Written by Esteban
Publised on 09/03/2016
Millions flock to California every year to sip delicious wines in the sunshine, surrounded by vine combed hills.
From the famous French-beating cabernets of busy Napa to the artisan wineries of Temecula outside San Diego, the state certainly has its cellar stuffed when it comes to vino.
Thing is, many of those visitors are also drawn to California’s scenic roads, from the squiggly coastal routes to the wide, endless highways.
And the idea of lolling happily around sunny vineyards while sipping nutty viognier and ruby syrah, lining your stomach with little more than a breadstick and a square of cheese, doesn’t sit too well with driving.
Unless one of your party enjoys being designated driver while you’re getting pleasantly tipsy, or is a serious taster who believes in the spittoon, it can be a bit tricky.
But there are a number of options, and companies are getting ever more inventive. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy those wines without risking your safety, from paying someone to drive your hire car to trotting through the wineries with a horse and carriage.
A motorised replica of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley www.sonomavalleywinetrolley.com winds its way around four wineries in the area on a full day tour, £68. Because the trolley is open-sided and so prettily antiquated, the opportunities to flood your Instagram feed are endless.
Several companies offer the chance to book your own private driver, who will take you wherever you like in your hire car. In Paso Robles, My Wine Driver www.mywinedriver.com is run by local specialists who’ll take you to hidden gems in the area from £20 an hour, in the comfort of your own vehicle.
Click on the Uber www.uber.com app while in San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara and you’ll find an intriguing new option – UberWine. From £25 an hour, these drivers will happily wait while you taste and take you to as many vineyards as you like, until you’re ready to roll back into the car.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Wine Line www.hoponthewineline.com in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. The hop on, hop off biodiesel vans run on a constant loop, so you choose the wineries you visit at your own pace. A day pass, with pick-up in various cities, costs £40.
Explore the valleys and vines of Sonoma and Napa Valley on a chic scooter with Wine Country Vespa www.winecountryvespa.com tours, from £270, with stops at private vineyards, a lavender farm and olive oil tasting rooms. Of course drink driving limits still apply, so there’s an emphasis on the area’s foodie offerings – and you will need to spit.
In Sonoma, Flying Horse Wine Tours www.thewinecarriage.com offers one of the most unique ways to taste and explore – via horse and carriage, £100. Led by the sturdy, reliable hooves of two draft horses, the focus is on smaller, quieter wineries and back lanes inaccessible by car – some so narrow you can reach out and pluck the grapes as you trot mellowly along, glass in hand.
Pedalling along roads carved through acres of vines and up sun-dappled lanes between tasting rooms is a lovely, leisurely way to spend a day. Hire your own bike and sip at leisure, being careful to avoid wobbly legs. Or book a Velo ‘N’ Vino http://getawayadventures.com/tour/velo-n-vino-tour/ tour in Sonoma or Napa, working up a sweat with a morning 20-mile cycle around beautiful back roads before loading the bikes on a bus for a reward of lunch and wine tastings.
It would be lovely to walk, skip and hop between wineries, but they tend to be so… big. If you fancy a walk, spend an afternoon or evening sampling vintages in downtown tasting rooms. Paso Robles www.downtownpasowine.com has a charming downtown, with various festivals and organised wine strolls around the 14 tasting rooms, including one with a zoo animal in each venue. Downtown Napa http://donapa.com has also had a hip makeover of late, while Santa Barbara www.downtownsb.org and San Luis Obispo http://visitslo.com are lovely, walkable cities dotted with wine bars and tasting rooms.
Why worry about getting behind the wheel when you can park up and sleep among the vines? Or at least, in a guesthouse overlooking the vines. At Dunning www.dunningvineyards.com in Paso Robles, sip award-winning zinfandel on a private terrace with views the stretch across rows of chardonnay grapes to the ocean. A night in the villa, with king bed and hot tub by the window (more of those views), starts at £112.
Thought you would just have a few sips, maybe use the spittoon, and drive safely home? It’s all too easy to get carried away with California’s intoxicating mix of wine, sunshine and happy, carefree people. But if you have sipped a little too much, BeMyDD www.bemydd.com will take you and your car home for £17 plus £2.50 per mile. So there’s no need to take any risks.