Wine Tasting for fun

If you enjoy wine, interesting food, and interesting scenery, visiting vinyards and wineries to sample the wares can be an interesting amusement on vacation. While most people think of California or France when they think of wine, vinyards and wineries appear in many states and countries, and most welcome visitors. In the US, Wine is made in such unlikely places as Hawaii, Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illionis, Indiana, Rhode Island, New York, Ohio, and I am sure many more.

What to expect and how to plan

Many wineries are open to the public and offer both wine tasting and tours. Most of those that are open to the public have great landscaped grounds including picnic areas and gardens, and almost all have gift and wine shops. In areas where there are many places to visit there are invariably local guide maps available at hotels and tourist facilities that will show you where the wineries are, what the hours are and what they provide.  Most wineries now have websites, as do regional associations that provide maps, hours, and other information on an area. Fees vary widely, though the most common arrangement seems to be a complementary tasting of small sips of a few popular wines (or a the opportunity to taste 3 or 4 wines from a large list), and a fee for tasting the rarer reserve, "library", or special vintage wines. Reserve wines are nothing more than wines the wine maker thought were particularly good and chose to designate that way, and cost more and are often made in limited quantity. "Library" tasting usually refers to tasting older wines which the winery has held back from sales and aged on its own. Prices can be steep, but the experience is unique. At many places the special tastings include a logo glass from the winery. Nice for a special occasion or stocking a collection, but a bit fragile for airplane travel.  In really popular areas, like the Napa valley, expect many wineries to charge for all tastings.  The fee is often applicable towards the purchase of wine.  Tastes (and tasting fees) can usually be shared between two people.  This is actually a great way to ration consumption without diminishing the experience since there is usually plenty in a pour for 2 people, and by getting it in one glass you get enough to make sure you are tasting the wine they just poured and not a mixture of the last 3 pours.  Consider also trading tastes when confronted with a large list (two people select two similar wines from the list in each taste and trade tastes to compare the two, a good way to help differentiate the wines and also sample more kinds of wine while not having too much)

Many wineries also sell interesting food products such as chocolates, vinegars, or mustards made with wine or products to go with wine. These are sometimes available for tasting as well. The wineries usually arrange their wines in the preferred order for tasting, white wines before red, lighter wines before heavier, and sweet or desert wines last. Stick with the recommended order, but feel free to skip anything you know you aren't interested in. The staff isn't going to be offended. In fact they will in most cases be happy to help you learn to taste the wine and tell you what you should be tasting. Don't be surprised if you don't get the same apricots or plums that the experts tasted, but it's fun to try. Always feel free to dump out any wine you aren't happy with or just feel you got too much of. It's easy to get too much wine if you are tasting at a few different places so know your limit.  The best advice is drink lots of water, stop after one or two wineries to have some food and/or take a tour or do something else to slow down. 

Many wineries have tours of their facilities available, mostly for free. It's worth doing this from time to time even though after a while you will learn a lot about how wine is made. The cellars are always different and the process is always interesting. Tours can also be a good way to space out the tasting to avoid having too much.

Buying and Travelling with wine

Of course the whole point from the winery's perspective is to sell you wine. A good thing to find out if you like a wine is whether or not it is likely to be available in your area. They will be glad to tell you, and even look up what stores or distributors carry their products. Some wines though are only sold locally or only at the winery. These are probably the ones to focus your purchases on, especially if the wine has to be lugged back on an airplane. Wineries can ship only to selective states (though some seem to have gotten around this in various ways), so you will learn quickly whether your state is a "reciprocal state" (good), and whether you can order wine. If you order it expect to pay shipping and ship to a street address where an adult is available to sign for it.  Virtually all wineries are willing to ship your purchases to you if they can.  Shipping is most economical by the case.  A few may even be willing to combine wine they sold you with bottles you bought elsewhere into a case, though fewer do this than once before.  Another  option is to take your bottles to a shipper (e.g UPS).  There are also specialized wine packers and shippers.  Generally you will pay for everything, so if you can manage to acquire a shipping box (wineries sell them at various prices) and pack it yourself you will pay less than if you have the shipping agency pack it or buy the box from them.  (There are two kinds of shippers we have seen, ones with styrofoam liners with wine bottle shaped cutouts that are very secure and expensive, and cheaper ones using fiber/separators to stack the wine.  We've never had any breakage from the cheaper shippers.

