Planning a road trip for this summer or fall? Just imagine, you’ve got some vacation time and you and your friends are yearning for some quality time cruising the California Coast. Windows are down, music is up (preferably high enough to drown out those singing along) and the salty air is plentiful.
Sounds great, right?
But what if we could make it even better…intrigued? Enter: wine tasting! That’s right, out of the hundreds of small wineries we’ve featured in our 6 Wine Clubs, we’ve selected some of our favorites along the Pacific Coast Highway that will be sure to make the journey that much better.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Pacific Coast Highway (aka the PCH - as it’s known to Californians) also goes by State Route 1 (SR1), is a beautiful meandering highway stretching the distance between Orange County in Southern California to its northern most point Mendocino County. It’s a popular drive that is situated right on the coast; you heard correctly, ocean views the whole way!
Whether you’re taking a full weekend to peruse this list and hit each and every destination, or picking and choosing a few that sound interesting, make sure to lock down a designated driver!
So, without further adieu, we give you Gold Medal Wine Club’s Pacific Coast Highway Wine Trail!
We’ll start our journey in Southern California (feel free to start at any point in the trail and work your way north or south) in our home town of Santa Barbara! Beautiful in and of itself, there is also a booming wine and beer scene located in the “Funk Zone”, a previously industrial area by the beach which has since morphed into a wine and beer enthusiast’s dream! There are numerous wineries and vineyards in the surrounding area but by following the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, you’ll hit plenty of them - all within walking distance. We have featured the wineries included on the Urban Wine Trail in our monthly wine clubs including: Santa Barbara Winery, Babcock Winery, Silver Wines, Blair Fox Cellars, Margerum Wine Co., Carr Winery, Riverbench Winery, Lafond Winery, and Cebada Vineyard. All are fantastic options!
Make sure to stop by Corks n’ Crowns Tasting Room - also located in the heart of the Funk Zone! Not only will you find some of the newest featured wines from yours truly (Gold Medal Wine Club) but you’ll also find a selection of craft beers from The Original Craft Beer Club as well as others. Plus, members of any of our wine clubs get free tastings (daily) for you and up to 3 friends and 20% off glasses of wine and bottle purchases!
Yep, we’re starting this road trip off right.
Load everyone back into the car, we’ve got your next stop: Lompoc. While some may breeze by this little town north of Santa Barbara, we suggest you linger a while… There are so many unique and outstanding wineries in the area, it would be a shame to drive right by. Some of our top picks include:
• Ampelos Cellars, which was the first vineyard in the Santa Barbara County to be certified sustainable, organic and biodynamic! And their wines are a true testament to this growing movement.
• Longoria Wines with superb wines that were selected for our upper-level Platinum Wine Club, seemingly sell themselves. A very hands-on operation to ensure every bottle is up to standard.
• Kessler-Haak Vineyards, which is turning heads for their continuously excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Their focus is on producing the highest quality wines, and we’re sure you’ll fall in love with their world-class vino.
• Holus Bolus Winery, a tiny husband and wife-run Garagiste winery in the heart of Lompoc’s heralded “Wine Ghetto”. Their artisan releases are hard to come by, so you may want to stock up while you can!
• Montemar Winery, a must-visit in this little town with fantastic wines! Plus, they have a great tasting room complete with an outdoor patio with live music, games and areas to relax.
• Lepiane Wines, another Garagiste winery with extremely expressive and well-balanced wines. By focusing on mostly Italian varietals, their wines stand out from the rest in the best way possible.
Granted, you may not have time to visit them all so make sure to follow the links to read up on which ones you will enjoy the most!
Onward and upward! Santa Maria is next on our grandiose list and while it’s not directly off the PCH, its worth meandering off the beaten path. Home to the likes of:
• Nagy Wines and Côtière Wines, both of which have been featured in our ultra-boutique Garagiste Wine Club, craft stunning wines which are nearly impossible to find anywhere else, save the winery and local area - if you’re lucky.
• Solomon Hills Vineyards and Bien Nacido Vineyards also make for a nice and delicious break from the strenuous oceanside driving. The wines we’ve featured from these two wineries are all highly allocated with ratings of 91, 92, 94 and even 95 points - an amazing feat for such small wineries.
Each of these entities are superb in their own way and all produce stunning, high-quality bottlings. Make some room in your suitcase…you’ll be wanting to take some of these home!
You may be thinking of zig-zagging over to San Luis Obispo right away, but hold your horses! While you work your way up there - and yes, we’ll get there - make sure to pay a visit to these two.
• Laetitia Vineyard is a truly excellent winery located few miles from the ocean with breathtaking views of Pismo Beach and Avila Bay. Its host of award-winning wines and long-standing reputation for greatness makes it a unique and memorable stop on any road trip!
• Toucan Wines is another hidden gem in Arroyo Grande, which we have featured in our Platinum Wine Club. This long-standing vineyard planted in 1923, is known for crafting high-quality Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs.
These small production wineries are something to behold and visiting the winery and vineyards directly is always a memorable experience.
