The knowledgeable, friendly staff at the The Fogarty Winery Tasting Room will help amateur ambrosialists and experienced grape sniffers select five vintage fermentations to sample from the wine list. The 2006 Langley Hill Vineyard SCM Estate Chardonnay stays true to its mountainous roots, packing a steely mineral punch, as hints of fruit usher in a soothing, refreshing finish. Only 94 cases of this nectar were produced and bottles are available for $48. Pamper your scarlet palate with a 2005 Lexington Santa Cruz Mountains Meritage. Poor weather patterns and surprise alien crop circles aside, 2005 produced a perfectly ripened yield. This cabernet-merlot blend is apt to drop flavor bombs of black fruit, spice and toasty oak, with lingering chords of cassis, plum, and loam. Only 447 cases were captured in the wild and you can walk your own bottle home for $45.
Harvested from more than two dozen sites around Woodside, some of the grapes that transform into Woodside Vineyard's wines grow plump on vines that have thrived there since as early as 1884. Back in 1960, the winery's founder Bob Mullen began crafting small batches of wine in limited quantities. Today, he works with the head winemaker Brian Caselden, and together, they produce more than 3,000 cases annually. On weekends, guests travel to the picturesque winery to visit the tasting room, where they can sip up to five varietals, from Chardonnay to Port.
In 1972, California's central coast was not the winemaking capitol that it is today. But Jerry Lohr trusted his agricultural instinct—developed in his youth on a South Dakota farm—that the region's soil and climate were ideal for his proposed vineyard. Though the venture seemed like a gamble at the time, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines prospered, selling a half-million cases of wine before the turn of the millennium. Today, more than 900 acres of estate vineyards in Monterey County house grapes for the winery's Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, while 2,000 acres of grapes in Paso Robles look forward to futures as Merlot, Cabernet, or stains on someone's carpet.
In 1955, Dominick Chirichillo’s grandfather began teaching him the family pastime: winemaking. They worked on a wine press in the basement of his New York home, transforming bunches of grapes into nuanced reds and whites. Quickly finding that the hobby of his ancestors was his passion, Dominick entered his creations in amateur competitions around the East Coast. When he felt confident enough to open up his own winery, he moved to northern California, lured by the prospect of living and working right next door to the vineyards that grew his grapes. His winery—named Domenico to honor his Italian heritage—now produces boutique wines that have won more than 300 awards for their rich, complex palates and excellent scores in the swimsuit competition. Some varieties are made in batches of only 100 or 200 cases, allowing his staff to innovate fearlessly. Locals often drop by the winery’s spacious tasting room to sample these limited-edition flavors. Outfitted with a 24-foot mahogany bar and sweeping drapes, the tasting room recalls an elegant Tuscan café, complete with impeccable hospitality. The staff eagerly shares the undertones and flavors of every pour, suggesting potential food pairings or the best glass of red to throw at an offensive suitor.
Ray Sliter is a California-born marine geologist, and Mats Hagstrom a Swedish-born physician, but they claim at least one common passion—wine. The duo began crafting wine when, one day in 1999, Mats arrived at Ray’s door with a half-ton of grapes, given to him by a patient, and a used barrel. They launched their wine-making pursuit nearly immediately and, in 2005, became fully bonded as Travieso Winery. Today, the duo hold close to their original principles—they purchase grapes by the acre to ensure control, stir in wild yeast, and limit suflites during production. They press each of their wines in new french-oak barrels, and age the concoctions for at least a year, even when they're really thirsty. The end result is a range of cheekily themed Spanish- and California-style wines, which their tasting room supplies by the bottle or introduces by the glass at Saturday tastings.
Sherman Cellars serves as the exclusive tasting room for the red, white, sparkling, and dessert wines from Creekview Vineyards, a small-production winery. Many of these wines emerged with gold, silver, bronze, and best-in-class awards in 2011 at such events as the San Francisco International Wine Competition, Monterey Wine Competition, and Grand Cru Wine Competition. The Cellars' wine educators exhibit their detailed knowledge of the wines as they provide guided tastings of each varietal's flavor and bouquet in an intimate atmosphere, and also point out historical facts such as which grapes descended from dinosaurs. The wines they pour at each tasting draw their styles from a range of global regions, but have all been crafted from local grapes. Many staffers are also pairing aficionados, and channel their passion into regular tasting pairings, which include chocolates from local chocolatiers in Napa.
Coterie Cellars believes part of wine's beauty is tasting the fruits of a tiny parcel of land captured at a certain moment. To that end, they aim to interfere as little as possible in the grape-to-bottle process. In their California vineyards, they harvest and sort clusters by hand and ferment their wines in small batches—red wine in small lots, white wine in individual barrels. They punch the grapes down by hand, using gravity to move wine through the system with as little fining and filtering as possible. The result: bottles of wine named for the vineyards where all of the grapes are grown.