Most wineries now have wine clubs, where they ship you sample bottles and their literature year round. These are fun, but you may not need wine as often as they ship it. Find ones that ship infrequently if you just want to try it every once in a while. Many now offer options to ship only twice a year with more bottles in each shipment, which not only saves on shipping costs, but also minimizes the times someone needs to be at home to sign for the shipment and usually avoids shipping in summer or winter where extreme temperatures can be bad for the wine.  Wine club members can buy at a discount and get access to special events at the winery, nice if you are in driving distance.

If you fly home and take the wine with you, find out what your airline allows. With the rules on liquids you can no longer take it on the plane as carry on (a real pity, we used to pack a case in our backpacks)  You can check it, but make sure you pad it well or preferably get a shipping box to check, which is designed for rough handling.  Better yet, just ship it from a UPS store or other shipper if your state allows and avoid the hassle.

Making a vacation out of it

You don't want to spend a whole day tasting wine, but combining wine tasting with golf, hiking, museums, or other attractions is a relaxing vacation in many places. Wine growing areas have many bed and breakfast accomodations, and usually resorts and conventional hotel/motels as well. There are often good restaurants in the area. In Northern California, for example, we found we like the FountainGrove inn (Santa Rosa), which is convenient to wine tasting, golf, and other attractions.  Hotels in wine country sometimes have evening tastings where local producers let you sample their wines.

Special events

Wine country is full of special events and competitions. Wine auctions are a place where you can come to buy rare wines and often are done in conjunction with special tastings. Wineries often have special dinners for their wine club members and other special guests, with gourmet foods and of course the best wines. Barrel Tasting is another interesting phenomenon. Generally this happens in the spring and often all the wineries in one area will do it at the same time. The Sonoma valley wineries sell tickets to it as an event, while the Russian river area wineries simply do it as a festival weekend. Basically Barrel tasting allows you to sample wine in the barrel before it has finished aging and truely become wine. The taste can be quite different. The wineries will sell "wine futures", by allowing you to buy in advance at a discount based on what you tasted in the barrel. Many have interesting interesting food during these events, and often the wineries will have all their wines open for tasting. Basically a big party.  The challenge is not to over indulge.  There are a lot of other festivals, but many aren't as good a deal (For example Paso Robles has a Zinfandel festival with food and wine, but each winery is priced independently, making it hard to sample a lot.

Winery locations and reviews

Here are some we have visited and some of what they do

Napa Valley

The Napa Valley is probably the largest growing area of premium wines (Much more wine is grown in California's central valley, but the conditions there are not the best and most of it is sold as inexpensive table wines). It's also got the most resorts, crowds, and probably the highest prices. The valley is just that, a long broad valley with two roads going up the edges. Most of the wineries are on one or the other. The wine train also operates in this valley and can give a tour of the area with wines and food to taste. Here are some of the places we have visited


An interesting spanish mission style building, with a very nice tour and elegant outdoor tasting. The tour was very popular when we took it (early 1990s) and hard to get on, but very intersting

Praeger Port Works

This is a very small winery almost hidden behind the much larger Sutter Home Winery, which specializes in ports. The "tasting room" is a corner of the cask room where the wine is aged and members of the Praeger family pour the wine. They charge for the experinece but the charge is refundable on a purchase. The wines aren't cheap, but are unusual and very good.

Hans Kornel Champagne

By all means visit a champagne maker and learn how the bubbles get in the bottles. Kornel had an interesting tour as I recall.


This is one of the prettiest locations and also one of the most popular. The tour is very nice, including a visit to their caves cut into the sides of the mountain and a short tour of the mansion that houses the tasting room. They have nice gardens and a picnic area. Expect crowds here.

Sterling Vineyards

Sterling is at the north end of the valley with the winery on top of a hill. When we have visited we sometimes got to the top by a chairlift (charge for this as I recall), by walking up a long road, or once by driving it. The cellars are interesting and the tasting is good, but as I recall at least a significant fee is charged here.

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma is a town, a county, and a valley, all of which produce wines. The valley is smaller and narrower than Napa, and the county includes many other wine growing regions. While less famous than Napa, we like Sonoma valley and particularly some of the outlying regions of the county better -- fewer crowds, fewer charges, and some excellent and hard to find wines.


The Kenwood wines are widely distributed, but the winery has many more. The tasting room is in an old barn, with nice gardens, and while they charge extra for their reserves they will often pour some for you if you seem to be serious about tasting their wines. Kenwood runs tours as well.  If you taste here, try the reserve list, which has many wines that are hard to find elsewhere. 


