From quiet vineyards bounded by lush redwood forests along the coast of Mendocino County, to the sun-drenched rolling hills of rugged Lake County, the North Coast region has about as varied a wine country as you can get. Start near the Pacific, where summer fog and wet winters make for one of the coolest wine-growing climates in California. Organic and sustainable farming techniques are the norm in this tucked-away corner of the state; You can chat about grapes and grape-growing with local winemakers, who are often the ones pouring the wines in relaxed, unpretentious tasting rooms.
On Mendocino County’s west side is one of the North Coast AVA’s most celebrated wine destinations: Anderson Valley (click here for a map of the North Coast AVA). Cooled by ocean fog, this 15-mile-wide valley is one of California’s top terroirs for Pinot Noir, and the sublime vintages of that grape produced here have become the valley’s calling card, but its Chardonnays, Gewürztraminers, and Reislings are excellent as well. Goldeneye, Navarro, and Baxter are three of the most well-known Anderson Valley producers in this cluster of vineyards and are must-visits. About an hour’s drive northeast is the warmer, red-soiled Redwood Valley, which showcases hearty reds, especially Zinfandel, at such wineries as Testa, Frey, (one of the nation’s first producers of certified organic and biodynamic wines) and Barra.
Further inland, take in the wide vistas from country roads winding through sunny Lake County, which is home to one of the fastest-growing winemaking regions in the country. Known for impressive Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County has a soil profile very similar to that of its more high-profile neighbor to the south, Napa, but the increased elevation gives the wines here their own characters. Clear Lake, the state’s largest freshwater lake wholly within the state, makes for a striking backdrop as you drive through the region and savor the vintages at wineries like Cache Creek, Ceago Estate Wines, and Laujor Estate.