Wine tasting is not merely the act of drinking wine, it is the total experience and that includes the physical space you are standing in when sampling Sauvignon Blanc or pondering Petit Verdot. Most wine tasting rooms seem like afterthought - a utilitarian, banal footnote to the wine itself. So IntoWine scoured the Golden State in search of those tasting rooms that provide an elevated experience simply by you showing up. So here then, listed in alphabetical order by region, then winery, are our picks for the coolest, hippest, hottest, most fun and awesome tasting rooms in California.
Concannon: If the sheer history of being one of California’s oldest producing wineries doesn’t interest you, how about the tin pressed ceilings as a counter point to the wood and stone floors and walls, or the lush grounds complete with Victorian home and rows of vines, or the huge grape arbor in which to while away a few hours. Off the beaten path in lesser-traveled Livermore Valley it’s a step back in time. Wines: Petit Sirah, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot.
Lange Twins: The recently opened “Press Room” is a spot in languid Lodi to sample their terrific, convivial wines. This sleek industrial, partially underground space, with two facing bars made from local trees looks to the barrel room and has the feel of a hip cave with the look of Italian Moderne, a breakaway from the farming feel of Lodi. Get the cheese plate. Wines: Malbec, Sangiovese Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Blends.
Saddle Creek/Semler: In Malibu, tucked neatly into the Santa Monica Mountains just up from the Pacific Ocean on Mulholland Highway, is this semi-isolated venue. The outdoor stone tasting room, a shack really, is smack dab in the middle of pine trees, lush grass lawns, and the capacious mountain terrain. You find yourself wondering exactly where the hell you are, and loving the remoteness, yet closeness to the Pacific Ocean. Wines: Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Chardonnay.
Phillips Hill: This Anderson Valley tasting room integrates history and the cool factor with their all-wood open air tasting room, an antique apple dryer building. Apples and hops were the main draw in this Valley back in the day, not grapes. Being so remote the apple crop needed to be dried prior to interminable shipping to parts unknown. Now, no one dries out at Phillips Hill in their upstairs tree-house wine pad. Surrounded by mature verdant green trees, it’s small, remote and still undiscovered. Wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer.
Talbott: When owner Robb Talbott opened up a new Carmel Valley tasting room he combined three of his passions: wine, motorcycles and vintage peddle cars, yes…peddle cars, as in those tinny things your grandfather peddled round in from the Old Country. With a stellar collection of motorcycles and peddle cars from France, the U.S. and Germany, the sleek, polished wood toned room is imbued with the wow factor the moment you enter. The wines too are made to wow, seamless and beautifully seductive. Wines: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Castello di Amorosa: Everyone envisions tasting wine in some Medieval castle, but rarely get the chance to do so. But wait, in Napa, there is a castle, constructed after actual European castles which you can tour and get the full effect of a time gone by. Drawbridge? Check, Moat? Check. Authenticity? Check. So check it out with a tour of this $30+ castle with wine tasting inside traditional Roman brick arch work. Wines: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Late Harvest Sémillon.
Hall: Filled with works of fine art from the Hall’s private collection alongside the state-of-the-art winemaking equipment, appointment-only tastings are offered within the hand-built barrel aging caves constructed with reclaimed bricks from Vienna, Austria. The tasting room’s pièce de résistance is a chandelier shaped like a grape vine root system and featuring 1,500 Swarovski crystals dangling above your head. Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc.
Paraduxx: Couches and casual seating throughout their modern wood paneled tasting room makes this a debonair experience. Outdoor tastings allow you to lay back on a chaise lounge and enjoy the sun and bask over the vineyards on the Silverado Trail. With sophisticated and gorgeous Thos. Moser furnishings, it brings a sense of urbane charm to the wine country experience. They do table service differently - bringing out your entire flight of tastings at the same time and give you information on each wine. Wines: Napa Valley Blends-Cabernet and Zinfandel, Merlot and Zinfandel, Viognier and Chardonnay.
