Napa Valley is a favorite for newcomers to the California wine scene, according to Horiuchi.
“Napa Valley has 500 wineries,” she said. “Although most are known for signature cabernet sauvignons, they produce a range of wines, including chardonnay, pinot noir, zinfandel, riesling, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and more.”
Highlights include visiting an off-the-beaten path winery with a renowned collection of modern art, enjoying a wine-blending seminar, indulging in a gourmet picnic on the lawn of a winery’s delicatessen and shopping at antique stores. After a tram ride to Sterling Vineyards’ hilltop winery to take in a view of Napa Valley, groups might just want to enjoy a natural-hot-springs soak in nearby Calistoga and a cooking class and dinner at the Culinary Institute of America.
On California’s central coast, Paso Robles is home to 250 wineries and more than 26,000 vineyard acres.
“More than 40 wine varieties are grown here, many being new in past decades,” said Horiuchi.
At the WineYard at Steinbeck Vineyards, wine-grape growers lead a tour aboard a vintage jeep. The area is also known for fine dining and gourmet olive oils. Between wine tastings, groups can spot elephant seals on sandy beaches and choose from five tours at the majestic Hearst Castle.
The experts suggest starting your tour in Santa Cruz County in the Santa Cruz Mountain tasting rooms in Saratoga and Los Gatos. At the nearby Hakone Gardens, a Japanese-style garden and koi pond is a must-see for those who appreciate meticulous planting skills. After exploring wineries up and over those spectacular mountains and cozying up in a quaint bed-and-breakfast, visitors can spend an entire day walking the beach, enjoying a meal on the Santa Cruz Wharf, visiting the sea lions and, of course, doing more wine tasting in the neighborhood.
Hiking in Jack London State Park and hot-air ballooning might be on your agenda in Sonoma County. This area’s famous and diverse wines include pinot noirs and chardonnays in the Russian River Valley, zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley, merlot and cabernet sauvignon in Sonoma Valley; activities include taking a tractor tram tour of a winery/wildlife sanctuary and indulging in a wine-country lunch in Alexander Valley.
And after dining for a few days in the area’s acclaimed restaurants, more than 20 golf courses and many bicycle routes throughout the region’s back roads beckon visitors to partake in exercise and the fresh air.