This small winery has a tasting room in Sonoma off the square, where the winemaker (whose name isn't Mcclaren) pours.  We discovered his wines first at Talty Vineyards in Dry Creek, which is still where he has his vineyards, but he moved his tasting room to Sonoma.  He has excellent high end Syrah's from various locations, as well as a decent Sauvignon Blanc.

Lake Sonoma/Valley of the Moon

Valley of the Moon has been in the valley for many years (in fact it takes it's name from one of the popular nicknames for the sonoma valley).  They produce nice wines but we never found them exceptional.  Lake Sonoma recently moved there -- their 3rd tasting room location.  Their wines are actually grown in the dry creek valley.  We have really liked all their red wines, especially Zinfandels and Cabs.  The combined tasting room though isn't especially freindly to purchasers (a steep tasting fee not applied to your purchase) and in recent years they've kept the best of the Lake Sonoma wines only for the wine club.  (*** Note that in 2015, this winery was renamed to something like the Madrone Estate, the original name of the property.  The Madrone/Valley of the Moon wines continue, but the Lake Sonoma wines have been signficantly reduced)

Deerfield Ranch

This is a small winery near Kenwood with a unique tasting room.  You walk into a network of tunnels under the hillside that serve as the cellar and sit in a living-room like atmosphere while the staff bring you tastes.  Yes, there's a steep fee for this and yes, the wine isn't cheap, but it's a nice experience and some excellent wines. (You may not want to take a large vehicle on the one lane road that reaches it though)  (*** Note that in 2015 the wines seemed less good, and another winery told us they were in bankrupcy.  We will see)

Matanzas Creek

Not in Sonoma valley but near it on one of the back roads to Santa Rosa, this winery is very out of the way. They have great gardens and interesting wine, and the drive out there is an adventure.


This is a small winery with fantastic cabernets and other red wines. They charge for tasting, especially the good stuff  (Note that the winery was sold several years ago and while the winemaker remains the same and still has an excellent reputation, the current owners, a large corporation with holdings in many wineries, are involved in a bankrupcy proceedings and as of March 2006 there was some speculation in the local press over whether it would effect the wine)


This modest winery at the upper end of the valley is actually owned by the John Deere family.  (Some of the wine names and decore reflect a "farm machinery" theme).  Nice gardens and excellent wines, especially Chardonay.  St Francis in the same area is also excellent and has some interesting sculpture.


The most interesting thing here is their carved wooden casks, which adorn the tasting room and various facilities on the tour. Excellent art work. They make a lot of different red wines and have a good variety for tasting.


Near the town of Sonoma,  If you like Zinfandels and other bold tasting red wines this is the place (motto -- no wimpy wines and they mean it).  They are down a country road from Sonoma on a hillside in a valley.  We often buy a mixed case here, all excellent and no two the same

Gundlach Bundshu

This one is south of Sonoma and very out of the way, a long drive on a one lane driveway. The winery is old and interesting, and the wines are good. What is most intersting is some of the humor in the posters in the tasting room.  (Note -- in 2006 the tasting room was redesigned and the winery has dropped it's cheap "Bearitage" wines and refocussed on varietals.

Cline Cellars

This is one of the last wineries you encounter on the road back towards San Francisco, and open longer than most, so it gets crowds late in the day. The wines here are quite different as they specialize in Rhone valley varietals not grown or not made into varietal (mostly one grape) wines elsewhere. They also have several excellent Zinfandels from various single vineyards.  They also have excellent mustards.  Be sure to visit the cages of exotic birds outside the winery.


Another winery on the road back to the city with good reds

Russian River area

The Russian River area covers a lot western Sonoma county, and includes different growing regions including Dry Creek, Chalk Hill, and the Alexander Valley. This area is more laid back than either Napa and Sonoma. Lots of small wineries with freindly staff.

Iron Horse

This is a small winery with a long one lane approach west of Sebastapol. The wines we had here were excellent, though pricy, and the view from the porch they use for tasting quite nice. I'm not sure they are always open for Tasting.  Their specialty is sparkling wines and big reds.  (Note that this place can get quite crowded on special weekends and in spite of warnings about no limos and the one lane road, they still come.)

Taft Steet

A small out of the way place near Sebastapol.  We found they had really great reds and good Chardonnay.  Freindly people too.  They always seem to have good bargains.  Very good Chardonay, Pinot and Merlot in our experience.

