California wine, long associated with the Napa Valley, is making a big comeback in Southern California, where it really all began with the Franciscan fathers who produced the state's first barrels of wine in the San Diego area in 1769.
Today, Southern California boasts more than 40 commercial wineries from Santa Maria to San Diego. Many offer year-round tours, free tastings and picnic areas for their guests.
Following is a sampling:
Firestone Vineyard, Zaca Station Road, Los Olivos, (805) 688-3940. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; free tastings; guided tours every 45 minutes. Guests are welcome to bring a picnic lunch and use the tables inside the winery's courtyard. Owners Brooks and Kate Firestone planted their first vines in 1972; today they have one of the largest wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley, annually producing about 80,000 cases that include Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and several rose wines.
Ballard Canyon Winery, 1825 Ballard Canyon Road, Solvang, (805) 688-7585. Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Owner Gene Hallock, a former Santa Barbara dentist, opened this winery in 1978. It produces about 20,000 cases a year, mostly Johannisberg Riesling, Muscat Canelli and blush wine. Tours are informal and self guided, tastings are free and there are picnic tables available for guests.
Santa Barbara Winery, 202 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, (805) 963-8924. Open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; free tastings. Tours are self guided, although conducted tours may be arranged for large groups. Founded by owner Pierre Lafond in 1962, it annually produces about 20,000 cases a year of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, White Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Guests are welcome to use picnic tables in the winery's front courtyard.
San Antonio Winery, 737 Lamar St., Downtown Los Angeles, (213) 223-1401. Open for self-guided tours 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, until 4 p.m. weekends. A guide will be provided for groups, by appointment. Tastings are free and guests can enjoy a picnic in the winery's tree-shaded park or dine at its restaurant. Established in 1917, the winery is owned and operated by the Riboli family, descendants of the founder. In addition to the main winery in Los Angeles, there are 10 other tasting rooms throughout Southern California. San Antonio produces more than 300,000 cases a year and more than 100 varieties. Noteworthy among these are the award-winning Chardonnays and white Zinfandels.
Thomas Vineyards, 8916 Foothill Blvd., Cucamonga, (714) 987-1612. Open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day) 8 a.m.-6 p.m. for free tastings and self-guided tours. There is also a picnic area. Established in 1839, Thomas Vineyards is one of the oldest commercial wineries in the state. It produces more than 70 varieties of wines representing almost every category. Thomas is owned by the Joseph Filippi family.
Mount Palomar Winery, 33820 Rancho California Road, Temecula, (714) 676-5047. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily for free tastings. Tours are 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. weekends. A shaded picnic pavilion is available. Mount Palomar Winery was one of the first in a growing cluster of wineries in the Temecula area. Former KBIG radio station owner John Poole planted his first grapes in 1969 and constructed the winery in 1975. About 14,000 cases are now produced annually, including a broad spectrum of reds, whites, dessert wines, ports and sherries.
Callaway Vineyard and Winery, 32720 Rancho California Road, Temecula, (714) 676-4001. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. with guided tours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on the hour. A brief lecture and tastings follow the tour, for a $1 fee per person. Picnic facilities are available, and there is also an in-house culinary staff that prepares special luncheons and dinners by reservation. Founded in 1969, this winery produces about 140,000 cases a year, specializing in premium white wine, including Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
John Culbertson Winery, 2608 Via Rancheros, Fallbrook, (619) 728-0398. Owners John and Martha Culbertson produced their first wine in 1981 and today annually produce about 9,000 cases of a variety of wines and champagnes. Although their total output is relatively small, they sell their premium product to a number of prominent clients, including the White House. Tours and tastings are for groups only, Saturdays by appointment. No picnic facilities.
San Pasqual Vineyards, 13455 San Pasqual Road, Escondido, (619) 741-0855. Open daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m. for free tastings; guided tours are 1 and 3 p.m. weekends. An arbor is available for picnickers. Founded in 1972, the winery produces about 20,000 cases a year that include sparkling wines and white premium wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
Bernardo Winery, 13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, San Diego, (619) 487-1866. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. for free tastings and self-guided tours. A picnic area is available. Founded in 1889, Bernardo was purchased by the Rizzo family in 1928; they are the current owners and have maintained much of the original equipment, including the wood aging vats. All of the Bernardo wines, which include a wide variety of dessert and table wines, are sold only at the retail store on the premises.
For names and locations of other wineries in Southern California, contact the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Assn., (805) 688-0881, or the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, (714) 676-5090.