Quintessa: This magnificent winery, devised by noted vintner/owner Agustin Huneeus and designed by Walker Warner Architects of San Francisco is grand yet understated and eminently modern. Built into a hill on the Silverado Trail, this entirely gravity fed winery is all curves and caves. Legions of barrels lined up against the walls, arranged like spokes in a wheel going round in an endless circle. Quintessa’s tasting room is dark, cool and private, full of marble, stone, wood and elegant touches. Wines: Meritage blend.
Raymond Vineyards: The Red Room seems like it’s more suited to a dream sequence from a David Lynch film, but this spot requiring advance reservations is just peculiar, weird and fun because it’s so odd. Laden with red booths, chairs, red curtains, a red pool table, vintage pinball machines, and red cloth dangling from the ceiling, it sincerely is overkill. But it is also pure theatre and one you won’t forget. Wines: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah, Petite Sirah.
LXV: Is wine like sex? Or more to the point is the Kama Sutra akin to Cabernet? Those questions might be answered at LXV. Covered in dark blue walls with suggestive paintings of women, and relaxing couches to lounge on, LXV is different than what you know. They pair their wines with spices, yeah, spices, and it feels and looks more like a nightclub or maybe a hip big-city spot, not something you think you’d find in rural Paso Robles. Wines: Viognier, Rose, Rhone/Bordeaux blends.
Clautier: Off Union Road are several wineries but none such as Clautier. Visitors to the farmhouse tasting room are greeted by a mesmerizing 230-foot curvaceous fence that fronts the property. The grounds are dotted with sculptures and ornaments and you might think you have missed the winery entrance and are in a sculpture garden. Inside the tasting room you’re confronted with bold purple and black colors and patterns, a down-the-rabbit-hole moment for sure. There are also neon colored wigs to try on while you taste wine - a selfie moment for sure. Wines: Cabernet, Syrah, Viognier, Blends.
Daou: Location, location, location. It’s almost always a killer day on Daou Mountain, perched 2.200 feet in the air above nearly everything else in Paso Robles, and this expansive tasting room has stunning views for miles. The alabaster tasting bar gleams with hidden lights and the spare-no-expense accouterments makes it feel like top notch interior designers have deigned to visit the humble Central Coast. Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, Zinfandel.
Tobin James: Paso Robles still has its old West cowboy roots in tact, no place more so than Tobin James. The Western saloon is classic bar and the reason people pack themselves into this giddy spot is that it’s almost impossible to have a bad time. Super friendly pourers, lots and lots of wine, it’s like Cheers on steroids set in John Ford film. Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah.
Deer Park Winery: I know you’ve never heard of Deer Park Winery, and you’ve probably rarely driven I-15 just north of San Diego, but this spot pours estate juice while offering what is billed as the world’s largest collection of convertible automobiles – a stunning array of cars without roofs, gleaming and polished. There’s also an oddball collection of vintage radios, a Barbie room and, encased in glass, a confusing tribute to Brook Shields. You will love the 120+ cars, the rest is just bewildering but eminently intriguing. Wines Sangiovese, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay.
San Luis Obispo
Tolosa: Imagine James Bond created a tasting room and you get an idea of what Tolosa is like. You’re greeted by cork floors, stainless steel ceilings, and a wood and glass bar. A plasma screen displays pictures of recent events and the winemaking process, while the LCD screen displays up to date specials. It’s picturesque, to say the least and their site, surrounded by vineyards with perfect ocean breezes, sweeps across the fields and brings all of the scents of the hills and the soil directly to your nostrils. Stay and picnic at their tranquil outdoor picnic area or play a round of bocce ball as you soak in the peaceful surroundings. Wines: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris.
