What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Napa and Sonoma may get all the press, and the Gold Country may have all of that rugged history, but the wine country of California’s Central Valley has its story too. Rightly famous for its rich soils and temperate climate, the Central Valley can produce wines of character that, when compared to some of those other regions, are a great value. You may not be familiar with some of these California wine regions, but they're definitely worth investigating.

 

Yolo County

Known for its warm days and mild Delta breezes, the wine country of Yolo County yields unforgettable wines of great character and diversity. Here you’ll find outstanding Syrah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Cabernet Souvignon, but also lesser-grown varietals such as Viognier, Malbec, Primitivo, and Albarino, plus Sparkling and Port. You’re sure to find something memorable, and affordable, to suit your taste.

bogle port weekend CORKS SMALL

Virtually all of Yolo County's some two-dozen wineries are family owned and operated—including major producer Bogle Vineyards in the Clarksburg AVA—making for a more intimate experience for visitors. In the little town of Winters you can sample wines at the tasting rooms of Berryessa Gap and Turkovich Family Wines (also home to the Winters Cheese Company, which offers samples, as well). In Clarksburg, the Old Sugar Mill is a unique, historic venue, housing six tasting rooms representing eight wineries all under one roof!

Yolo County is also home to the U.C. Davis Viticulture and Enology department, as well as the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science

From Clarksburg to Davis, Winters to verdant Capay Valley and Dunnigan Hills, you’ll also enjoy gorgeous scenery, great dining opportunities, and comfortable, welcoming places to stay. For more information about Yolo County wineries and other attractions, visit www.yolocvb.org.

 

Suisun Valley

Suisun Wooden Valley Winery I 31n SMALLThree generations of the Lanza family have made Suisun wine at Wooden Valley Winery. Photo by Jo Diaz

Suisun Valley is rustic wine country, nestled in the unspoiled Solano County farmland between San Francisco and Sacramento. The Suisun Valley appellation was established in 1982, and is nestled between two coastal mountain ranges, southeast of Napa Valley. In this diverse agricultural region are approximately 10 wineries, whose vineyards grow 23 different wine grape varieties. They are best known for their Petite Sirah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you fancy Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone varietals, you must visit Ledgewood Creek, a winery named after the creek that meanders along the northern border of this estate. For lesser known varietals—such as a Malvasia Bianca made in a late harvest style—visit Blacksmith Cellars. And for a rugged, natural experience try Winterhawk Winery, which has placed owl houses and hawk boxes strategically throughout the vineyard, beckoning a wide variety of birds including Red-Tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Sparrow Hawks, and Northern Harriers.

Besides the wineries, visitors will encounter many farm stands, selling fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and freshly produced olive oils, from family farms that have been handed down for generations. There are also regular, seasonal events that are fun and laid-back. For more information about Suisun Valley wineries, visit www.suisunvalley.com.

 

Lodi

Though Lodi has produced wine for well over a hundred years, quality has soared in recent years. Growers have made commitment to the best viticultural practices and they've planted many new varieties to complement the Zinfandel which has always done well here. Located directly east of San Francisco at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, the Lodi appellation (which has seven sub-appellations) is noted for its classic Mediterranean climate and its distinctive sandy soils. Today you can choose from nearly 80 wineries that call Lodi home, an abundance that’s impossible to bypass.

Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, producing more than 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. Many of the region’s most distinctive wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines”, some dating back to the 1880s. Styles range from medium to full-bodied with intense red and black fruit flavors of cherries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Lodi is predominately a red wine producer with approximately 66 percent of the acreage dedicated to red varieties. For many years it was California’s best kept secret, enhancing the fruit in many of the state’s most popular premium varietal wines. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay account for the lion’s share of the acreage; however with more 60 varieties in commercial production Lodi offers a vast portfolio of exciting wines.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Here guests can taste from more than 200 Lodi wines and marvel at the hands-on demonstration vineyard.

For more information about Lodi wines, visit www.lodiwine.com.

 

Fresno

In the heart of the Central Valley, and a gateway to Yosemite National Park, Fresno is a surprisingly good destination for wine tasting in rambling Madera County. Nearly 20 wineries are open to visitors here, with vintners who are passionate about making the best wines possible.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Chardonnay are the leaders here, but visitors will also find excellent Tempranillo, Albarino, Sangiovese, and Barbera, plus delightful late harvest Zinfandel and luscious ports. Quality is paramount for these largely boutique wineries. For example, Engelmann Cellars focuses on creating hand-crafted reds and blends. Third-generation Ficklin Vineyards specializes in ports, including their lineup of flavored “Passport” wines. Nonini Winery, a fourth-generation family operation established in 1936, has 15 varieties of premium wines and offers a tour of the winery starting with the 1941 Garolla grape crusher from Italy and ends with the finished product resting in redwood tanks/oak barrels.

Two venues give visitors a chance to try several wines at once. Vino & Friends is a downtown Fresno wine store with a changing tasting menu. Also, be sure to stop by Appellation: California Wine Tasting & Visitor Center, which pours products from family owned wineries or vineyards of the Central Valley. The Center also offers wine education classes.

For more information about Fresno wineries and other activities in and around town, visit www.playfresno.org.

 

Editor's note: Planning a visit to any of the areas mentioned in this article? You'll find links to hundreds of lodging and dining options in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country, an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49 has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet.

Sutter Creek Main StreetSutter Creek has old west flavor.

Known for their annual travel list for international destinations and their compilation of U.S. picks for the last two years, Lonely Planet's U.S. travel editors carved out a list of what's new, interesting, and in some cases likely to be overlooked by travelers. The full list is on www.lonelyplanet.com, the company's web site with more than 10 million unique visitors monthly.