San Luis Obispo:
A quaint college town, you may automatically think of Cal Poly (CA Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo), but if you don’t also think about the region’s wines, then you’re missing out, my friend! This little area is packed with agriculture and sprawling hillsides lined with vines which have long been producing dazzling wines.
• El Lugar Wines is high on our list due to the fact that they put all of their energy into exclusively crafting small-lot, single vineyard Pinot Noirs. All of the wines we’ve tasted here have been spectacular examples of the varietal, earning its place in our Pinot Noir Wine Club.
• Autry Cellars has been featured in both our Platinum and Gold Wine Club. Lead by Steve Autry, they continue to create some true wine masterpieces. These wines are extremely difficult to find as they are only available in a few fine restaurants and at the winery’s tasting room.
It may be hard leaving San Luis Obispo Wine Country, but there are more wineries on this road trip just waiting for you to come discover them!
Cambria & San Simeon
Driving farther north, you’ll find yourself in the coastal towns of Cambria and San Simeon. Both areas are relatively small but the wineries we recommend surely pack a punch when it comes to distinction and superiority.
• Cutruzzola Vineyards, pronounced “koo-troot-zol-a”, produced a minuscule 800 cases of premium Riesling and Pinot Noir when we featured them a few short years ago and has since continued to shine with high accolades and awards for their high-quality wines.
• Stolo Family Vineyards & Winery is another Pinot Noir-dominant vineyard and also grows other varietals of equally or even rivaling stature! Make sure to stop in and prepare to stay a while…once you get a taste you may not want to leave.
• Hearst Ranch Winery located in San Simeon is farther north than Cambria and is the home to a wide array of wines. Recently we featured their 2013 Red Blend in our Diamond Wine Club, the most elite of our wine clubs, due to its insanely impressive 98 point rating and dedication to excellence.
How are you holding up? Make sure to take your time in between tastings too - you want it to be a memorable one!
A very popular destination with beautiful coastline and dramatic sea cliffs, it’s also the location of so many wineries it’s hard to count! The following options that were selected for our wine of the month clubs are again, superb and are all worthy of your attention.
• Galante Vineyards has deep family roots in Monterey County as cattle ranchers and then made a name for themselves for growing premium wine grapes. Their diverse vineyards and rustic charm make it a visitor favorite!
• Wrath Wines is owned by Dr. Michael Thomas, archaeologist turned vintner. Inspired by the vineyards and wines of Italy, it didn’t take long for their outstanding wines to gain local, regional, national and even international acclaim.
Monterey AVA has a lot more notable vineyards to its name, but we’re keeping you as close to the PCH as we can with all of these wine tasting stopovers.
Marin, Fort Ross & San Francisco
These regions are perhaps not known for their wine scene above all else, but the boutique wineries listed below are shining stars in their areas! Plus, after visiting the next three wineries, you’ll have a nice long scenic ride before reaching our final destination of Mendocino County.
• JR Storey Winery is another highly regarded winery in the area, producing a range of styles with distinctive varietal character. With the collection of extremely small production, award-winning wines, this is definitely a winery to watch out for and visit!
• Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery was founded by a native South African couple who fell for the beautiful Sonoma Coast region. By producing intense and complex wines with luscious fruit, elegance and structure, they have secured their spot among the exceptional wineries.
• Sol Rouge Winery is not too far from the PCH but we decided to include it due to constantly high scores and unique location. It is one of only seven wineries situated on the famed Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay!
If you’re planning on driving the entire length of our wine of the month club PCH wine trail list, we recommend making San Francisco an overnight stop. You’ll have a good drive ahead of you up to Mendocino and Philo County.
Mendocino County & Philo
Alas, we are at the end of the road…literally! Well, the road does continue but it is the last stop for the Pacific Coast Highway. The last few vineyards required more driving time between them, but we decided to focus on the Philo area of Mendocino, which has numerous winery options to visit in closer proximity.
• Witching Stick Winery has earned their place next to the greats of the region and beyond. Aside from having a wicked name, their wines are incredible and have been listed among the top regional vineyards - and that’s saying something!
• Brutocao Cellars is another standout that blends their Italian heritage with a rural agricultural lifestyle, resulting in some of California’s finest wines. Their premium wines are now carrying on their family legacy.
• Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is the last winery on our long registry of wineries to visit but it’s definitely not the least! Located on an isolated hillside, their grapes transform into utterly magnificent wines. Named One of America’s Top 30 Wineries at least 3 times by Wine & Spirits, this one is bound to end your journey on a high note!
At this point we are running out of all the different ways to say “excellent”, “fantastic” or “superb” when it comes to describing the wineries we feature, so you might as well go taste them for yourself! These are 100% authentic, family-run wineries who give it everything they’ve got when it comes to crafting their wine masterpieces. And with so many of these high-end, amazing wineries out there, it makes us wonder why other wine of the month clubs choose to buy bulk wine! We only go after the best of the best to bring to your door. Period.
So, go ahead with planning a weekend of indulgence to discover some new wines and wineries on the coast of California! While we love Napa, Sonoma, and the other big name appellations, we admire and always keep tabs on these up-and-coming regions!