It all began in 1987 with a few humble rows of chardonnay growing in a backyard. Bill and Brenda Murphy dreamed of being small-scale vintners, and within a few years the wines produced in their bite-size vineyard were tasty enough to sell. With the success of those initial bottles, Clos LaChance Wines—a European-inspired winery—was born, releasing its inaugural vintage in 1992. Since then, the business has grown from producing 200 cases of wine to 80,000, and from less than an acre of backyard to 150 rolling acres of hilly vineyards that have caught the attention of Orbitz and been recommended by numerous other media outlets. The Murphys’ daughters have folded into the business too, and Bill and Brenda hope that someday in the future, their grandchildren will take over and find a way to control the weather.
The Murphys are not only focused on their future, but also on the future of the land and resources for which they are responsible. Clos LaChance Wines is committed to eco-friendly growing and production practices and has been certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. The Murphys built the operation from the ground up, creating an open, Old-World-style space whose rolling hills, ivy-covered walls, and stone-walled courtyard are reminiscent of a villa in Tuscany. They even installed a regulation-size court where guests can bring their own bocce balls for a friendly game.
After immigrating to America early in the 20th century, Emilio Guglielmo saved up for years before he was able buy a plot of land for his winery in 1925. In the years since, three generations of his family have run the vineyard and kept its Old World style alive. Large wooden beams, stone walls, and terracotta tiles surround guests in the tasting room, where they can sample carefully selected vintages. Each year, the winery produces nearly 40,000 cases, including the award-winning 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Petite Sirah, each of which took home gold medals in San Francisco’s International Wine Competition.
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 introduce chocolates and wine-infused truffles from local chocolatiers in Napa and Saratoga.
Nestled in among redwood trees at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Fernwood Cellars prides itself on its high-quality processes, using only grapes grown on-site and only premium oak barrels for aging. Veteran vintner Matt Oetinger oversees the winemaking process from grapes to bottle, looking after each batch of fermented nectar like a proud parent at a children’s roller-derby bout. Great for a spending a romantic afternoon with a wine-loving date or boldly confronting a grape phobia before it ruins another trip to the supermarket, a visit to the estate allows sippers to get a taste of potable delight before toting home a chosen bottle. Today’s Groupon can be redeemed for a bottle of chardonnay, zinfandel, syrah, or il cane.
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.
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.