Mini guide to California's wineries

Savour a chardonnay on a sun-dappled hillside or in a designer tasting room – Napa and Sonoma's wine countries produce some of the world’s finest vintages.

Savour a hearty Cab Sav or a Chardonnay while you picnic on a sun-dappled hillside or inside a designer tasting room – Napa and Sonoma wine country produces some of the world’s finest vintages.

Sonoma Valley
Sonoma’s family-owned Kaz is all about blends: whatever’s in the organic vineyards goes into the wine, and they’re blended at crush (harvest). Kids can sample grape juice in the playground while you pop your favourite LPs on the turntable and relax. Bottles from £15 (233 Adobe Canyon Road; 11am– 5pm Fri–Mon, by appointment Tue–Thu; tastings £3).

One of Sonoma Valley’s oldest and prettiest, Gundlach-Bundschu looks like a storybook castle. Founded in 1858 by Bavarian immigrant Jacob Gundlach, it’s now at the cutting edge of sustainability. Cave tours are available by reservation (£13). It’s a good bike-to winery, with picnicking, hiking and a small lake. Bottles cost from £14 (2000 Denmark Street, 11am–4.30pm, Fri–Sun May–Oct; tastings £6).

The name, Little Vineyards, fits at this family owned small-scale winery, big on atmosphere, with a weathered tasting bar and a lazy dog to greet you. If you are new to wine, consider the introductory class (£16; call ahead). There’s good picnicking on the terrace with views of the vineyard that grows big reds such as Syrah, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel and Cab. Bottles cost from £13 (15188 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen; 11am–4.30pm Thu–Mon; tastings £6).

Napa Valley
Begin or end the day with a glass of bubbly or Pinot at Artesa Winery, southwest of Napa. Built into a mountainside, the ultra-modern, Barcelona style is designed to blend into the landscape. You can’t beat the vistas over San Pablo Bay from the terrace. Free tours leave at 11am and 2pm. Bottles cost from £13 (1345 Henry Road; 10am–5pm; tastings from £6).

Meandering paths wind through gardens and fruit-bearing orchards surrounding an 1884 barn and farmstead with cats and chickens at Frog’s Leap. It’s the vibe that’s wonderful: down-to-earth with an emphasis on fun. Sauvignon Blanc is its best-known wine, but the Merlot merits attention. There’s also a dry, restrained Cabernet, atypical in Napa. All are organic. Bottles cost from £13 (8815 Conn Creek Road; 10am– 4pm; tours and tastings £13).

High atop Spring Mountain, cult favourite Pride Mountain straddles the Napa-Sonoma border and bottles vintages under both appellations. The well-structured Cab Sav and heavy-hitting Merlot are the best-known wines, but there’s also elegant Viognier and standout Cab Franc. Bottles from £37 (4026 Spring Mountain Road; tour at 10am, tastings 10.30am–3.45pm, closed Tue; tasting £6).

Russian River
Hartford Family Winery sits in a pastoral valley surrounded by redwood-forested hills, on one of the area’s prettiest roads. It specialises in single-vineyard Pinot, Chardonnay and Zinfandel, some from old-vine fruit. Umbrella-shaded picnic tables dot the garden. Bottles from £25 (8075 Martinelli Road, Forestville; 10am–4.30pm; tastings from £10).

Inside a vintage 1920s garage, the tasting bar of Porter Creek, a father-and- son enterprise, is a former bowling-alley lane, plunked atop barrels. High-acid, food-friendly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are specialities, but there’s silky Zinfandel and other Burgundianand Rhône-style wines too. Bottles from £15 (8735 Westside Rd, Healdsburg; daily 10.30am– 4.30pm; tastings £6).

At Preston Vineyards, weathered picket fencing frames the farmhouse-turned-tasting room, with candy-coloured walls setting a country mood. The signature is citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, but try the Rhône varietals and small-lot wines: Mourvèdre, Viognier, Cinsault and Barbera. Bottles of wine from £15. Homemade bread and olive oil is also on offer (9282 West Dry Creek Rd; 11am–4.30pm; tasting £6).

BA, Virgin and United all fly direct to San Francisco from London Heathrow, while numerous airlines fly with one stop from other major UK cities (from £635). The valleys are 90 minutes’ drive from San Francisco. You’ll need a car for vineyard hopping, or stick to downtown Napa or downtown Sonoma, where you can rent bikes (from £25 per day; sonoma from £16 per day).

Where to stay
A 10-minute drive from downtown Calistoga, Mountain Home Ranch is a 340-acre homestead ranch doubling as a retreat. Choose from simple lodge rooms, rustic cabins and cottages. With miles of woodland trails, a hilltop pool, private lake with canoeing and fishing, and a hike to warm springs, there’s lots to keep you busy (3400 Mountain Home Ranch Road; from £45).

Surrounded by horse pastures, Beltane Ranch is a 19th-century throwback. The cheerful 1892 ranch house occupies 100 acres and has double porches lined with swinging chairs and white wicker (11775 Sonoma Highway; from £95).

Carneros Inn’s 86 retro, smalltown themed semi-detached cottages are decked out with cherrywood flooring, heatedslate bathroom floors, giant tubs and indoor-outdoor showers (4048 Sonoma Highway; from £305).

The article 'Mini guide to California's wineries' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.