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How to Experience California Wine Month This Year

How to Experience California Wine Month This Year

The annual celebration of California’s grape harvest carries on safely with fun virtual events, as well as new protocols for vineyard visits and tastings

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It’s hard to imagine needing an excuse to indulge in a glass of California wine—especially this year—but what better reason to head out to the vineyard, whether in person or virtually, than California Wine Month?

Taking place throughout September at vineyards and restaurants from Temecula to Trinity Lakes, the festivities will include wine tastings, special wine and food pairings, livestreamed auctions—and yes, discounts on bottles and cases—to celebrate the late-summer grape harvest underway by California’s 4,200 vintners and 5,900 grape growers.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, California Wine Month has transformed into a series of virtual events highlighting the Golden State’s more than 250-year winemaking history. So, get ready to savor Cabernets, take a cooking class live from Napa, and stomp grapes (you read that correctly), right at home. There’s even a Spotify playlist of chill California and wine-themed songs to transport you to the vineyards—if only virtually—from wherever you are.

Of course, many of the Golden State’s vintners are also welcoming visitors back to their properties, with some new protocols in place to keep things safe, relaxing, and fun. Tasting room operations may have moved outdoors, so plan accordingly and dress for the weather. Making reservations and sticking to small groups of six or less is also highly recommended, as vineyards work to ensure proper physical distancing. Tours may also be limited to people from the same household. (For more tips on how to plan ahead, read What You Need to Know About Visiting California Wineries.)

The good news is that many vineyards and restaurants boast ample outdoor spaces to take in views of California’s spectacular wine country while you taste. At Vitagliano Estate Vineyards, sip Tuscan varietals while overlooking the panorama of Temecula Valley’s rolling hills. In Mendocino, try a handcrafted wine from the Pacific Star Winery, nestled in the ocean cliffs near Fort Bragg. (Be sure to keep an eye out for passing whales, too.) Try the special California wine tasting flight at Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar in Napa while enjoying views of downtown and the valley beyond, or reserve your own private cabana to try a seasonal lunch paired with the sparkling wines at Domaine Chandon. Also in Napa, Hall Winery’s St. Helena location offers private, reservations-only outdoor tastings all day long.

Visitors to Sonoma County can purchase a Sonoma County Tasting Pass online for on-site deals offered by 20 local craft beverage makers, including not only wineries but breweries, cideries, and micro distilleries as well. At Malene Wines in San Luis Obispo County, guests receive bottles of hand sanitizer during their pre-poured Rosé tasting experience next to the winery’s adorable Airstream tasting room. And in Fresno County—home to thirteen wineries, two breweries and a distillery—the Fresno County Wine Journey beckons visitors to taste their way through them all, with the added allure of food trucks, dinners, and nights of live music.

Even if you’re not in wine country this summer and fall, you can still be part of California Wine Month. Read on for highlights of this year’s amazing virtual offerings, and visit Discover California Wine for the full list of festivities. Note: Although wildfires continue to affect Northern California, the impact on wineries has been minimal—updates can be found here.

Sip and Color to Celebrate California Cabernet

Grab your coloring pencils or paints, download the coloring template, pop open a bottle (or three) of J. Lohr Cabernet, and transport yourself to the Paso Robles vineyard for a relaxing coloring and Cabernet tasting session via Facebook Live on Sept. 3.

Get Your Passport Stamped

With a wine passport ($30), you can order online from any of the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance wineries for a members’-only discount from Sept. 1–15. Or stop by the vintners in Santa Barbara County to pick up your purchase and enjoy a by-appointment, two-for-one wine tasting on site, where available.

Host a Digital Wine Party

You don’t need to be in wine country to host a California wine-themed event. Just choose a date and time for your online party, and Knights Bridge Winery will send your guests—wherever they are—a bottle (or more) of your selected wine (for more details, search “Knights” here).

Take a Cooking Class

Every Thursday in September, join the resident chefs at Napa’s Cakebread Cellars for a virtual cooking class, pairing wine country recipes with Cakebread Cellars wines. Order your virtual tasting pack 7–10 days in advance, then sip and cook from the comfort of your home.

Learn About California’s Dynamic Wine Scene

On Sept. 18, Master Sommelier David Glancy will guide you through a unique virtual wine tasting event to discover novel grape varieties, producers, and trends as you explore California’s newest American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

Bid on a Fine Wine

The Sonoma County Wine Auction, running through Sept. 20, gives you the chance to own some of the region’s most renowned wines, and benefits nonprofit organizations countywide, through the work of the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation.

Stomp Grapes in Your Own Backyard

Find a strong-legged teammate and order your Stomp Kit—a stomp barrel, 25 pounds of grapes, juice-measuring devices and stomp instructions—to partake in the annual Calaveras Grape Stomp on Sept. 27. Winners will be scored on skills, style, and most important, spirit.

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