Every year millions of people flock to the world renownd wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma in northern California as well as Paso Robles and Santa Barbara on the Central Coast. Did you know there’s more to see when it comes to California wine? Why fight the crowds when you can drink really good wine in an area where you can still talk to the winemakers and vineyard owners directly in their own tasting rooms?
Mendocino: It was meant to be, after all Mendocino is virtually surrounded by other famous wine regions. Sonoma County ends only a few miles to its south and Oregon wine country grows world class Pinot Noir in a similar climate only a two hour drive to the north. In the past few years, Mendocino has seen expanding production as well as increasing quality among its hundred member wineries. The coastal areas of Mendocino focus (not surprisingly) on Pinot Noir, while the warmer inland valley’s have some of the best old vine zinfandel vineyards in the world. For tourists, there is an added bonus that the towns of Ukiah and Mendocino are among the most picturesque small towns still standing in California.
El Dorado County: For a while it seemed that El Dorado County would continue as one of the fastest (if not the fastest) growing locations in California in terms of both population as well as wine production. Things slowed down after the real estate crash of 08, but the upgraded wine facilities have stuck because this is truly the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s also home to the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state of California, while a burgeoning Rhone varietal program (Syrah is doing especially well) is driving growth. Staying in the small, walkable and often snowy town of Placerville in the Sierra Foothills is one fun and exciting option, especially if you’re someone who wants to experience the snow during winter, but doesn’t want a harrowing drive in order to do so.
Lodi: If you go across the bay from San Francisco into Oakland/Berkeley and then continue another 45 miles east you’ll find yourself more or less in Lodi. Lodi is famous in the wine industry largely because some of the best value wines have long been produced there, even having the claim to fame that the Mondavi family actually produced all of its wine at their Lodi facility for a time (before the word estate helped to sell wine). These days it’s a fun place to taste some wine largely because the region is still working out exactly what it wants to be. There will also be true value offerings, but no one wants to only make wine at $10 and under. They’re producing better wine in the hills above town where vines are stretched more and taking more chances in terms of wine names and marketing than any other region in the state. The results are memorable on a few levels not the least of which is downtown Lodi which feels like stepping back in time at least 50 years.
Written by Mark Aselstine, owner of Uncorked Ventures a high end luxury wine club and gift basket business based in the San Francisco Bay Area.