SAN FRANCISCO — When people think of California, chances are that sunny beaches, surfers and rolling vineyards are part of the picture. You might be surprised about how much of California's famous beaches and the state's acclaimed wines have in common.
California's 800-mile-long coast has an ideally cool and mild climate both for growing a wide variety of winegrapes and for chilling out with the state's renowned beach lifestyle. This has inspired many winemakers and winegrowers to work and play here. With surfing, sailing, fishing and more to enjoy, many vintners unwind by catching a wave or two. And in September and October, they know these are the best surfing months and also the midst of harvest. Some winemakers have even been known to hook their fermenters up to the Internet so they can keep an eye on them from the beach, which is where they say they do their best creative thinking. California's world-class wines and beaches—along with local wine and food events—have inspired visitors from around the world to check out the action.
The North Coast, Central Coast and Southern California wine regions all offer idyllic conditions for gnarled vines and gnarly waves—the perfect combination for an escape to the shores. Here are a few tips from California's vintners!
In the North Coast, Anderson Valley's Scharffenberger Cellars winemaker Tex Sawyer learned to surf from a local winegrape grower who is an avid surfer. "Now," he says, "the two of us surf or bodyboard together in the challenging waters of California's North Coast whenever we can." This August and September, there are lots of great activities in wine country from summer concerts, wine dinners and vineyard hikes to the 19th Annual Bodega Bay Seafood, Art and Wine Festival Aug. 24-25 or Thursday Night Live for Napa Valley wine, food trucks and Bay Area music at Somerston's Priest Ranch Sept. 5-26. Enjoy dozens of winery events for California Wine Month Sept. 1-31. Explore them all here!
For Alison Doran, winemaker for Napa Valley's Crane Family Vineyards, surfing runs in the family. Even her grandparents liked to surf; they helped found the San Onofre Surfing Club. Now, Alison is teaching her two sons to surf on family vacations. Elsewhere in Napa, winery fun abounds, with everything from dog-friendly tastings and moonlight dinners to ATV vineyard tours and harvest-time blessings of the grapes. Explore Napa wineries and events here!
When he isn't producing vineyard-designated Zinfandels for The Lucas Winery from the historic ZinStar Vineyard in Lodi—where the Sacramento River pulls cool ocean air deep inland—winemaker David Lucas heads to the coast and hits the waves! Elsewhere in Lodi on Aug. 17, check out Full Moon Wine Tasting and Music at Ripken Vineyards & Winery or Reggae & Rhone, a wine dinner with live music and fireworks at Michael David Winery. The 2nd Annual Lodi Road Trip Passport Sept. 1-30 is where you can participate in fun and engaging activities like cycling excursions, vineyard tours, barrel tasting and bottling demonstrations, grape stomps, wine and cheese pairing classes, live music, winemaker dinners, and more at 45 participating wineries.
On the Central Coast, winemaker and Monterey Bay native Paul Clifton of Hahn Estates, says he loves "the beauty of the area, the region's potential for excellence in winegrowing, the people I work with—and surfing, of course!" It's a chilly ride: Monterey's "Blue Grand Canyon" is an immense underwater crevasse just yards from the shoreline and has a profound impact on both the cool local water temperature and climate. Taste the resulting wines from 90 area wineries at the Taste of Monterey wine visitor center on famous Cannery Row. Or explore the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea: it's the perfect spot to stroll and taste at several downtown tasting rooms.
Peachy Canyon's surfing vintner, Josh Beckett, who lives in Morro Bay in the Paso Robles region, used to manage a surf shop in San Diego before becoming a winemaker and still hits the beach regularly. Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles is a hot spot for both Rhône grape varieties and surfing! From Sept. 22-24, wine lovers can get an insider's view at Paso Robles' Harvest Tour de Vin—a luxurious, two-day wine and food experience that gives wine lovers an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how wine is made during harvest, the most spectacular time of year in wine country.
Near San Luis Obispo, Niner Wine Estates' Patrick Muran is a seasoned surfer, sailor and fisherman. He lives in Pismo Beach, just steps from the Pacific Ocean. If he's not in the vineyard early, he likes to slip away to the beach: "I try to get out of the house prior to my daughter and wife waking up. If I am up before they are, I'm in the period of time that surfers call 'dawn patrol,' which, typically, is when the best waves are." Muran looks forward to the nearby annual "Wine, Waves and Beyond" longboard surf classic in San Luis Obispo. On Aug. 25, join local vintners for Taste of the Central Coast, which offers fine food from top savory and pastry chefs and wines from acclaimed local wineries, all accompanied by live music, breathtaking scenery and live and silent auctions offering unique services and exciting getaways.
Santa Barbara is famous for its relaxed California lifestyle and excellent surfing, but it's also an exciting wine region (think of the movie, Sideways). The surfing bug bit winemaker Craig Jaffurs early when he spent five harvests as a cellar rat at Santa Barbara Winery prior to starting Jaffurs Wine Cellars in 1994. On Aug. 16-18, explore Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County at the Wine & Fire reception, seminars, lunch and grand tasting. Check out more wine events and wineries in Santa Barbara County here.
Home to Surf City USA and other renowned surf towns, Southern California is a famous place to "hang ten." It's also a great place for foodies who want access to celebrity chefs and terrific wine events such as the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival Aug. 21-25 with top regional chefs and California wines. The Great Wine Festival in Irvine Sept. 14 will feature 50 exceptional wineries, local restaurants, an auction and music.
In the charming wine country town of Temecula, wineries are gearing up to celebrate California Wine Month with Sip Temecula, a special passport to numerous wineries throughout September, as well as the Temecula Valley Crush Wine & Culinary Showcase Sept. 14 showcasing 35 area wineries.
With sun, surf, great local cuisine and of course, great wine, California's coastal wine regions are a fun place to visit. Learn more about them at www.discovercaliforniawines.com/discover-california.
About Wine Institute
Wine Institute is the association of 1,000 California wineries and wine-related businesses dedicated to enhancing the environment for the responsible production, consumption and enjoyment of wine. California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, making 90 percent of all U.S. wine and two out of every three bottles enjoyed in the U.S. Each year, nearly 21 million tourists visit wine regions throughout the state to explore and enjoy the wines, the cuisine and cultural offerings associated with California's signature industry. September, during California Wine Month, is a great time to visit to experience the annual winegrape harvest first hand. Go to: www.discovercaliforniawines.com for more information.
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Editors: surfing winemaker photos available by clicking here