By Richard Carroll
The vast state of California, extending more than 1,000 miles from Mexico in the south to Oregon in the north, is interlaced from top to bottom with gorgeous sustainable wineries and treasured vineyards in 49 of 58 California counties. Many have landscapes worthy of a master painting if they could be captured and framed in lasting memory.
With some 4,800 bonded wineries and 110 wine-grape varieties grown statewide and the Napa and Sonoma wine regions distinguished internationally, California has long been noted for producing some of the world's finest wines. The state has also long been known for its commitment to sustainability and the needs of the environment, and so with great aplomb and style throughout April 2019 the state is celebrating the eighth annual "California Sustainable Down to Earth Month."
The sustainable celebration welcomes guests with wine festivals, personalized wine tours, strolls and horseback rides through sustainable vineyards, inspired dining, shopping opportunities and — best of all — distinctive tastings. California deserves a colossal gold star as the global leader in sustainable winegrowing with nearly 75 percent of California's wines produced using farming practices that are earth-friendly. This is a huge bonus for those who take pleasure in the art of wine and also in the health of the planet.
Near San Diego, the Temecula Valley Wine Country, now home to nearly 50 wineries, is booming. They will have their doors wide open in April, ready to showcase Ponte Vineyards and South Coast Winery, which are certified sustainable.
Lompoc, a sustainable treasure that is often overlooked by those following the California Wine Trail, is tucked away 54 miles northwest of Santa Barbara on the Central Coast, where it has cleverly organized a collection of 23 wine-tasting rooms and wineries in the affectionately named Wine Ghetto.
The famed Santa Rita Hills appellation, a short drive from Lompoc and only 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, enjoys a cooling east-west maritime climate that suits the carefully scrutinized plantings grown at some 61 vineyards and wineries that produce some of California's finest pinot noir and chardonnay.
Paso Robles, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, will catch a wine-lover's fancy with more than 200 wineries growing 60 wine grape varieties. On the first Saturday of every month Paso Robles hosts "After Dark Art Paso" with art, live music, wine for $8 a glass and the occasion to enjoy Paso's fine spring evening climate.
Priceless gems on the California Wine Trail are also found in Tri-Valley and tree-lined Pleasanton, 35-miles east of San Francisco. Pleasanton, founded in 1894, delighting the eye and provoking the mind, is one of the country's most eminent and nostalgic towns that somehow has held the developer's wrecking ball at bay.
Tri-Valley is home to 55 superb mom-and-pop, family-owned wineries producing award-winning wines and exceptional vintages. Concannon and Wente vineyards, two of America's oldest ongoing wineries under the same family label and stewardship, have plantings extending back to 1893.
In the small and compact Livermore Valley, where 4,000 acres are planted with wine grapes, boutique wineries such as McGrail Vineyards and Mia Nipote thrive.
"We have a gravely soil here in Livermore Valley and so the vines have to struggle and because of this are a bit stronger, which is the potential for something exceedingly interesting," said Mark Clarin, winemaker at McGrail Vineyards.
Frequently overlooked by visitors to the more famous Napa and Sonoma counties, Lodi, 100 miles directly east of the San Francisco Bay, was once home to the legendary Robert Mondavi. Known as "Bob" in these parts, Mondavi grew up in Lodi and is among the elite pioneering vintners who placed California wine on the global map. Lodi is the perfect setting for 85 wineries, 800 family farms growing grapes and 11 downtown tasting rooms and was, not too surprisingly, honored as the 2015 Wine Region of the Year.
In Lodi, the self-proclaimed "Zinfandel Capital of the World," old-vine Zinfandel plantings date to 1888, when Italian immigrants settled on the west side alternately joining and welcoming other Lodi winegrowing families that have been in the region from five to six generations, tracing their heritage to Portugal, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
Lodi wineries, most of which are organic or sustainable, include Michael David Winery, Oak Farm Vineyards, Acquiesce Winery and Vineyard, Harney Lane Winery, Mettler Family Vineyard, Lucas Winery and Klinker Brick Winery, a six-generation family-run winery producing Old Vine Zinfandel from vines 40 to 120 years old.
Mark your calendar to stop by Fort Mason, San Francisco, on April 27, when 30 Mendocino wineries will be offering some of their finest vintages. Best of all, Mendocino County, a three-hour drive from San Francisco, is open year-round with a high profile of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming.
With 10 wine regions, Mendocino County is honored with having valid "green" credentials that are unsurpassed by any other wine region in the world. A highlight of the area is Anderson Valley with 91 vineyards. Pinot Noir is a cherished vintage of the region.
Can't make it in April? These California wineries are a booming visitor attraction, regardless of the season. Each features a sustainable and healthy environment, and each has its own intriguing story to share.
WHEN YOU GO
Richard Carroll is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The family-owned McGrail Vineyard and Winery in Tri-Valley's Livermore Valley is home to some 4,000 acres of planted grapes that produce fine sustainable-style wines. Photo courtesy of Halina Kubalski.