I was recently involved in a discussion regarding preferred wine tourism destinations among serious wine drinkers / collectors. Napa Valley is consistently drubbed for its utter lack of value. Average tasting room fees are $25 – $40/pp… to access top quality, it is not uncommon to pay $75/pp. Now granted, these wineries are so gorgeous – Napa Valley itself creates its own ambiance, but let’s move past honeymoons and anniversaries and talk year-in and year-out wine tourism destinations. My wife and I have vacationed in Napa at least 10 times in the last 20 years and while it was previously my favorite location, it is now third on my list behind the California Central Coast and Sonoma County. To make things worse, Napa tasting rooms have steadily become more impersonal, making me feel like one of the massive herd, or a bother, rather than a valued guest.
Yes, my favorite wine destination is the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties area in California!
Cuisine / Restaurant Scene – Winner Napa Valley
The Central Coast is improving, but still has catching up to do.
Tasting Rm Fees – Winner Central Coast
1/3 to 1/2 the cost of Napa.
Tasting Rm Atmosphere – Winner Central Coast
The Central Coast is a big winner here. I have been getting tired of the attitude in Napa. The tasting rooms are so much friendlier almost anywhere else. I miss 10+ years ago when wine tasting was casual and inviting!
Lodging Value – Winner Central Coast
1/2 the cost of Napa with several resort quality properties to choose from.
Quality of Wine –Winner Central Coast
Slight edge, not because any single wine is superior, but because overall – the wines approach Napa in quality and the selection is amazingly diverse. There are top quality producers of Syrah, Cabernet Sauv, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here… in Southern Rhone, Bordeaux and Burgundy styles. All of this diversity is driven by an area with crazy climate variability.
Scenery – Winner Napa Valley
Maybe not as cozy as Napa Valley, but the hill and mountain regions west of Hwy 101 are very picturesque.
Beach – Winner Central Coast
No Beaches near Napa. This region has Pismo Beach.
Winery Architecture – Winner Napa Valley
Napa has a big edge here, but some wineries are starting to spend big money in the Central Coast area.
A Paso Robles Vineyard & Winery
Morro Bay, CA
Central Coast Winery Suggestions
(arranged from South to North)
Santa Barbara County
Carr Vineyards – All wines are good, but their 100% Cab Franc is special and reasonably priced.
Jaffurs Wine Cellars – Quality Southern Rhone style wines that offer great value.
Brewer- Clifton – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their Chardonnay is Burgundy style and fantastic!
Qupe – Beautiful, refined Syrah by a master winemaker.
Andrew Murray Vineyards – The best value quality Syrah in the U.S. hands down.
Melville Winery – Great values in Burgundy style Pinot Noir.
San Luis Obispo County
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery – Fine quality sparkling wines in a broad selection of styles.
L’Aventure Winery – Balanced Hedonism Incarnate (is that possible?). These wines are massive, powerful… and perfection.
Peachy Canyon Winery – No winery makes more different single vineyard Zinfandels. If you are a Zin Master, you must visit Peachy.
Tobin James Cellars – Their tasting room is definitely the most fun in the area!
Justin Cellars – This is your bastion for Bordeaux style wine in the area. Their Cab Sauv and Merlot blends are very good! These wines are approaching the quality of the best in Napa.
Herman Story Wines – THE BEST Southern Rhone Style Wines in the United States at prices that will cause you to do a double-take.
Other Wineries of Note – Some of best wineries in the world are making amazing wine here, but are expensive and difficult to arrange access: Alban Vineyards, Saxum Vineyards and Sea Smoke Estate Vineyards.
New Destinations – My wife and I will be traveling to Walla Walla, WA this fall, six years after our last trip. I am hoping this location has much to show! I am looking for my next wine destination to add to our list! I will update our findings on this site after our trip!