Wine Travel: The AVAs of California

There comes a time when trying to live our dream requires some outside help. With my wine travel dream–a dream I have to travel the world through its many wine areas–I frequently reach out to ask for your help. This area of wine travel is something that’s new to me, so I can use all the travel tips and wine recommendations that I can get.

When I first blogged about narrowing my dream down to focus on wine travel, I asked where I should take my first wine travel trip. (Santa Barbara and Paso Robles won – here’s the original post.)

I was–and still am–thrilled that you reached out to help guide my next, or first, big wine trip for a wino rookie like me.

So What’s My Dilemma, You Say?

The dilemma is this: I have booked a trip to spend a healthy amount of time in the San Francisco Bay area, but without a car or a friend to help me navigate, I will have to keep my upcoming California wine trip north of San Francisco. Not a bad problem, I suppose, but I was looking forward to taking you all up on your advice and taking you with me on my travels to visit the wineries of Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Maybe next year or when I can convince a friend to go with me?

For now, I have to refocus my sights on traveling to wine countries north of San Francisco.

Enter My Second Dilemma 

I have no clue. No, not that I have no clue what my second dilemma is, but I just have no clue what wine areas to visit now. (Help me out again and take my survey at the bottom of the post. Thank you!) Right now I am experiencing what experts call “analysis paralysis.” I am overwhelmed by the bounty of wine options California holds for us wine travel dreamers.

California is home to 3,364 wineries, according to the Wine Institute’s report from 2010. There’s probably a few more additions since then, too. To help break those numbers down, California has six major wine “regions” or  American Viticultural Areas (AVA) that encompass their own sub-AVAs within them.

The Six Most Commonly Referenced California Wine Regions:

  • South Coast
  • Sierra Foothills
  • Central Coast
  • Central Valley
  • North Coast
  •  Klamath Mountains

Let’s back up a second. An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated grape-growing area that shares similar geographic features–similar climate, soil and elevation. The point is that you will know what you are getting with wines from these areas. The specific AVA boundaries are determined by the The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Knowing that AVAs produce distinct grapes and flavors in the wines, now I need to choose a new area to visit–sorry, Santa Barbara. Of the major six I mentioned above, it will be easiest for me to focus on the North Coast. This is perhaps the most popular of the California wine regions–the entire AVA spans six counties: Lake County, Marin County, Mendocino County, Napa County, Solano County and Sonoma County.

Within the North Coast AVA is several sub-AVAs. These ones listed below are the overwhelming number of choices for my next wine travel adventure. (From Wikipedia)



When I, a newcomer to the wine travel game, look at this, I see a few places I have been to, a few extremely popular places and a lot more places I could not pinpoint on a map.

Help Me Solve My Wine Travel Dilemma … Take My Survey

Again, I have no clue where to begin when planning this upcoming wine travel trip, so I need you to help me narrow down the choices. I will start broadly this week. Then, every week leading up to my California departure in May, I will ask you another question about where I should go to help narrow my trip down to the exact wineries I will visit. All I ask from you is to please vote in the surveys and leave comments below if you have specific recommendations, which I will love from you!

OK, so step one–and survey question one–in re-planning my California wine travel trip … which county should I visit in the North Coast AVA?



Thank you so much for helping me out! I know there are a lot of knowledgable and wine savvy readers out there, and I would love to hear from you!

What North Coast AVAs do you like?


Stay tuned next Monday when I reveal the winner of my North Coast AVA County poll and then ask the next question to help me narrow down my wine travel trip.

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