Southern California Wine Country has a rich history dating back to the 1700s when Franciscan missionary, Father Junipero Sera, established the first known vineyard in California – in San Diego. The past few centuries have seen immense growth of Southern California’s grape growing and winemaking scene, as many sub-regions have emerged, each with its own defining microclimate and winemaking culture.
Take a road trip with us as we outline ten of our favorite Southern California wineries, from Malibu to San Diego and everywhere in between.
3211 Mulholland Highway, Malibu, CA 90265, (818) 578-4081
For those seeking a dose of adventure, Malibu Wine Safari is a must. A mere 30-minute drive from Los Angeles, this offbeat wine tasting experience invites guests to ride on custom-built, open-air safari vehicles around Malibu’s 1,000-acre Saddlerock Ranch and Vineyard. Sip wines from Saddlerock, Semler, and more as you mix and mingle with rescued exotic animals who call the ranch their home, including zebras, camels, alpacas, bison, and a giraffe named Stanley, who also – surprise, surprise – happens to be a retired Hollywood star.
18741 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 902654, (310) 456-1392
Beach-lovers will like stopping into Rosenthal – The Malibu Estate’s tasting room in Malibu, located literally across from the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway. As you take in gorgeous ocean views, as well as live music and food trucks on weekends, sip the full Rosenthal lineup of wines. Grapes like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, viognier, and chardonnay are grown four miles inland at 1,450 feet above sea level on the steep slopes of the Newton Canyon AVA – Rosenthal’s very own appellation dedicated to its unique microclimate – then bottled to be sipped while enjoying the true Malibu beach lifestyle.
4231 Wineville Road, Mira Loma, CA 91752, (951) 685-5376
History buffs will want to pay a visit to Galleano. This property, located east of Los Angeles in Rancho Cucamonga, an area that was once the largest wine-growing region in the U.S., is essential to understanding the history of winemaking in Southern California. It is the oldest continuously operated, family-owned winery in the region, dating back to when Domenico Galleano was making wine in his basement during Prohibition. $5 gets you a tasting of five wines all made from locally-grown zinfandel, grenache, alicante bouchet, and more. If you’re lucky, you will run into Domenico’s great grandson Don, who will more than likely tell you some amazing stories about the property’s rich history.
34450 Rancho California Road, Temecula, CA 92591, (844) 851-2138
Sparkling wine fans, this is the winery for you. Award-winning winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores have shown the immense potential of classic method (e.g. how Champagne is made) sparkling wines made with grapes from Temecula Valley. The tasting room is adjacent to the production facility and separated only by a glass wall, so you can see the entire process in action while you sip their selection of premium sparkling and still wines made from local grapes.
36083 Summitville Street, Temecula, CA 92592, (951) 676-6989
Anyone with a thing for motorcycles will want to pop into this family-owned and operated boutique winery in Temecula Valley. Not only can you taste exquisite small production wines made from viognier, zinfandel, malbec, syrah, and proprietary blends while learning about the family’s commitment to quality farming, you can also tour their on-site collection of vintage motorcycles. Owner and winemaker Damian Doffo has even created a line of “MotoDoffo” wines, each featuring original artwork commissioned from some of the motorcycling world’s most renowned artists.
37350 De Portola Road, Temecula, CA 92592, (951) 302-8466
If all that tasting is working up an appetite, snag a table at Mama Rosa’s Trattoria at Robert Renzoni Vineyards in Temecula Valley. Sip the winery’s expertly-crated wines, made primarily from the Italian varieties that grow so well in the region, while you nosh on some of the tastiest pizzas, pastas, salads, and sandwiches available outside of Italy. Grapes like vermentino, pinot grigio, Montepulciano, and sangiovese sing in the hands of winemaker Olivia Bue, and are a natural pairing for the food…not to mention the Tuscan-like views from the winery’s patio.
13455 San Pasqual Road, Escondido, CA 92025, (760) 738-6500
For a lovely Wine Country picnic setting, pack up some provisions and head to Orfila Vineyards and Winery in Escondido. This 70-acre estate located in the San Pasqual Valley on a 10,000-acre agricultural preserve features gorgeous grounds, a rose garden and grape arbor, and plenty of shaded tables to sip wine while picnicking and taking in San Diego’s idyllic year-round weather. The estate is only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 500 feet, which equates to cool ocean breezes and morning fogs that create optimal grape growing conditions. The result is a portfolio of wines made from estate and local grapes that have garnered over 1,000 domestic and international awards. Orfila also has a tasting room in Oceanside, if the beach vibe is more your speed.
1255 Julian Orchards Drive, Julian, CA 92036, (760) 765-3267
If the mountains are calling, head to the picturesque town of Julian, located in the Cuyamaca Mountains, an hour east of San Diego, for a visit to this winery, vineyard, and orchard, owned by the Hart family (who also own the iconic Hart Winery in Temecula Valley). A quick two-mile drive from the historic city center, which began its roots in the 1870s Gold Rush, the property is known for estate-grown pinot gris and pinot noir. They also source grapes from other judiciously selected San Diego and Temecula Valley vineyards. As Julian is famous for its apple orchards, Volcan Mountain Winery sits on eight acres of apple trees growing 18 different kinds of apples, and produces three different apple wines, all of which can be tasted and purchased while visiting.
23123 Vista Ramona Road, Ramona, CA 92065, (760) 896-4014
La Finquita – translation: “the little farm” – in San Diego’s Ramona Valley is a must-see for its cave, if nothing else. This eight-acre property is owned by husband-and-wife team Charlie and Jess Koehler, who also happen to be the youngest winery owners and vintners in Ramona. Not only does it feature hand-crafted wines made exclusively from San Diego County grapes like petit verdot, tempranillo, syrah, grenache, and other Mediterranean varieties, it also boasts a stunning wine cave built into the side of the hill beneath the winery’s tasting room, adorned with walls of wine racks, a medieval chandelier, and the unmistakable, heady aroma of wine as it ages.
8680 Miralani Drive, #113, San Diego, CA 92126, 877-592-9095
City dwellers, be sure to check out one of San Diego’s coolest urban wineries, located in the Miralani Makers’ District. Charlie & Echo pride themselves on producing ultra low-intervention, natural wines made from locally sourced grapes. They specialize in craft sparkling wines that are intended to be a palate-opening departure from the Champagnes and Proseccos we are used to. A true urban winery, they encourage guests to bring in food and snacks from other businesses on site, not to mention their kids and dogs. The winery is also a member of 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of all sales back to environmental non-profits.