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Wineries in San Francisco Bay Area, Carmel, Sonoma, Napa Valley, Central CA

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When you think of California's “Wine Country,” you're thinking about Napa Valley and Sonoma County, situated just north of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Father Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, first brought wine to the state of California when he began the first vineyard in San Diego in 1769. In the years that followed, wineries began to creep farther north along with establishment of Spanish missions. The wine industry really began to take root after the Gold Rush of 1849, when Count Agoston Haraszthy established Buena Vista, the first premium winery in the area. In nearby Napa Valley, Charles Krug introduced Riesling grapes in 1861. The Charles Krug Winery is still in operation but is now run by the Peter Mondavi Family. The area's wine industry continued to flourish over the next century but failed to receive international recognition until the mid-1970s. The Stag's Leap Winery put California's wine country on the map after it squeezed out a victory over world-renowned Mouton Rothschild in a competition in Paris in 1976. By the mid-1980s the wines from Napa Valley were considered fit for royalty, Quail Ridge Vineyard's 1981 Chardonnay was served to the late Lady Di and Prince Charles at the White House. In the last two decades California's wine country has continued to grow and now the region is home to hundreds of wineries and vineyards. Millions of people visit Napa Valley and Sonoma County every year to imbibe the Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, Merlots, and Zinfandels the area is now famous for.

California's central coast is known for gentle, green hills and deep valleys (you may have even seen a landscape shot of the Napa Valley as the default wallpaper on Windows XP). The Napa Valley is to the east of Sonoma County and is typically warmer in the summer, resulting in a better yield of Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma County's slightly cooler weather typically brings in better Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Despite the hotter weather father south, Paso Robles, near San Luis Obispo, has established an American Viticultural Area that has become one of the fastest growing winery regions in California.

The Wineries of Napa Valley and Sonoma County, California

The better-known wine country of central California is, of course, in Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County, which are home to over 280 wineries. This beautiful area, with its gentle rolling hills, is a great place to tour around. Virtually every winery offers tours and wine tastings, they vary in price between $5 and $20 and are usually open daily - be sure to check with the individual winery for exact hours. To check out other vineyards and wineries, planning is a must, simply because of the sheer number. Keep in mind that this area is also very scenic (in case you're traveling with a non-wine drinker). For fans of the 1980s television show “Falcon Crest,” this area was the setting for the fictional “Tuscany Valley.” Most of the wineries offer free public tours from mid-morning to late afternoon, but many of them require some sort of advance reservation.

Among the many world-class wineries in Sonoma County, especially significant ones are:
  • Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery , which is really the birthplace of California wine, was part of the Sonoma Mission in the Spanish days of California.
  • The oldest winery is the Buena Vista Winery on the Carneros Estate.

The Wineries of Paso Robles, California

Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, was once totally overlooked by wine aficionados with a fondness for Napa Valley and Sonoma County, but today there are more than 70 different wineries and hundreds of different vineyards which now produce grapes. Venturing out in the wine country around Paso Robles is a worthwhile endeavor; the pace of the area is laid back and unhurried. Because it is one of central California's best kept secrets (but may not be for very much longer, as the region is considered a local “up-and-comer”), the crowds are smaller and the locals claim to be friendlier than further up north. The Paso Robles area is crisscrossed by quaint two-lane country roads that add to the region's charm.

Wineries in San Francisco Bay Area, Carmel, Napa Valley, Central California Coast

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Artesa Vineyards & Winery
Baywood Cellars
Bella Vineyards
Benziger Family Winery
Beringer Vineyards
Charles Krug Winery
Chateau Montelena - Calistoga (Napa Valley), California
Chateau St. Jean Winery - Kenwood (Sonoma County), California
Clos La Chance
Clos Pegase
EOS Estate Winery
Ferrari-Carano Winery
Gundlach-Bundschu Winery
Hahn Estates and Smith & Hook
Hop Kiln Winery
JanKris Winery
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Mauritson Wines Winery - Healdsburg, California
Merryvale Vineyards
Nicholson Ranch
Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery
Opus One
Paraiso Springs
Patz & Hall
Ravenswood Winery
Ridge Vineyards
Robert Mondavi Winery
Rocca Family Vineyards
Sequoia Grove Vineyards
Simi Winery
Stags' Leap Winery - Napa, California
Sterling Vineyards
Stryker Sonoma
The Hess Collection Winery
Vine Cliff Winery