Whether you’re a serious oenophile or a newbie looking to learn more about different varietals, September’s California Wine Month lets you savor the very best of Golden State winemaking during dozens of events—including regional festivals, special dinners, vineyard tours, and intimate tastings with the winemakers themselves.
It takes a big event, after all, to capture the sheer scale and diversity of the California wine scene. With 139 American Viticultural Areas scattered over more than 800 miles—from tiny Seiad Valley just south of the Oregon border to the sprawling South Coast AVA that reaches all the way to Mexico—California produces 81 percent of the wine made in the United States.
The geographic range and variety of events during wine month mean that you’ll need to plan ahead. The good news is that the state’s biggest metropolitan areas and airport hubs—San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Sacramento—all put you within a couple of hours or less of several different wine regions, from Mendocino County in the north to Amador County in Gold Country down to Temecula Valley east of San Diego. It’s also easy to pair Wine Month celebrations with trips to major California destinations. On the way to Yosemite National Park from the Bay Area or Sacramento, for instance, you can follow the Madera Wine Trail into one of the country’s oldest grape-growing regions for visits to small, family-owned wineries.
Just over an hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma County is—no surprise—one major center for Wine Month, with activities at individual wineries and a region-wide annual event, Taste of Sonoma, which typically takes place over Labor Day weekend. Fun fact: Sonoma County produces more Pinot Noir than any other county in the state.
While you could argue that every month is wine month in California, September is especially magical, says Gladys Horiuchi, director of media relations for the Wine Institute. “It’s the harvest,” she says. “The grapes are fully mature on the vine and some are already coming in. The smell of crushed grapes is in the air and if you get out early, you might even see the crush taking place. This is an exciting time to visit.”