At Wine Thieves, we get asked all the time for recommendations on where to go wine tasting. The fact is there are more than 4,000 wineries in California today, which is four times as many as there were in the late nineties. Needless to say, the options are endless. For your convenience, however, we have selected a few wineries that we have either been to or heard a lot of hype about, and compiled them into a list by region. These are simply our personal recommendations based on what we have heard, seen and most importantly, tasted and liked ourselves! Let's start with...
Napa is what put California winemaking on the map with its highly surprising win in the competition against France, dubbed the "Judgment of Paris" back in 1976. But as far back as the gold rush, people were planting vines and opening wineries in Sonoma and Napa. Buena Vista, Gundlach Bundschu and Markham Vineyards are some of the oldest wineries still open today, competing against as many as 1200 wineries in Napa alone! You can easily find prestigious wineries like Stag's Leap, Silverado Winery, Silver Oak, Beaulieu Vineyards, Conn Creek winery and an endless list of more, but here are some gems you might not have considered otherwise.
1. Hall Winery has two tasting rooms in Napa, one is located in St. Helena, but their Rutherford tasting room is one to beat with its unparalleled tasting room and tour experience. Take a tour of their barrel and tasting room as well as their highly acclaimed Sacrashe vineyard before enjoying their best selection of wines with a food pairing. It certainly isn't cheap at $125 per person, but this 90 minute tour and tasting is unforgettable for anyone who wants to experience the luxurious side of Napa's wine country.
2. Pine Ridge Winery is a spot where you can enjoy the wines as well as the view. Sit out on the patio and gaze out at the beautiful hillside vineyards at Pine Ridge winery. They also have a great selection of wines from "everyday" to "special occasion" in price and quality.
offers a plethora of options for you to enjoy from tours and tastings, to farmstead food, to their very own olive oil estate and even their own concerts throughout the year! The tour is not cheap, but the wine, food and entertainment is tough to beat and hey, you're in Napa, nothing is going to be cheap, but at least at LMR you will get your money's worth in an unpretentious setting.
4. Jamieson Ranch is located near the Chardonnay golf course off Kirkland Ranch Rd. After a round of golf with friends, stop in and have some lunch along with their delicious variety of estate and second labels. They have Reata Chardonnay from Carneros, Whiplash Zinfandel from Lodi and their Double Lariat Cabernet is to die for (and all of which are best sellers at Wine Thieves).
Just like Napa, Sonoma is one of the most popular wine regions in California and is home to the oldest winery in the United States, Buena Vista Winery. Of course, you can certainly visit some of the most prestigious wineries like Ferrari-Carano or Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard, but if you want a more casual, less expensive wine tasting experience, you can certainly find it in Sonoma. The best part about Sonoma is that it embodies a wide array of AVAs like Russian River, Dry Creek and Healdsburg. Here are a few wineries we recommend:
1. DeLoach Winery is located in Russian River Valley. They are open to the public daily, like a lot of Sonoma wineries are, and they are dog friendly, organic and biodynamically farmed and they offer a nice casual picnic setting for day trippers (no Beatles reference intended). DeLoach is well known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals, but they make other wines like Cabernet, Zinfandel and even Gewurztraminer!
2. Cline and Jacuzzi Wines are a little more "easy-going" than those high end places where a taste is $25 and a tour is over $100. In fact, according to trip advisor, Cline and Jacuzzi are rated in the top 10 wineries of Sonoma and they offer FREE wine tasting! And you know we Thieves love a good deal. The best part? They are located right across the street from each other, so it's like a two-for-one... Or a two-for-none if you play your cards right.
3. Seghesio Winery is located in Healdsburg and has some of the best Cal-Ital wines in the state! They offer several different wine tasting options ranging from a very reasonable $15 per person and they offer a tour, tasting and private dining experience for only $75 per person. A great deal compared to Napa prices!
4. Preston Vineyards of Dry Creek is not your typical winery. They focus on their terroir and farming methods to a degree in which only scientists might understand. But this unique attention to detail really stands out in the finished product. Not only do they produce some of the best-tasting organically grown wines around, but they also produce their own bread and olive oil and seasonal farmer's market produce which can all be tasted at their winery!
The Sierra Foothills include several counties from Calaveras, Amador, El Dorado and more. This area was the up-and-coming for wines during the Gold Rush, but prohibition resulted in the demise of most wine-producing vineyards, with the exception of very few that were produced solely for communion wine. Fortunately, the Foothills are back in the winemaking business, where Zinfandel plantings dominate the vineyards, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and some other hearty grape varieties like Syrah and Petite Sirah.
