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California Wine Country

As you sip your first glass of chardonnay at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma Valley, you won’t find a horse head under any sheets, but you can gawk at the desk of Don Corleone, aka “The Godfather.”

Just remembering the conversations once held around that sobering piece of furniture is enough to necessitate a second glass.

Welcome to California wine country.


A Vast State and Vast Choices

Oscar award-winner Coppola collected a vast amount of memorabilia from his movies, including the red Tucker Torpedo from “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” costumes and even his Academy Award statues. That renowned museum, along with two swimming pools, fine dining and more are available to guests at his California winery.

“There is much to do in and around our wineries,” said Gladys Horiuchi, director of media relations for the California’s Wine Institute in San Francisco. “It’s terrific if you love wine, but you can approach your wine tour with an emphasis on gardens, history, architecture, cooking classes, golf, shopping and, of course, all the movies that have been filmed in the area.

“All the wine areas go hand in hand with great cuisine. In fact, studies show most travelers come here to eat and drink.”

More than 90 percent of wine produced in the United States is produced in California, according to Horiuchi.

“Our weather and other important growing conditions are ideal. And as a melting pot of cultures, from Italians, Germans, Swiss, French, Latinos and more, our state also has an incredible sense of entrepreneurship.”

With 4,100 wineries from which to choose, creating a wine tour in California can be overwhelming. Understanding the dilemma, regional wine associations have offered tips on how to explore those venues and the array of cultural attractions. Nearly every region in California produces wine. While some are well known, others may be less familiar to group travel planners.

“You can’t do it all in one visit,” said Horiuchi. “But you can take a few days and immerse yourself in one vicinity.”

No need to be a wine connoisseur: Wineries are in abundance in each of the seven regions, and each location has an array of diversions to offer.


Wine-and-Adventure Pairings

Amador County, nestled in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, boasts 35 small family wineries and some of California’s finest zinfandels. Classic gold-rush-era attractions, including caverns and gold mines for thrill seekers to explore and vintage shopping in quaint towns, are part of the experience. Sutter Ridge Vineyards in Sutter Creek offers one of California’s few tempranillo wines, and the Shenandoah Valley features not only gorgeous scenery but wine producers specializing in zinfandel, Italian varietals and the quintessential “Big Reds.”

A demonstration vineyard with information on the local wineries and tastes of more than 200 of the area’s wines are available at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center. Lodi Wine Country, considered a hidden jewel in California, features boutique and antique shops, farm fresh food, a chocolate factory and a paradise for avid birders and nature lovers.

On the coast, the area around Monterey offers great wine and spectacular scenery.

“Monterey County includes the John Steinbeck museum — the National Steinbeck Center — Pebble Beach Golf Course, Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” said Horiuchi. “Indeed, this is just one area that many first-time visitors want to see.”

Each wine-growing area within Monterey County’s 40,000 acres of grapes offers one-of-a-kind experiences. Renowned restaurants, beautiful bay sunsets, horseback riding, world-class spas and 99 miles of Pacific coastline are accompaniments to the wide variety of wine.