Area 5.1: If aliens have visited earth is there a chance they liked our wines? That might be the question you ponder at this Santa Barbara tasting room dedicated to dependable wines at solid price points, all while reading about them in a Top Secret File. Patterned after Area 51 in Nevada, this isn’t quite as difficult to get to, but the retro feel of the 1950s chairs and the Cold War interior design might make you feel like a spy. Oh, and it’s two blocks from the beach. Wines: All blends all the time like Syrah/Malbec/Cab, and Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Lourerio.
Demetria Estate: Perhaps it’s the gate you have to be buzzed into or the long and circuitous dirt road leading you to the winery where the big reveal is an orange/lemon colored Tuscan estate like you stepped into the Italian countryside. The outdoor area is replete with mature oaks, comfortable tables and chairs, and live music. It’s like a really cool, mellow garden party and better yet, you don’t have to pick up after anyone. Wines: Viognier, Syrah, Chardonnay
Municipal Winemakers: If film director Terry Gilliam (the stupendous Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Von Munchhausen) fancied a tasting room, this would probably be it. Eclectic, bizarre and just plain fun and the envy of set designers, it’s a mix of impractical, cool and hip with wines stored in file cabinets. A scant two-minute walk to the beach, you’re dead center in Santa Barbara’s tony Funk Zone. Wines: Chenin Blanc, Counoise, Grenache, Pinot Noir.
Ironstone: Located in Murphy’s you can’t help but be impressed by the shear scope of the complex. They have an outdoor amphitheater with concerts that bring in the likes of Faith Hill, and ZZ Top. They have caves below the tasting room, replicas of mining equipment, beautifully landscaped gardens including half a million daffodils in season. But it is the 44 pound gold nugget that is the wow factor, not to mention their tasting room features a 45-foot high rock fireplace. Wines: Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Meritage, California Port.
Sobon Estate: Located on the site of the first commercial winery in Amador County, dating to 1856 the original winery, though not functioning, can be toured. The tasting room, formerly the bottling room, is basic and functional and the only thing that has changed in the last 20 years is the floor, seriously. But it’s not the selling point; it’s the next door museum where you can stand inside one of California oldest and still standing wineries, check out farming equipment from the turn of the last century and stand inside California wine history. Wines: Roussanne, Syrah, Zinfandel
Francis Ford Coppola: Part winery, part restaurant, part Hollywood museum this spot is all Hollywood. You can see The Godfather desk, Coppola’s five Oscars, the gown that Gary Oldman wore from Dracula, the actual Tucker car, and surfboards and skulls from Apocalypse Now. In fact you might spend so much time checking out the goodies, or hanging out by the pool, you might miss the wines and the on-site Italian restaurant. Glitz and glam? Yes. But a boatload of fun. Wines: Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah.
Portalupi: With trendy Euro themes and blueish-purple-ish couches to lounge in and wine stacked in repurposed palettes for a trendy recycled look, this spot in the Healdsburg square is comfortable and cool and feels Italian without even trying. It’s like smart European design landed in Sonoma. Of course, they focus on Italian varieties so it all congeals. Pouring: Zinfandel, Barbera, Pinot Noir.
Rams Gate: The Gate is like visiting your wealthy friends’ weekend house in wine country, albeit designed by an international interior designer. Along with a variety of tasting areas: the pavilion with a view of the pond, either side of the double-sided outdoor fireplace, inside at the bar, in the library or even at the chef's table, there are various wine and food pairing options. The 30 foot ceilings, exposed beams, weathered wooden walls made of reclaimed snow-fencing from Wyoming, and massive floor-to-ceiling glass walls open to sweeping vineyard views. Pouring: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparklers.
Milagro Farm: This wandering farm/estate in Ramona (I know you’re asking, where?), north-east of San Diego is collection of outdoor spaces over looking a pond, with horse trails to underground caves made of local stone to a sea of vineyards, all flanked by open skies, old oak trees and the wind it the only other things you hear. Out of the way and happy to be not near anything, it becomes on e of those long relaxing wine tasting adventure. Wines: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Barbera, Sangiovese.