Ramping up for the autumn harvest season in California, a crop of new tasting rooms and experiences have opened at wineries this year. Some bring a new twist to well-loved wineries while others are part of brand-new operations. From Healdsburg in Sonoma County to downtown Santa Barbara, here are 6 of the best.
Jordan Winery, Healdsburg
Jordan Winery's brand-new locavore experience launches on September 5, stretching beyond wine to include food and even olive oil. Up to 12 people at a time can partake in the Estate Tour & Tasting ($120 per person). A highlight: stepping inside a glass pavilion with views of the Mayacamas and Vacas Mountains. At three stops on the three-hour guided tour, glasses of Jordan's Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are poured, as are tastings of the property's olive oil and samples of the chef's cuisine.
When to Go: Offered Thursday through Sunday at 10 am from April through November.
La Crema, Healdsburg
Touting a lounge-y environment, La Crema's newly remodeled tasting room just off the square in Healdsburg offers five tiered tastings of its wines, which are made from grapes grown as far north as the Sonoma Coast and south to Monterey. Splurge on the hour-long Wine & Cheese Exploration ($30), pairing local artisan cheeses with wines like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Above a long bar is a large picture window that opens out onto the street, one of the genius ideas of designer Marc Blackwell, whose dishware is sold at places like Barneys.
When to Go: Offered on an appointment-only basis daily.
Hestan Vineyards, Yountville
Stepping into Hestan Vineyards' new Napa Valley tasting room—just down the road from the French Laundry in Yountville—is akin to leaping into a modern-art museum. Every inch of the salon's design screams mod, down to the curved copper roofline. Open since mid-July, the tasting room also features exclusive hand-hammered copper cookware from Ruffoni in Italy. A wine-tasting flight costs $20 and some of the pours are only available through the tasting room.
When to Go: Open daily.
Auteur Wines, Sonoma
Tucked into a former residence—an historic bungalow cottage just off Sonoma's plaza—Auteur Wines's tasting ($25 for five wines) is often hosted by the owners themselves: Laura and Kenneth Juhasz. (Kenneth is also the winemaker with an affinity for using grapes grown in coastal microclimates of California and Oregon.) Since their debut in spring, the dining-room style seating inside the sage-hued bungalow has proven to be a popular alternative to typical bar seats at a tasting room.
When to Go: Book a reservation for anytime between 9 am and 2 pm by emailing email@example.com.
AVA Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara
Within downtown Santa Barbara's (cool-despite-the-name) Funk Zone, packed with tasting rooms that sport an eclectic bent, as well as shops, restaurants, and boutiques, is AVA Santa Barbara, open since spring. Inside this contemporary glass and steel building with chalkboard interior walls (the region artistically scrawled on them) and jars of regional soil samples that you can sniff), wines are poured from Santa Barbara County's five AVAs. Some are even on tap.
When to Go: Open daily.
Paul Mathew Vineyards, Graton
Husband-wife team Mat and Barb Gustafson—who were sommeliers earlier in their careers—opened Paul Mathew Vineyards' tasting room in western Sonoma County last fall. "Foodies" seminars reach beyond locally grown wine grapes to shine a spotlight on local foods once a month. Slabs of redwood cut from a local grove were turned into two communal tables, fish traps made into chandeliers and school-house chairs reborn as chic seating.
When to Go: Open Friday through Sunday from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm (no appointment necessary). Call 707-865-2505 for an appointment on Monday through Thursday.
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee where she reports on food, wine, and travel topics around the globe for Fodors.com, along with new-hotel openings. She also writes for Wine Enthusiast, TIME, Whole Living and American Way. In 2006 she co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Coffee and Tea (Alpha Books/Penguin). You can follow her on Twitter @kristineahansen or through her web site.
Photo credits: Jordan Winery, Healdsburg: Courtesy of Jordan Vineyard and Winery; La Crema, Healdsburg: Courtesy of LA CREMA WINERY; Hestan Vineyards, Yountville: Courtesy of Hestan Vineyards; Auteur Wines, Sonoma: Courtesy of Auteur Wines; AVA Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara: Courtesy of AVA Santa Barbara; Paul Mathew Vineyards, Graton: Courtesy of Paul Mathew Vineyards