Carol Shelton

This winery is in a warehouse in Santa Rosa, not a promissing site, but has great Zinfandels.  On Barrel tasting weekend we met the owner, the wine maker (a retired commercial pilot) and most of the rest of the staff.


This is an even smaller winery in the same industrial park setting as Carol Shelton.  A good variety of wines including some interesting blends and a nice rich Rose.


This winery in the Sebastapol area has a great Barrel tasting spread, and lots of small lot reds to taste -- a dozen barrels of small production wines and some very unusual varieties.  Note that they are very popular for Barrel tasting.  In 2014 we couldn't attend barrel tasting, but showing up on Monday got the place to ourselves, still got to sample the barrels, and the leftovers from the weekend food. 


Balleto now has their own building, again in the Sebastapol area.  They put on a great spread for barrel tasting.  We liked a number of red wines there.  Good every day Zinfandel as I recall.

Dutton Goldfield

This winery just opened their own tasting room just off highway 116.  They have nice red wines, but are a bit pricey

Red Car

A brand new (2011) winery in the Sebastapol area.  Nice tasting room, but high prices.

Hop Kiln

Hop Kiln is a small winery on the west side of the river. What's interesting is the building, an old kiln for roasting hops. The inside has a lot of historic exhibits. The wines we had there were no more than okay, but they also have an excellent stock of foods and an interesting picnic area.  (*** In 2015, they were going under a new name, something like HJK vineyards.  The wines were the same, but the food supply was reduced).

Russian Hill

A small winery on, surprise, a hill in the russian river valley just north of river road.  We went on the recommendation of the owners of Sunce and were not disappointed.  In 2014 they had a great bargain on a package of multiple vintages of their excellent Syrah.

Belvidere (RIP)

Also on west side road not far from Hop Kiln, this winery has usually had a nice rich Chardonay we like.  Last time we tasted a very intense unfiltered Merlot here -- very unusal.  They also put on a great spread for Barrel tasting  (***Note -- This winery folded some time around 2008.  I think even the building is now gone)


This replaced the old Rabbit Ridge tasting room.  We liked a number of their wines.  Early on they had a great Chard, but recently seem to be more focussed on reds.  This is a pretty place but has a small parking lot.


Also on on the west bank, this is another place with a sense of humor and some interesting twists. Their spread for Barrel Tasting was the best of any. (Comment -- they may only do food on the first weekend. They set up the barrels in two outbuildings, the one with the whites dressed up as "Heaven", usually complete with women dressed as angels pouring and playing harps, and the other with the reds as Hell, also suitably decorated.  There's usually a long line to get into Heaven, but Hell is bigger, has more people, and they seem to be having more fun.   They also have excellent chocolates and a lot of interesting artwork and glassware on display.  (Note that this place is enormously popular during barrel tasting and presumably any other "party" weekend.  You may have to wait to get up the road or park and walk.  It's not a problem at all during the week, in 2014 we were the only visitors on the property for about an hour as we tasted, bought, then picniced on a spectacular day.)

Gary Farrel

A new winery on West Side road, near Guerneville.  They are up a long drive, a very scenic spot.  Very rich Cabs and Merlot  (Note that this winery does not participate in Barrel Tasting)

Alexander Valley Vineyards

They are on route 128 in the Alexander Valley and produce good red wines primarily.  The "Two Barrel" blend was particularly nice.  Sadly, it is no more but they always have some interesting blends produced as the result of a wine club "blending" event.  We had a VIP tour here recently as the result of meeting one of the owners at a wine tasting event at a local store in Illinois)


Hanna actually has two tasting rooms, one in the Sebastapol area and one in the Alexander Valley (near Alexander Valley Vineyards).  Both put on an excellent spread for Barrel Tasting and both have good Zin, Syrah, and other big red varietals.


This winery is in the Alexander Valley near Hanna and Alexander Valley Vineyards.  It's a large facility and had nice wines, but not not exceptional for the price in our experience.


A small winery in the southern end of the Alexander Valley, which tastes in their underground caves.  Great reds and a fun place.

Chalk Hill

A small winery known for Chardonay on the twisty Chalk Hill road (near the 101 end of the road).  The wine was good, but they weren't very accomodating in terms of barrel tasting.

Soda Rock

This winery is in the Alexander Valley near Hanna and Alexander Valley Vineyards.  This is a small tasting room.  In 2013 we were impressed with their wines and barrel samples, but they seemed less exceptional in 2014.

