Pride Journey Explore: California Wine Country
Winery tasting rooms may be closed at the moment, but you can still discover and explore the remarkable world of California wine from a distance. In appellations all around the state, from Lompoc to Lodi to the Livermore Valley, Golden State winemakers are finding innovative ways to transport the pleasures of wine tasting directly into customers’ homes.
No, you won’t be able to wander through rows of vines etched against the rolling hills, but these virtual tasting opportunities can expand your knowledge of California varietals as you learn from leading winemakers—even if you have to do the pouring yourself.
The most complete virtual tasting experience involves ordering a pre-selected assortment of wine from a participating winery. Depending on the price and prestige of the wine, your order might entitle you to a private tasting session over the internet during which a winemaker or winery owner guides you through the nuances of each bottle.
In other cases, you’ll join fellow oenophiles for scheduled group tastings via Facebook or other social media platforms. Some wineries have also assembled virtual wine tasting kits that include detailed tasting notes to guide you through your selections. And there are a number of discussions and lectures led by experts on such wine-related topics as corks and screwcaps.
Here’s a collection of virtual wine tasting offerings, listed north to south.
Inland from Mendocino County’s fabled coastline, Anderson Valley is a region that has gained renown for its Pinot Noir and Alsace varietals. The Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association has compiled a collection of online experiences, including discounts on wine, designed to bring the glories of the region to your home. Sign up for the Smith Story Wine Cellars mailing list and you’ll get an invite to a virtual Saturday night happy hour. Or join Cakebread Cellars chef Brian Streeter’s online cooking classes Wednesdays at 3:30.
Honored as the 2019 wine region of the year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, Sonoma County is bringing the region’s bounty to wine lovers through the Sonoma County Vintners’ Sip From Home promotion. You can select from an assortment of virtual tastings such as Taste At Home With Landmark, which features sessions led by wine educator and sommelier Jim Gerakaris. And there are more events at Sonoma Valley Wine’s Virtual Sonoma Valley page.
America’s most famous wine region, Napa Valley, offers a busy schedule of online events and virtual wine tastings. Clos du Val lets you select a virtual wine tasting package (starting at $385) that includes a shipment of four bottles and live one-on-one personal tastings, while AXR’s kits include a single-vineyard collection and the chance to set up a virtual tasting. For more options, Napa Valley Vintners maintains a page of listings that includes both complimentary and paid activities.
Check the schedule put out by Lodi Winegrape Commission for upcoming virtual tasting events conducted by wineries in this Central Valley region known as the “Zinfandel Capital of the World.” Participating wineries include Peltier Winery & Vineyards, which is conducting a series of virtual tastings focused on such topics as its premium blends and old-vine Zinfandel.
Located less than an hour east of San Francisco along the Bay Area’s suburban edge, the Livermore Valley is one of California’s most surprising wine regions. Known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the region’s winemaking history dates to the 1840s. Wente Vineyards is considered the country’s longest continuously owned and operated family vineyard, and you can join its Wine Wednesday, during which fifth-generation winegrowers Aly and Niki Wente discuss the winery and region’s history with their father Phil Wente.
Gold was the preferred color in this region 170 years ago, but now the emphasis is on reds and whites—premium wines you can discover through virtual tastings. El Dorado County’s Bumgarner Winery & Vineyards, which has expanded into new varietals after initially concentrating on Cabernet Sauvignon, is offering themed virtual events such as a vertical Pinot Noir tasting and a session on three different Rhône-style wines. Tasting kits can be ordered through the winery.
Newsome Harlow, based in the Calaveras County wine hub of Murphys, is livestreaming virtual tastings on Wednesdays, including an upcoming session that showcases three single vineyard Petite Sirahs. Tasting kits come with recipes to pair with the wines.
Madera County Wine Trail
While you can’t taste your way through the Madera County Wine Trail right now, you can still get a sense of this region that took multiple golds in the 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Award-winning wineries along the trail, including Idle Hour Winery, which earned a double gold for its 2015 Tempranillo, Quady Winery, and San Joaquin Winery, are holding live tastings and other events on their Instagram or Facebook pages.
Look for updates on virtual activities in this diverse San Luis Obispo County region by checking listings compiled by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Among the participating wineries are Justin, where founder Justin Baldwin has led virtual tastings of such classics as the winery’s flagship Isosceles blend. Over at Peachy Canyon, co-owners Josh and Jake Beckett have conducted live interactive tastings of their new release wines and a 2017 Petite Sirah.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara Vintners, a regional winemaker’s association, is maintaining a schedule of Virtual Taste Through Santa Barbara events with sessions scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. Pacific. Lompoc-based Sweetzer Cellars is one of the featured wineries, and the husband-and-wife team of Lisa Liberati and Michael Fogelman will lead a Pinot Noir tasting and discuss the terroir of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA on April 30.
For those who miss being out among the grapes, the Santa Maria Valley’s boutique Riverbench Vineyard & Winery is livestreaming occasional virtual vineyard tours, including one on grafting vines. Riverbench is also making its past videos available through its Facebook page.
The largest wine region in Southern California, Temecula Valley, is offering a variety of virtual experiences available to wine lovers, including tastings, live webcams, and behind-the-scenes videos. The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association also has compiled a list of discounts and opportunities to pick up wines (using social distancing protocols) as part of its Sip From Home program.