The FINANCIAL -- For California wine lovers, one of the most enjoyable experiences is the chance to sip while overlooking spectacular scenery—from hillside vineyards and snow-capped mountains to redwood forests and rugged beaches. With the National Park Service hosting Centennial events this year, it's a great time to pair park scenery with a nearby wine country experience.
Many travelers to California’s 27 national parks pass through or near wine regions. To help these visitors with their journey, Wine Institute has put together a list of great wine regions near national parks. With 138 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) and 100-plus winegrape varieties across the Golden State, wine consumers can find their favorite wines and discover new ones on their way to great parks from Yosemite in the High Sierra to Joshua Tree in the desert. Like the stewards of California’s national parks, winemakers and growers also feel a deep connection to the land, making California a world leader in sustainable winegrowing, providing an outdoor experience that eco-travelers can appreciate, according to Wine Institute.
Redwood National and State Parks and Mendocino County Wine Country
If going in June, visit the Mendocino County wine region on the way to or from Redwood National and State Parks, home to the world’s tallest trees. The parks are hosting the Centennial Festival (June 26), featuring talks and activities celebrating the parks’ heritage and contribution to the region. The parks border Mendocino’s wine region, which has a high percentage of vineyards farmed with sustainable, organic or biodynamic practices. The region produces a wide variety of wines, including Pinot Noir and Alsatian varietals. After wine tasting, enjoy an overnight stay in the picturesque Mendocino village, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A great time to visit is during the Anderson Valley/Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend (July 23-24), where visitors have unprecedented access to winery cellars, including tastings of yet-to-be-released wines and the chance to purchase futures of barrel tastings at a discount.
Point Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma County/Lake County Wine Country
Ninety minutes north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore features ocean waves crashing against rocky headlands, expansive beaches, grasslands and forested ridges. This scenic park pairs well with the Sonoma County and Lake County wine regions. Gourmet farm and vineyard dinners are common in these areas—along with great wine, homegrown culinary culture and the great outdoors. This June 24 don’t miss the Russian River Valley Somm Challenge, where guests can judge which of three top sommeliers picked the best wine for each course created by celebrity chefs. The place to be on Labor Day Weekend is the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, featuring more than 200 wineries and chefs, a Taste of Sonoma event and popular Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. In Lake County, be a judge for the day and vote for your favorite wines from the region’s Wine Awards Competition at the People’s Choice Wine Tasting July 30. Point Reyes National Seashore will host various centennial events this summer, such as the Western Weekend Parade (June 4-5), Big Time Festival (July 16) and Sand Sculpture Contest (Sept. 4).
Muir Woods and Napa Valley Wine Country
Muir Woods, north of San Francisco and home to towering redwoods, is just an hour’s drive to the Napa Valley wine region. Recognized on the global stage at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, Napa Valley wines have found an equal match in the region’s cuisine. If in town July 15-24, try the 11th Annual Festival Napa Valley, an event the New York Times calls a “feast for the senses.” This 10-day experience features top music, gourmet cuisine, fine wines and lifestyle programs.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Livermore Wine Country
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is home to the Maritime National Historic Park, with its fleet of historic vessels, visitor center and maritime museum. Their centennial events include the Festival of the Sea (Aug. 20), the Sea Music Concert Series (Sept. 17 and Oct. 15) and other ongoing programs. The city is a short drive to the historic Livermore Valley wine region. Visit July 21-24 to enjoy Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, featuring 19 wineries, partnering with Bay Area restaurants, as well as cooking classes, vineyard tours and seminars.
Tahoe National Forest and Sierra Foothills/Lodi Wine Country
Tahoe National Forest, an 800,000-acre national forest just east of Sacramento, offers year-round hiking, camping and skiing near beautiful Lake Tahoe. Add a visit to the Sierra Foothills wine region, the heart of California’s Gold Country, known for its rich history and red wines. Check out Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada and Placer counties. The El Dorado Wine Association’s Blind Barrel event on June 25 with 16 wineries celebrates the repeal of Prohibition and the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 5, 1933, with hosts dressed in period garb serving local wine on a Gold-Rush era homestead. This fall, Amador hosts the Big Crush Harvest Festival (Oct. 1-2) where guests can take in the harvest scenes in the vineyards and crush pads and enjoy food and wine pairings, live music and family activities. On the way to Tahoe, stop by the Lodi wine region, known for old-vine Zinfandel and home to 80 wineries. Celebrate the harvest with the Lodi Grape Festival (Sept. 15-18), featuring murals and competitive exhibits, a music concert, wine and food tastings and more.
Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Madera County/Fresno
Rock-climbing mecca Yosemite National Park is world renowned for its soaring granite walls and cascading waterfalls. The park will host special events for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (Aug. 25) with educational talks and recreational activities, such as a "Yosemite Anniversaries" symphony performance. Madera County vineyards are adjacent to the entrance of Yosemite. Visit the Madera Wine Trail, featuring local wineries serving their acclaimed dessert, port-style and late-harvest wines, among others. The region’s Wine Trail Weekend (Nov. 12-13) will kick off the holiday season for wine lovers. Those going to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks can visit Fresno State Winery, the first university in the U.S. to have a fully licensed winery. Taste or buy the wine at Fresno State Gibson Farmers Market where offerings are all harvested, created and grown by Fresno State students, or check out Grape Stomping Good Times (Aug. 27).
Pinnacles National Monument and Monterey/Paso Robles Wine Country
Rising out of the Gabilan Mountains is Pinnacles National Monument, the remains of an ancient volcano with massive monoliths, spires and sheer-walled canyons. The park will celebrate the centennial with activities such as monthly Night Hikes, Stargazing Nights, volunteer service days, a National Trails Day Celebration (June 4) and an Eastside Centennial Celebration (Sept. 24).
The park is an hour from Monterey County wine region and about 90 minutes from Paso Robles wine country, both scenic areas to explore, wine and dine. Wines from Monterey and the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains wine region were both recognized in the “Judgment of Paris” tasting. While in Monterey, check out its Taste of Monterey Visitor Center where the area wines can be tasted in one stop. On June 18, stop by the 12th Annual Art & Wine Festival in quaint Carmel, featuring regional wineries, local bands and family activities from pony rides to arts and crafts. If exploring Paso Robles wine country, a hot spot for Rhône blends and other classic and emerging varietals, tour the rustic downtown plaza or nearby Hearst Castle on the coast. Attend the Harvest Wine Weekend (Oct. 14-16), where guests can enjoy 140 weekend activities, including winemaker dinners, grape stomps, barrel tastings, artisanal food pairings, live music and more.
Channel Islands and Santa Barbara/Ventura Wine Country
Take a short ferry ride or boat tour from Santa Barbara wine country or Ventura wineries to Channel Islands National Park, known as the “Galapagos of North America.” The park’s centennial activities include an ongoing lecture series and special events at the Museum of Ventura County. Get more inspiration with a visit to Santa Barbara wineries, immortalized by the 2004 film “Sideways,” which celebrated the area’s Pinot Noir. Santa Barbara Harvest Weekend is Oct. 7-10, and includes a grand tasting at Mission Santa Inés in Solvang.
Joshua Tree National Park and Temecula Wine Country
This desert park has beautiful Joshua trees and a variety of plants and animals in this land shaped by strong winds, rains and climatic extremes. Adding to the attraction of this place are dark night skies for astronomy buffs and surreal geologic features. A visit to Joshua Tree could include a tour of Temecula wine country, about 2.5 hours southwest. Tempered by coastal fog, this region is known for its Italian and Rhône varieties. A great way to sample wines is with the Sip Temecula Wine Tasting Passport during weekdays where guests can choose experiences at five of 17 participating wineries.
Mojave National Preserve and Cucamonga Valley
Sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests and carpets of wildflowers are found at the 1.6 million-acre Mojave National Preserve, where visitors can take part in ongoing Artist in the Park Centennial Observances, as resident artists share work in various mediums about the area’s historic structures, desertscapes and night skies. A visit to its mountains reveal abandoned mines, homesteads, and military outposts. Stop and stay on the way to Los Angeles in the Cucamonga Valley, known for historic wineries specializing in old vine Zinfandels and port wines. A cool happening in the region is the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival (Aug. 25-28), featuring tastes from 150 celebrity chefs and 300 wineries.