It’s that time of year again: the end of summer is approaching, and your next vacation won’t be until the holidays, in another four months. How do you beat burnout and keep up your strength for the rest of the work year? For Californians, the answer is easy: get in your car, turn off the iPhone, and take a weekend getaway trip to one of the state’s nearly 4,000 extraordinary wineries.
There’s no better time to escape to one of California’s vineyards. Thankfully, the state’s resilient wineries have emerged largely intact after some of the worst wildfires in history, but many of the small growers and producers need our support to fully bounce back. Visiting these beautiful places isn’t only good for your mental health; it’s a way to support the local businesses that make Californian such a wonderful, vibrant place. Here are my four favorite can’t-miss wineries all across California right now:
Russian River Valley: La Crema
La Crema, part of the Jackson Family Wines powerhouse, has emerged as one of the top producers in California for Burgundian varieties. Its wine growers were some of the first to explore the Russian River Valley, and the four decades of experience they’ve had producing Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays show. La Crema unites luxury with accessibility, delivering extraordinary wines that discerning oenophiles and wine novices alike can enjoy. The cool, windy climate means that grapes remain on the vine for longer periods of time, imbuing the wines with a deeper, more dramatic flavor profile and aromas that are typical of other parts of the state. La Crema’s vineyards are all harvested gently and often at night to ensure that the wines remain true to the variety and the terroir.
What I recommend: The 2015 Kelli Ann Chardonnay and 2015 Shell Ridge Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay is aged in French oak and has a wonderful nose of pear, golden apple, sweet lemon, and spices. The blackberry, pomegranate, orange zest, and cedar aromas of the Pinot perfectly express the richness of the Goldridge loam from which the grapes are harvested.
Russian River Valley: Hartford Family Winery
This charming family-owned winery specializes in single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and old vine Zinfandel. Recent vintages produce about 25 different single vineyard bottlings, and the single vineyard Hartford Court Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays total as few as 93 cases, up to about 800 cases. Small and low-yielding vineyards deliver expressive and personality-rich wine that you won’t soon forget. Hartford Winery is located 15 minutes from the ocean, providing a beautiful and secluded spot for weddings and other formal events.
What I love: The Old Vine Zinfandel comes from some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in California. These zinfandels are bold, deliciously complex, and impossibly silky. Their strong personalities reflect the distinctive terroir.
Mendocino: Lula Cellars
I love this boutique winery, located in the remote “Deep End” of the Anderson Valley. Their annual case production is just around 3,000 cases, with a focus on single vineyard offerings from Mendocino, as well as Estate and Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs. Lula pulls off an impressive balancing act, keeping their offerings distinct but offering a broad enough range to keep everyone happy. Lula can be found on a beautiful 22-acre property in Philo, a 2.5-hour drive north of San Francisco. It’s the perfect stop on the way to or from festivals — and as an added, bonus, it’s dog-friendly!
What I love: I can’t get enough of the Costa Pinot Noir, which is earthy, dark, and wonderfully spicy. It’s perfect enjoyed now, or in a few years.
Los Angeles Area: Byron Blatty Wines
Wines in southern California? Byron Blatty wines are ushering in that future. After years of quietly purchasing grapes from small, unknown LA vineyards, the Byron Blatty team produced their first wines last fall to wide acclaim. Husband and wife team Mark and Jenny Blatty have deep roots in Los Angeles (Mark’s grandfather, William Peter Blatty, is the Oscar-winning screenplay writer of The Exorcist), and they are committed to producing luxury wine from local Los Angeles County fruit. Their vineyards range from the Sierra Pelona Valley to the Antelope Valley of the California High Desert to the Leona Valley and Malibu Coast AVAs. These wines are known for their power, finesse, and acid retention.
What I love: Byron Blatty Los Angeles County Contingent 2014. This 50% Syrah and 50% Cabernet Franc is something special. Produced in a tiny vineyard in the Leona Valley AVA, in the northeast corner of LA County, at a 3,200 ft. elevation, this wine is a stunning explosion of flavor and aromas.