1. Tanner Vineyards is another personal favorite. Located smack-dab in the middle of downtown Murphys, it is a quaint little tasting room with extremely friendly staff and an owner who loves to share cigars and chit chat with customers. In fact, the whole family can be seen from time to time and they create a very friendly and warm atmosphere that makes you feel like part of the family. Try their Petite Surah... Yum!
2. Miraflores Winery is located in Placerville, far from the rest of most California tourist spots. They make delicious, well-balanced, peppery Zinfandel and many other varieties from their pioneered vineyards in El Dorado County. They even produce some organic wines. Their tasting room is the perfect rustic setting, where you can visit, relax and enjoy your wine without the crowds.
3. Jeff Runquist Winery is located in Plymouth, just off Hwy 16 on Shenandoah Rd. The casual setting and outdoor seating provide the perfect view of vineyards and orchards while you sip on their delicious wines. All the wines are produced in small lots and tended to with care from vineyard to bottle. Enjoy Runquist wines either before or after you visit Sobon Estate winery, also located in Plymouth!
While the Sierra Foothills vineyards were being torn up during prohibition, good ol' Lodi was actually increasing their vineyard volume for wine production. Today, Lodi has some of the oldest vines in California and they produce over 600,000 tons of grapes, which is more than Napa and Sonoma combined! They are the renegades of the wine industry!
1. Jessie's Grove Winery is unique in that it has not one, but TWO tasting rooms... for your convenience, of course. Their estate has been around since the mid-1800s and you can picnic while you taste. Their other tasting room is located in downtown Lodi and also doubles as their barrel warehouse.
2. Klinker Brick Winery's tasting room is rustic-meets-sheik in the otherwise, farmer-friendly atmosphere. They have several different Zinfandels to try, among other varietals. Enjoy these BIG wines knowing that you are sipping on some of the oldest vines in history!
3. Van Ruiten Winery estate is the "younger" of the aforementioned recommended wineries. It was established by Dutch immigrant, John Van Ruiten Sr. after World War II. They offer a wide selection of wines and their regular wine tasting is only $10! They also offer a reserve selection for $15, all of which is refundable with the purchase of their delicious wines... It really makes you wonder if Napa isn't just a little over rated these days.
4. Bokisch Vineyards is a family-owned winery that specializes in Spanish wines. Markus and Liz have Spanish roots and make regular visits to the Iberian Peninsula on a regular basis. Their Verdejo, Albarino, Garnacha and Tempranillo are all favorites of ours and they are quite affordable too! Visit their new tasting room on Atkins Rd.
The Central Coast includes several different AVAs and counties along California's coast, stretching from as far north as Santa Cruz, all the way down to Santa Barbara. For the sake of recommendations nearby one another, we will focus on San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles wineries. So many central coast wineries have popped up in the last two decades, areas like San Luis Obispo are almost unrecognizable from the vacant hills and farm land they were more than 20 years ago. But as long as that means more good wine, we'll stick with the idea that change is a good thing!
SAN LUIS OBISPO/PASO ROBLES:
1. Tablas Creek Vineyard focuses on Rhone varietals of the highest quality. They produce mostly organic estate fruit and use clippings from France's Rhone Valley to create their unique quality of wines. Visit their spacious tasting room, surround by beautiful plant life and rolling hills. This winery is located in west Paso Robles.
2. Vina Robles has a beautiful estate and offers several wine tasting experiences starting with their estate selection flight for just $7 per person. They do a chocolate pairing for $20, a cheese pairing for $30 and even a lunch pairing for only $35 per person! HUGE value! This winery is located in Paso Robles.
3. Herman Story is owned by Russel P. From, an unsuspecting character with odd-labeled wine and a very, very small production line of wines and blends that vary by vintage. They do have a tasting room which is open to the public and their wines are mostly Rhone and Bordeaux-style blends. These wines are BIG and BOLD and made in such small quantities they hardly ever make it to retail! If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime wine, this is where you will find it. This winery is located in Paso Robles.
4. Niner Wine Estates offers a regular wine tasting experience for $15 and a tour is offered by appointment only. They allow dogs on their outdoor patio so you can take in the beautiful sight of their estate while you and your furry friend enjoy a treat (wine for you, water for the pup).
5. Claiborne & Churchill is located in San Luis Obispo near the historic town and Pismo Beach. They specialize in "Alsatian" varietals such as dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. They offer several tasting flights from $20 for a tasting and tour to $25 for a private tasting with the owners themselves! It is a very quaint atmosphere that is a perfect stop in your tour of old town and the beach!
So that's it! Obviously, there several other fabulous wineries to visit while you are visiting these areas, but these are just a few we know our customers will enjoy. We hope you get a chance to try our suggestions. Let us know how your experience was during your visit!