 200 days of sunshine every year and a very dependable growing season, California has the ideal climate for growing grapes, a direct tribute to the state's five major wine regions: Northern California Coast (the area north of San Francisco), Central California Coast (San Francisco to Santa Barbara), Sierra Nevada (the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains), Southern California (Ventura to San Diego) and the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys (between Redding and Bakersfield). Within these regions are designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)—the defined appellation or designated geographical area in which the grapes are grown. The following tips can help make a tour of the California Wine Country a memorable experience:
- Where to Go: First determine what region to visit. While California's wine regions are worthy destinations unto themselves, there are wineries located near or en route to most popular urban areas and natural attractions. Once you've determined the region, decide what appellation(s) to visit within the region if there is more than one.
- Wine Organization Contacts: Get in touch with the local Chamber of Commerce, Visitor's Centers/Tourism Bureaus and Winery Trade Associations to get maps and suggestions on wineries to visit, winery events and accommodations.
- Choosing a Winery: An easy way to select which wineries to visit is to browse web sites and promotional materials of trade associations for specific appellations, i.e., Santa Barbara County, Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Lodi, and so on. Choosing wineries according to the varietals they make is another way to narrow the plethora of choices.
- Harvest Events: Peruse one of the many online Events Calendars for local listings of harvest events.
- Call Ahead: Some wineries are open for touring and tasting only by appointment so be sure to call ahead. During harvest, visitors can also call ahead to find out when the grapes will arrive so they can watch the crush.
- Don't Overbook: Limit each day's excursion to a maximum of three wineries so as to get the full experience at each facility: take a winery tour(s), talk to the tasting room staff to learn more about the wines, browse the gift shops, allow time to eat lunch between winery visits and time to drive between tasting rooms. Most wineries are located in rural areas where roads can be narrow and winding. Additionally, trucks are on the roads at this time of year carrying loads of grapes and moving slowing. Relax and allow yourself plenty of time to take in the scenery.
- Responsible Tasting: Schedule appointments and look at maps to learn the driving routes. Visitors often underestimate travel time between one region and another so ask for distance and approximate times when calling ahead. If taking a limo or bus, make sure the winery allows large parties. Determine which wineries are open for public tasting and their business hours. Have a designated driver when possible and also use spit buckets and share tastes as appropriate.
Food and Wine Events Calendars:
- Wine Institute Event Calendar
- California Wine Month Events Calendar
- Local Wine Events
- Wine Events Calendar
Viticultural Area Maps, Reference Guides and Information: