Five Great Wine-Themed Drives: California, USA

Beautiful vineyard in California, USA

© Shutterstock


Beautiful vineyard in California, USA

© Shutterstock

Route 101, California, USA

Forget Highway 66, for wine lovers it’s all about Route 101. Running from Los Angeles right up to Olympia in Washington State, Route 101’s Californian leg brings a steady procession of enticingly familiar names.

Escape LA and after an hour and a half’s drive north you’ll arrive in Santa Barbara, whose wines have gained a celebrity status to match many of the residents here thanks to the book and subsequent film, Sideways. One of the region’s top producers, Au Bon Climat, helpfully has a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara, but after that warm up head into the rolling hills of Santa Ynez Valley. Pinot Noir may have put this place on the map, but don’t overlook the support acts: just try the Syrah from Piedrasassi or Qupé, also masters of Marsanne. Then there’s the new-wave Californian Chardonnay from Sandhi. Tuck into serious steak and more Pinot at legendary destination The Hitching Post in Buellton.

Another couple of hours up the 101 lies Paso Robles. There’s a mind-boggling array of grapes and blends here, but Cabernet blends, Rhône styles and that Californian specialism Zinfandel stand out from the crowd. Test that theory for yourself with visits to Daou, Tablas Creek – a joint venture with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel – and Turley respectively. Make sure you’re eating the finest local produce too by booking a table at popular farm-to-table restaurant Thomas Hill Organics.

Don’t be tempted to head straight to San Francisco from here. The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is a highlight of the Monterey County wine scene, home to exciting producers including Morgan and hotly sought after Pisoni Vineyards. Then there’s the Santa Cruz Mountains, where you’ll find Ridge’s famous Montebello estate. Many Sonoma-based big names also source fruit here: Kutch, Ghostwriter and Ceritas to name a few.

It’s never possible to visit every vineyard on your list, but San Francisco is a great place to fill in the gaps. Head to Arlequin Wines for one of the best curated selections in town. Either enjoy the bottle in the store’s hidden courtyard garden or check the corkage policy at your chosen restaurant – many places here charge a fairly modest fee.

At last, it’s time to head over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the wine paradise that is Sonoma. Base yourself in Healdsburg and eat at The Matheson, where you can wash down beautifully presented local produce with some of the 88 wines available by the glass. Producers such as Littorai, Hirsch and Williams-Selyem more than justify this region’s Pinot reputation, but Sonoma is no one-trick pony. Just try Zinfandel from Seghesio, Cabernet from Laurel Glen and the dazzling smorgasbord of varieties united under the Bedrock Wine Co label. Somehow still thirsty? The 101 will carry you on up to Mendocino for a hit of Italian-American wine heritage and a glass of fine fizz from Anderson Valley: the perfect end to an epic trip. Unless, of course, you decide to push on to Oregon...