Travel California Wine Country's Back Roads This Summer
California's northern Central Coast, extending from San Francisco Bay to Monterey County, is this month's focus as part of Wine Institute's Wine Country Back Roads series. California is home to some of the world's most famous destinations, but hidden among high-profile appellations are wine roads less traveled. These regions feature stunning rural scenery, delicious wines and, often, fewer visitors. There's still time this summer to discover off-the-beaten path wine roads, and the Central Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains are a great place to do it.
TASTE: Not far from San Francisco, with its famous hills and Victorian architecture, find several hospitable wineries on Treasure Island and near the East Bay cities of Moraga, Oakland and Berkeley to help you kick off your Central Coast adventure.
Livermore Valley, 35 miles east of San Francisco, is the one of the state's oldest wine regions and the genetic source of 80 percent of California's Chardonnay vines. Along with Chardonnay, Livermore is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and Italian, Rhone and Spanish varieties. Discover the region's rolling hills and scenic canyons along the Burgundy Wine Trail, or enjoy mountain vistas on the Red Trail.
The Santa Clara Valley, also known today as Silicon Valley, includes 30 wineries, many near Gilroy and San Martin. Heading west, the Santa Cruz Mountains region was among the first American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to be defined by its steep mountain topography. The area played a pivotal role in California's winemaking history with viticultural roots going back more than a century. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot predominate on the warmer eastern inland side of the AVA, while Pinot Noir thrives on the coastal side and ridge tops. The region boasts 60 wineries. For a scenic overview, try the Silicon Valley Wine Trail or the coastal Corralitos Wine Trail.
San Benito County, 75 miles southeast of Santa Cruz, has been growing winegrapes since the mid-1800s. The region grows a wide variety of grapes but is best known for Pinot Noir and Syrah. Find wineries near the towns of Hollister and San Juan Bautista.
Heading back to the coast, Monterey County is known or having one of California's longest growing seasons, thanks to cool marine air that blows in from Monterey Bay. Franciscan friars introduced winegrapes to the area more than 200 years ago, and over 40 varieties are planted there today—including more Chardonnay than in any other county in America. With 82 wineries, Monterey offers an array of tasting opportunities. The River Road Wine Trail, set among the canyons and slopes of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, highlights Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Beautiful Carmel Valley is renowned for producing rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
TOUR: The Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Passport event on July 20 includes special tastings at 40 participating wineries. Use the passport for a full year after the event and visit the nearby Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Livermore Valley hosts Taste Our Terroir July 25-28, a food and wine affair offering tasting, garden tours, food pairing and more. Music in the vineyards is a Santa Clara specialty, with performances scheduled at wineries throughout the summer. While visiting San Benito County, take a hike at Pinnacles National Monument, formed by ancient volcanos. On Monterey's Cannery Row, sample local wines at A Taste of Monterey and visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium or John Steinbeck Museum.
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