The Gold Country, ranked number six is listed as a closer, less expensive and less crowded option than Lake Tahoe and Yosemite from San Francisco. With Sacramento as its anchor, the area stretches from north of Lake Tahoe to south of Yosemite National Park's border towns. The editors' description of "towns oozing with century-old ambience strung out like throw-back pearls along Highway 49" reveals Lonely Planet's authentic editorial approach. The list points to the artsy towns as good overnight choices and mentions the growing wine region as a contender to Napa and Sonoma.

Historically known for the infamous cry of "Eureka!" and the 1949 California Gold Rush, the Gold Country region offers an abundant collection of outdoor adventures; hiking and biking, gemstone mining, exploring caverns, steam trains, historic sites, endurance competitions and triathlons, frog jumping and street fairs, and of course, panning for gold, although the quest has shifted from gold mining sifting pans to swirling golden wine a glass. The Gold Country region is home to more than 175 wineries, many with visitor center tasting rooms and the chance to walk the vineyard with the winemaker.

Lodging choices range from hostelries on Main Streets and country cottages and inns to luxury hotels in Sacramento, the state capital. Maps, directions, activities and accommodations information is at www.calgold.org.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Gold Country lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

Whether grown from the fertile earth or harvested fresh from the sea, Sonoma County's eateries embrace an eat-fresh philosophy that offers visitors a true taste of wine country.

Sonoma Co wine at picnic tableDining has close connection with the land.

Venture out beyond your resort's borders to discover a food lover's paradise: 500-plus restaurants ranging from Michelin- and Zagat-rated to casual wine country cuisine use freshly harvested, locally-grown produce.

Pay attention as you explore the lush countryside; the bounty you see today may be on your plate tonight. An abundance of fruits, vegetables and herbs blanket the countryside. Cattle, sheep, and pigs graze the landscape, chickens and turkeys scratch in the pastures, and goats and cows offer up fresh milk and cheese. Dungenesss crab, salmon and briny oysters expand menu choices.

While the "locavore movement" is changing the way the nation eats, here it’s been that way for hundreds of years. Sonoma County Farm Trails is evidence of this rich heritage. It's a culinary charm bracelet of more than 200 orchards, farms, ranches and vineyards throughout the county, offering everything from apples to zucchini.

 

Some notable restaurants to visit would include:

Santé

Santé Restaurant is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn's (www.fairmont.com/sonoma) premier dining room and has earned a national reputation for its outstanding food. Literally meaning “to your health,” the restaurant is a celebration of innovative California cuisine and good taste. Recipient of a prestigious Michelin Star as well as the AAA Four Diamond award, Santé is the only restaurant in the Sonoma Valley to receive these accolades.

Guests enjoy a seasonal menu, in a warm and casual yet stylish setting. Designed to exude the California wine country experience, Chef Andrew Cain showcases the region’s abundant local products and world-famous wines. Only the freshest local produce, meats, poultry and seafood are used to create elegantly simple dishes that let the natural flavors of the food speak for themselves.

The Farmhouse

Located in the small town of Forestville, California in the Russian River Valley Region of Sonoma County's famed wine country, the Farmhouse (www.farmhouseinn.com) represents the finest level of Sonoma inns, restaurants and spas - where sublime guestrooms, farm-fresh food and seasonal body treatments come together in one unforgettable experience.

Nestled in the heart of the Russian River Valley wine region, the "country-chic" Farmhouse is a Michelin-star, top Zagat-reviewed restaurant for the San Francisco Bay Area and has been a San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurant four years running. Chef Steve Litke offers "sublime" seasonal California-French cuisine showcasing local, artisan ingredients. The restaurant's signature dish is "Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit," rabbit prepared three ways, all delicious.

Viola Pastry Boutique & CafeBy opening Viola Pastry Boutique & Cafe (www.violapastryboutique.com), Jennifer McMurry celebrates her grandmother, Viola, who was the heart and soul of her family. McMurry has always wanted to share her grandmother's love of food and cooking with others. Cakes, cookies, pastries and cupcakes head the pastry menu.

Want something savory, a full menu for breakfast includes eggs Benedict, breakfast sandwich or burrito, chillaquiles, huevos rancheros, and veggie hash. Sandwiches, soups, paninis and more are lunch and dinner fare. Did we mention pastries?

Applewood Inn

This Sonoma County restaurant, located in the Russian River Valley, is highly regarded for its exquisite cuisine, soothing atmosphere, polished guest services, and its mellow earthy ambiance. The cozy restaurant was built to recall a French barn, yet gives one the feeling of being at a fine Italian villa. The restaurant is part of Applewood Inn (www.applewoodinn.com), a Sonoma County bed and breakfast boutique hotel.

Jackson's Bar and Oven and Petite Syrah

Diners rave about popular chef Josh Silvers’ two Santa Rosa restaurants - Jackson's Bar & Oven (www.jacksonsbarandoven.com)and Petite Syrah (www.petitesyrah.com). Both in historic Railroad Square, Jackson's is a more casual, family-friendly eaterie, with a menu that centers on dishes from the kitchen's wood-fired oven. Petite Syrah, created from Silvers’ elegant Syrah Bistro, offers small plates in a wine country casual atmosphere.

Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe

Chef Jeffrey Madura, former head chef at the epitome of wine country restaurants John Ash & Co., has opened the doors to his own cafe. Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe (www.jeffreyshillsidecafe.com) sees Madura moving away from elegant evening service to a hot breakfast, lunch and brunch spot.

After 20 years as executive chef at John Ash & Co., Madura left in 2008 to spend more time with his family. He realized he loved not working nights, but he missed the creativity of cooking. Now, if you want to sample his fare, be there early. The cafe is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County and other North Coast areas can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.