With hundreds and hundreds of wineries to visit in more than 100 AVAs which spread from the Mexico border nearly up to the Oregon border, from the coast and in through the state’s many valleys, planning a California wine tour is more of an exercise of prioritization than it is in other parts of the United States.
You’ll get a good sense of what you’re in for when you download the attractive map published on California’s Wine Institute’s website. Most state wine maps indicate the location of specific wineries; California’s wine map pinpoints its AVAs.
It sounds daunting, but there is good news: You’ll always have plenty of wineries to visit on your next California trip.
Get Started:For convenience sake, the California Wine Institute, an advocacy group for the state’s wine industry, divvies up the state into six regions. Here's an overview of the regions, links to wine trail maps and to lots of other handy information to plan your California wine travels.
1. Northern California Coast
The Northern California Coast area stretches from San Francisco to just beyond Mendocino, so it also includes Mendocino and Lake counties, as well as some of Marin and Solano counties. All together, this area accounts for more than 800 wineries.
- Napa Valley Wine Country, its 15 AVAs, and links to wine maps.
- Sonoma County Wine Country, its 13 AVAs, with links to wine maps and more.
- Mendocino County Wine Map (PDF)
- Description of Mendocino County’s 10 AVAs (PDF)
- Plan your trip to Mendocino County
- Lake County Winery Map
- Plan your trip to Lake County
2. Central California Coast
Just at the midpoint between San Francisco and Los Angeles is Paso Robles, is some of the most beautiful in the country. Best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel in the reds, and Chardonnay, Viognier and Roussanne in the whites.
About thirty miles south of Paso Robles is San Luis Obispo, or SLO wine country. There are three AVAs here: Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley and Avila Valley. Specialties include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Zinfandel.
Santa Barbara county is a very popular wine destination from Los Angeles, but it’s got more than just geographic convenience on its side. The county’s part of the California shore line is unique because it juts out from west to east, rather than north to south. (Look at a map of the California coast if you find this idea confusing and you’ll see it immediately). There are four AVAs within this wine region-- the Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara -- each with very different microclimates and varietal specialties.
3. Sacramento/San Joaquin ValleyMoving inward from the coast is the vast agricultural empire of California, between the coastal range and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and covering a great deal of the state’s north-south territory.
This is California’s vineyard powerhouse, where the majority of the state’s grapes are grown. In the San Joaquin Valley, the most popular grape varietal is French Colombard, used in white jug wine – in fact, this entire region has been best known for growing grapes for jug and box wine, but that is starting to change. Check out Lodi for Zinfandel, the Sacramento Valley for Chardonnay, for instance.