September’s here, and our summer vacations are already becoming a retreating memory. Kids complain about their new school schedules, adults resign themselves to a long stretch of workweeks before our next big vacation, and even our dogs seem to look wistfully out the window wondering where all the fun went. Don’t let the ennui of the season bring you down, though: fall is also a wonderful season for wine travel. In fact, September is California Wine Month! Celebrations abound. There’s plenty to do in California’s wine regions to brighten our spirits and remind us that just because summer’s over doesn’t mean the party is, too.
California Wine Month celebrations stretch across the state. After all, with 122 separate wine-growing areas in California, there are plenty of vineyards and wineries to add to the festivities! The wine growing regions celebrate California Wine Month with various festivals VIP tours, concerts, tastings, and even (my favorite) picking and crushing grapes. Here are some of the top California Wine Month celebrations and events.
1. In California’s Central Coast, the 6th annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast highlights wine country lifestyle September 24-27. The wine — and Central Coast local food — immersion festival is based at the Santa Margarita Ranch, and the larger San Luis Obispo County has scattered events at its different wineries as well. I can vouch for this one; last year, I had a great time meeting celebrity chefs, attending winemaker seminars, going to several wine tastings and going to a closing folk rock concert. this year, there’s a new opening night event: Strings at Sunset at the Vina Robles Amphitheatre.
2. Also in California’s Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley Wine Month lasts all month (September 1-30). Wine lovers can make Santa Barbara their home base while exploring wineries in Santa Ynez Valley, in towns like Santa Ynez (obviously), Los Olives, Solvang and Buellton. The wineries are offering winemaker dinners, tastings, special wine uncorkings, wine education classes and other fun events, along with hotel packages. The hotel packages make California Wine Month celebrations easier to organize here.
3. Inland, the Madera Vintners Association’s California Wine Month Celebration is September 18. The Madera Wine Trail showcases several participating wineries with award-winning wines for tasting. California Wine Month’s specific celebration is at Toca Madera Winery in Medera, with wine tastings, food and wine pairings, and small plates and samples from local restaurants. The Madera Vintners Association will announce awards for area wine industry professionals at the event, and guests can vote for their favorite local wine as well.
4. Sip Savor Lodi is a three-day celebration of the annual harvest in Lodi Wine Country. Lodi is inland, akin to Madera. September 25-27 starts with the Harvest Dinner, following with a December 26 Grand Tasting of Lodi’s varietal wines in downtown Lodi. Sip Savor Lodi ends with Cellar Tours on Sunday September 27. This premier event allows participants to interact with local vintners and experience the variety of California Inland Valley wines from Albarino to Zinfandel.
5. California Wine Month goes big in Sonoma County, with Labor Day weekend’s Sonoma Wine Country Weekend — which Celebrated Living has called one of the “10 Best Wine and Food Events in the U.S.” This year, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is September 4-6. Sonoma County is home to some of California’s best wines, and of course California’s wines are among the most highly rated in the world (sorry France and Italy, we’re the company you keep!) so you know that a a true California Wine Month wine-based road trip should include visits to some of Sonoma’s wineries.
6. The northernmost California Wine Month celebration is in Mendocino. This is the area of California known as “redwood country,” and the cooler temperatures results in grapes that last longer on the vines, and the different wines add to California’s great wine diversity. Mendocino’s Annual Winesong Charity Auction & Tasting is a two-day event: on September 11 this year, the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Celebration will allow guests to sample 25 different local wineres’ offerings as pairs with also locally produced foods, at the Little River Inn. The next day, the Winesong Food & Wine tasting gives participants a chance to relax in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, while enjoying food and wine pairings from fifty Mendocino County food purveyors; live music adds to the allure.
These are six of the top California Wine Month celebrations and events. Others include CRUSH: Temecula Valley Wine & Culinary Showcase, which highlights the harvest with over thirty Temecula Valley wineries (on September 19), and North Lake Tahoe’s 30th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival (on September 11-13) which is a three-day event encompassing everything from cooking demos and wine and food pairings to immersion classes and a culinary competition.
Sure, it’s always a little sad to say goodbye to the summer. California Wine Month events help ease the way into the next season, and any of these events are fun enough to not just ease the pain of getting back into the daily grind of the fall, but to embrace it, as well. After all, without the grape harvest, California’s wines wouldn’t be around to brighten so many of our meals. And that’s truly worth celebrating.