Raymond Burr

This is the same Raymond Burr who played Perry Mason and Ironside for years (dead now since 1994).  In fact some of his acting awards are on display in the tasting room.  The winery had some excellent red wines (in fact two other tasing room pourers said they had the best reds in the Dry Creek area).  The winery is near the north end of west dry creek road up a long drive from the main road.

Rodney Strong

Near 101, this is a convenient stop and good wine and tasting. The tasting room is on top of their pyramid shaped building and looks down on the winery facilities, with a self guided tour. Nice Zinfandels.  In 2014 they had an excellent port as well.


This winery shares the same parking lot with Rodney Strong. Their tasting is quite different, serving samples of food and wine that go together, for a signficant fee. It would make an interesting lunch experience.

Geyser Peak

In 2015 Geyser Peak moved from a large property near 101 10 miles north of Healdsburg to a small one just west of Healdsburg.  Haen't taste there since the move.  Geyser Peak also has a good reserve tasting.  (For Barrel tasting they opened a $100 cab for us to taste late in the day -- really special.)

Dry Creek Vineyards

At the upper end of the dry creek valley, they have a good mix of reds and whites, nice picnic area, and some interesting stained glass (the owner is a yachtsman and much of their artwork reflects that)


A small winery in the dry creek valley with great zinfandel and other big reds, not usually open for tasting.  The drive on the one lane entrance through the vineyard is interesting. 

Kendall Jackson

They are just off 101 north of Santa Rosa. Another winery with wide distribution and availability of their wines. Nice tasting room and gardens.

Ferrari Carano

Near Lake Sonoma, this winery has the best gardens of any we have visited. Very interesting. The tasting isn't free, but the wines are good and they will take the tasting fee off a purchase.  Be sure to visit the barrel room on the lower level.   (Note that this place doesn't participate in Barrel Tasting, though given the location and other attractions it can be a good place to make a last stop of the day after 4PM when Barrel Tasting ends)

Joseph Swan

This is a  small winery in the green valley area (near Sebastapol) that does outstanding zinfandels and robust reds.  A good place to visit on barrel tasting weekend (7 barrels to taste!)  (Note that this is another place with a small and awkward parking lot.)


A small winery in the Dry Creek valley.  We had high expectations based on tasting Zinfandel from Ravenswood and others with grapes bought from their vineyards (supposedly at least), but the wines were a bit disappointing.

Limerick Lane

This is near Rodney Strong south of Healdsburg.  They have exceptional Zinfandels and robust reds.  A smaller winery but generally open for tastings

Christopher Creek

This is a very small place on Limerick lane.  We liked their reds.  I think they are open for tasting generally, but are a good one for Barrel Tasting.


This is near Rodney Strong south of Healdsburg.  This is another small winery with very good big red wines and not usually open for tasting.  Acorn generally has good food provided by a local restauarnt for Barrel Tasting.


A small place in the Dry Creek Valley (one of the first you come to from Healdsburg.  Great Zinfandels, but at barrel tasting an absolute zoo.  Way too many party busses.


This winery is off a side road near the end of dry creek.  You taste in an underground cave.  The wines are okay, the setting spectacular


A nice place on the road between dry creek and route 101 (Canyon road).  Not pretentious, but a nice variety of wines to taste.


Korbel makes sparkling wines (aka Champagne), and offers tours of their cellars. Again, it's worth touring a champagne maker or two just to find out how the process works, and theirs is a very good tour.  Korbel is one of the largest producers of quality sparklers and is a contrast with some of the other small producers.

Paso Robles Area

This is  often called "central cost".  There are over 100 wineries in the inland town of Paso Robles on route 101, and it's a great area for robust reds, with a climate that allows the grapes to get very mature.  It's not yet as touristy as the Napa/Sonoma area, though a lot of wineries have tasting fees and or "purchase a glass with a taste" deals (really a bad idea for airline bound tourists).  It's a great area for Syrah, Petit Syrah, and Zinfandel, though most wineries import grapes from the cooler weather areas (Monterrey, Sanata Barbara, etc.) to fill out a complete line.

