10 Great West Coast Wine Escapes
by Brie Cadman
Many oenophiles head straight to Napa for their wine tasting travels. Napa’s great of course, but the entire west coast of North America has much to offer in the way of wineries, from the cool climates of Canada to the hot desert of Baja. Here are ten wine tasting destinations that will have you saying “awesome” and “aye!” from north to south.
Vancouver, British Columbia
While I was driving through BC last summer, I was surprised to see numerous grapevine signs, indicating the presence of a tasting room or vineyard. In fact, Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands (known by vintners as the “Wine Islands”) are densely packed with wineries, cideries, and something you won’t find in the states—meaderies. Most of the grape varietals are those that can handle cooler climates, like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer, and many of the vineyards are small lot and family owned. A fun trip would include a stay at Salt Spring Vineyards, a quant bed & breakfast, winery, and vineyard located on salt spring island; tasting at Garry Oaks Winery; and boating over to Vancouver Island for a visit to Venturi-Schulze Vineyards, a winery and balsamic vinegary (hopefully, you’ll be able to tell which is which!).
Walla Walla in Washington
Washington State has nine distinct wine-growing regions, also known as American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) or appellations. Down near the Oregon border is the Walla Walla appellation, home to a cluster of eighty wineries. Their proximity makes it easy to maximize your tasting time while minimizing your transport time. Try to go during the Spring Release Weekend in May, when winemakers are pouring their new wines, or the first weekend in June for the Vintage Walla Walla, when cellar rooms are pillaged for the best old ones.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
The Willamette Valley appellation and its subappellations are Oregon’s largest wine growing region—home to over 300 wineries. Before you start exploring, stop off for a Friday night tasting and some expert friendly advice from the folks at Gem Wine Cellar in Portland. Heading southwest, get your bubbly fix at Argyle Winery, where sparkling wine is served from a charming farmhouse, and then onto Amity Vineyards for some serious Pinot tasting.
Boonville, Anderson Valley
Wine tasting in and around Boonville, located in Anderson Valley, is like the place itself—relaxed, friendly, and mellow. Choose from among two dozen wineries, ranging from the small, like Standish Wine Company and Lazy Creek Vineyards, to the more established like Goldeneye, Navarro, and Roederer Estate. There are no big hotels or fancy restaurants, but general stores and small eateries will keep you fed and happy.
Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg
The West Dry Creek Road will reward you with beautiful scenery, quiet roads, and some of the best Zinfandel in the area. Go during September and October when the weather is moderate and the vineyard leaves are ablaze with oranges, reds, and yellows. With wooden guideposts leading the way, it’s easy to navigate around the area; pack a picnic and plan on spending a day or two.
Still in Sonoma County, yet worlds away from the inland appellations are the wineries of the vast area known as the Sonoma Coast. Once thought to be too foggy and too wet to grow grapes, this expansive stretch of coastline now has Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards planted above the fogline. Beaches, rugged cliffs, wine, and seafood make this a must stop on your way down south.
There are two ways to do Napa: visit the heavily touristed, commercial wineries, spend a lot of money and get a highly impersonal experience; or go to the small, family owned wineries, get a chance to learn about the wine from the winemaker, and get a highly personal and friendly experience. I choose the latter. First stop would be my family’s winery, Tulocay, where you’ll be entertained with stories from owner Bill Cadman (my dad), as he treats you to samplings of Napa’s finest Zinfandels, Cabs, and Pinots, and where you’ll be instantly befriended by Lucky, the winery cat. Next head to Buoncristiani Winery, where one of the four Buoncristiani brothers is sure to be on hand to answer your wine questions.
Santa Cruz Mountains
Santa Cruz is a fun place to visit, but usually I go for the beaches or the surf. However, tucked away in the hills are seventy small wineries, some of them very well known (Ridge’s Cabernet was voted best in the world), and others so small they don’t have tasting rooms. Whatever your inclinations, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association lists them all.
This coastal wine growing region received widespread recognition in the movie Sideways and what better way to visit the area than to recreate the adventures (at least the ones involving wine) of Miles and Jack. On the list is Sanford, a winery known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; Kalyra, a fun winery with an Australian flair; and Sea Smoke, which has some smokin’ Pinots.
When I visit the Baja Peninsula, I’m usually drinking Tecate or tequila, not wine. Recently, however, I have noticed an upswing in the number of vineyards and wineries in the Ensenada area. My next trip down I definitely want to explore the valle de guadelupe, Baja’s wine growing region, and stop at wineries like L.A. Cetto, Monte Xanic, and Chateau Camou. Though the potholed filled dirt roads and sidewalk taco stands will be sure to remind me I’m not in the Napa Valley—perhaps that’s the point.