Rabbit Ridge

We still like Rabbit Ridge, though the selection changed a bit after they moved to Paso -- fewer Zinfandels and more Rhone varietals.  The big thing about them is they make some very drinkable bargain wines, as low as $40/case, making it a great place to pick up some every day wine.  They are a bit out of the way north of Paso and west of 101, not on all maps, and as of now at least open only on weekends


Lohr is north of Paso and east of 101 and makes some great wines.  Many of their big volume wines have national distribution and both the Chardonay and the Cabernet are good bargains, but the tasting room has a lot more limited production wines.  Their "Gestures" series is excellent for the price.


EOS was recently sold to another wine company who moved the tasting room to where Firestone vineyards once was, along route46 not far off 101.  While in the past they focussed on reds, since moving they make a greater variety of wines.  Not exceptional, but they always seem to have good bargains on quantities.

Tobin James

They are a long way out on 46 East, but worth the trip.  They were recommended by someone we met locally as a source of good big reds, and the tasting didn't disappoint.  Really big Zinfandels, Syrahs, Petite Syrah, and other varieties, expecially in their reserve wines.  Better yet, they have one of the best wine club deals around -- two shipments of 8 bottles each a year, each for a fixed price that's over half off the list, and free shipping.  Hard to lose, especially when all the wines are outstanding..


This unlikely winery is on a goat track not far from Lohr.  They have a great food department (lots of cheese) in addition to good reds sold under several different labels.  (Note, I think this winery was renamed or sold and may no longer produce the same things.)

Vino Robles

A new winery near 46 East.  They have an interesting tasting room with interesting artwork, and offer a wine and cheese pairing (worth the extra cost).  The wines are good and showed up on a couple of restaurant wine liests.

Wild Horse

An out of the way winery south and east of Paso.  They are known for Pinot (quite good), but the tasting room has a big assortment of wines.  Don't judge them on their mass market wines (which are decent, not awesome), but try the reserves and the tasting room only varietals.


Another winery with a big distribution of their "California" wines, but some nice local wines that are available only at the winery.  They have a very nice garden.  They also do a wine/cheese pairing


On 46E near the Hunter Ranch golf course, this one was recommended to us by a local.  They have a wide assortment of good reds and what impresses us seems to be different every year.  Their grounds are nice (including two steel sculptures of pigs), and they have nice stained glass in their tasting room.  They also offer a tour on weekends.


This is one of several wineries on 46W that specialize in Zinfandel.  They have a great reputation and excellent wines, but very high priced (and an expensive tasting)


A disappointment.  Another Zin speciallist near 46W, they didn't have much to taste, but didn't reduce the tasting fee!  (NOte -- I think this winery folded or was renamed)

Peachy Canyon.

The name doesn't suggest great wine, but in fact this little place in an old schoolhouse near 46W has great Zins and other robust reds at reasonable prices.  Also a nice tasting policy (reasonable fee for a lot of tastes).


A small winery near Peachy Canyon and Castoro featuring blends.  Great wines and a reasonable tasting deal.

Grey Wolf.

This is a very small winery on 46 West.  We weren't all that impressed with the wine.


This is a new (2010) winery with nice wines, but relatively pricey both for tasting and purchase.  (The building itself is interesting and very nice)


Another "46 West" winery with good Zins, Syrahs, and a variety of reds.  We once ordered a case here once. They have a nice picnic area and are a good bargain.

Hunt Cellars.

This winery on 46W was a real winner.  It's owned by a now blind musician  and the tasting room pourer said he supervises all the blends and releases, feeling he can tell more about the wine than most because of a heightened sense of.  We would agree based on our experience here.  Many wines are released signficantly more aged than others we tasted at.  The wines aren't cheap, but definitely worth it.  (*** Look for specials and ask for shipping specials.  We hit one that allowed us free shipping on 4 or more wines, including deeply discounted older vineyards)


One of the oldest wineries in the area with old vines Zinfandel and many other wines.  This one was recommended by a couple of people but we weren't really impressed.  (Maybe we didn't get to taste their best stuff.)


This is a very small winery up a long one lane gravel driveway off a side road near Rotta.  They actually have two lines from what were two wineries, one making ports and one red wines.  The ports were excellent and some very different.


This winery is WAY out in the boonies west of Paso Robles, but the road out there is actually not bad.  They have some very nice red blends, which is one reason we went, but were disappointed that the tasting is more touristy (you have to buy a glass -- ugh!).  They also have a B&B and restaurant.  A very nice setting though with an educational display on training vines for wine growing.

Chronic Cellars.

Another winery out in the boonies and relatively new.  (2010?)  All their wines feature "dead head" style artwork and curious names, but the wines are excellent.  Very low production and limited distribution.

JanKris (Now renamed Veris)

Right across from Castoro.  This winery has good bargain wines -- very reasonable price for good quality reds.  They also have a line of flavored sparkling and desert wines.  As of 2011, this winery was going under a different name (Veris) still using JanKris for their wines.

Other places to taste wine

While then Napa/Snoma area is most famous for wine tasting, there are wineries in almost every state in the US and in many countries and the formula is almost always the same. Here are few places we have sampled.

Other parts of California

You can taste wine just about anywhere in California. Here are a few places:

Washington State

The main growing area is in the valley east of the Cascades, but many wineries there have tasting rooms in the Seattle area.  Their are many wineries and tasting rooms along interstate 82 between Yakima and the Tri Cities area.  Too many to give much detail here but plenty of nice places to taste.  The Walla Walla area also has a great collection of Wineries, some world famous.  Get a local tasting map and don't neglect the small ones with tasting rooms in the industrial park adjacent to the local airport.  There are also locally grown wines near Seattle including on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.


Oregon has many good wineries in the central valley where I5 runs and the surrounding slopes.  Most are in the foothills of the coastal ranges just south and east of Portland.  Pinot Noir is the featured grape, but they grow everything here.


Not known as a wine producing region, but there are several wine producers in the valley near Grand Junction.  There are also one or two across the border in Utah, in spite of Mormon traditions and liquor laws. 

New York

New York grows wines in two areas, one in the Finger Lakes area and the other north of Niagara Falls on the shores of Lake Ontario. The Finger lakes area is mostly sweeter wines, while the Lake Ontario area has a variety.

Rhode Island?

Yes, there are wineries in Rhode Island along the ocean east of Naragansset Bay.


Hawaii has at least 2 wineries, one on Maui on the slopes of Haleakela famous for pineapple wine, but also growing traditional grape varietals, and another near the Volcano on the island of Hawaii which produces unusual tropical fruit wines.


An Alaskan winery?  You have to be kidding.  No, not really, Bear Creek Winery is in Homer AK, and makes wines from local berries sometimes mixed with mainland grapes or grape wines.  The wines are interesting, and the tasting experience is very good (at least as of June 2011).  Their wines appear on restaurant menus across Alaska.  (Alaska also has several "meaderies", which make an alcoholic fermented beverage from local honey.


Canada produces wines in at least 2 areas, one on the south shore of Lake Ontario near the wine growing area in New York, and the other in the valleys in the southern part of British Columbia, with a climate like Washington State. They welcome tourists though there is a charge to taste in many places.  In 2009 we made a tour of the Okanagan valley, which in many ways is similar to the California wine areas.  In general the wineries get more numerous and the wines more intense and complex as you move south in the valley, but many wineries source grapes from the southern part of the valley to complete their offerings.  Here are some we tasted at:

Grey Monk (Northern Kelowana)

This is a larger winery north of Kelowana.  We enjoyed a good experience here.


Austraila is a major wine producer. The Hunter Valley area north of Sydney is probably the most established and most famous, but most of the wine is actuall grown in South Australia near Adelaide. The Hunter Valley struck us much like Napa was 15 years ago before it got more commercial -- small wineries, lodgings, and basically farm country.


France is probably still the top producer of wine in the world.  I am lucky enough to have been to Bordeaux several times for my "day" job and had the opportunity to taste wines in the area.  As in the US there are places you can taste and tour for free and others which will charge you.  Some places, especially in the best known areas, offer tastings only in conjunction with purchases (not clear how this really works since you won't know if you want to buy until you taste).  The Medoc region northwest of Bordeaux features large operations with large Chateaux to tour and is geared towards a tourist trade, while the area near St Emillion and Pomerol to the southeast has many very small wine makers (there are in fact thousands of them) and is not as tourist oriented.  We found that in contrast to the US, where more wineries tend to be open on weekends, in France the smaller operations were often open only week days and not during the lunch "hour" (12-2).   Many of the small towns feature a "Maison du Vin", a wine store selling the products of the local area which offer tastings, often for free.  Do, however, tour a wine maker as the age of the facilities and difference in techniques is interesting.  In the area near St Emillion the underground works where they store the wine are amazing, especially considering most were excavated by hand without disturbing the vineyards above.  Keep in mind baggage and customs limitations if you buy in France.  Many places advertise shipping to the US though I don't know how this works.

Warren Montgomery