I enjoy a variety of wines, but chardonnay remains my favorite. Fortunately, I live in California where some of the best chardonnays in the world are made. Over the past 2 years, I’ve had the chance to visit several wineries that are known both for their excellent chardonnay and scenic settings. I’ll share my favorites, starting in Northern California and working my way south. The experiences vary from upscale and exclusive to rustic and cozy. Some are quite pricey while others are affordable. In other words, there’s something for everyone.
1. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards
Rolling vineyards, large oak trees, and colorful gardens are the backdrop for the Stonestreet Estate Vineyards. This high-elevation winery might be one of the most scenic tasting experiences in Sonoma. The estate encompasses 5,500 acres of land in the Mayacamas Mountain range, producing seriously good wines including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.
To no one’s surprise, my favorite wine here was the 2018 Estate Chardonnay, but cab lovers will be equally as happy. In fact, this winery receives all five-star reviews on TripAdvisor.
There are two tasting experiences offered at Stonestreet as well as a mountain excursion if you want to explore the vineyards up close.
2. Bacchus Landing
California is loaded with small, family wineries that aren’t able to sustain their own tasting rooms, which in turn means few people know about their wines. The Lopez family decided this was a problem in need of a solution and opened Bacchus Landing, a centrally located, communal space to bring together wine lovers and boutique wineries. A total of seven tasting rooms surround a large courtyard making it easy for visitors to sample as many or as few wines as they choose. In between tasting they can relax outdoors, grab a snack from the market, and even play bocce ball.
My husband, Jason, and I had the chance to hang out at Bacchus Landing for a couple of hours one afternoon and taste wines from five wineries. We enjoyed hearing the stories of the winemakers, learning how they got started, and sampling a wide variety of vino. Always the chardonnay lover, I especially enjoyed the tastings at Aldina Vineyards, AldenAlli, and Montagne Russe. It was fun to taste so many variations on one varietal.
Each of the wineries offers multiple tasting experiences and no reservations are needed. Guests are also welcome to purchase a bottle and enjoy it outside. And don’t hesitate to bring your dog; Bacchus is pet friendly.
3. Landmark Vineyards At Hop Kiln Estate
When visitors arrive at Landmark Vineyards they first see an expansive green lawn dotted with large trees, all bordering a pond. If you’re lucky, you might see the head winemaker’s dog, a friendly old labrador lounging on the grass. Located in a historic stone building that once was a hop kiln, the tasting room is rather old-school. A long, dark wood bar provides the space for wine-tasting while old barrels serve as displays for merchandise. While many wine-tasting rooms throughout the state have become a showcase for interior design, this place is all about the relaxed setting and the excellent wine.
I had the chance to taste Landmark’s pinot gris, two of their pinot noirs, and two of their chardonnays. All were delicious, but the winner for me was the 2019 Lorenzo Chardonnay. In fact, this wine has appeared on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list seven times.
Landmark offers two tasting experiences and bottle service. Charcuterie is available to purchase to accompany your wine.
Pro Tip: The first three wineries I’ve listed are all in the Healdsburg area. If you have the time for a weekend getaway, there are dozens of great wineries, restaurants, galleries, and boutique shops in Healdsburg.
4. Trombetta Family Wines
Tastings at Trombetta Family Wines take place in their backyard, making it the coziest and most personal experience we’ve ever had. This very small family winery came about through the combined efforts of Ricky and Roger Trombetta and their daughter Erica Stancliff. They began making wine in their home and eventually expanded into commercial production.
After parking in the gravel driveway, guests walk around the house to their large backyard and garden. A small table is prepared on the patio to welcome guests with small bites, each of which complements the wine. Instead of the usual wine-tasting, this experience is more like hanging out with friends. After the tasting, we walked through their small vineyard planted in their front yard.
Trombetta specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay, and both are excellent. I definitely recommend the 2019 chardonnay, Indindoli Vineyard Russian River. If you enjoy these wines, buy them here; they can be difficult to find in stores.
This experience can only be scheduled in advance. It’s recommended to contact the winery a few weeks prior to your visit.
5. Oak Farm Vineyards
I must admit I had no idea where Lodi was, despite having lived in California for over 30 years. So imagine my surprise when I learned there are over 80 wineries in and around this city. Located in the Central Valley of the state, Lodi has long been known as an agricultural town. But the past several years have seen an explosion of winemaking.
Our first stop for wine tasting in Lodi was at Oak Farm Vineyards, a family-owned and operated winery set on 70 acres. The large tasting room is slightly elevated providing nice views of the surrounding vineyards and ancient oak trees. Guests can opt to taste indoors or out. I definitely recommend grabbing a reservation to be seated on the East Patio which includes a small cheese plate. And if you have time, take the tour that includes the history of the property and entrance to the barrel rooms.
Oak Farm offers two delicious chardonnays: classic and estate. I like both but came home with a few bottles of the estate. And while I don’t drink merlot very often, both Jason and I really enjoyed their Vapor Trail Merlot.
Pro Tips: On the Oak Farm property is Annadan Vineyard Suites, a beautifully decorated two-bedroom vacation rental. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway amongst the vineyards, this place is perfect.
6. Bedford Winery
Los Alamos, California
Stephan Bedford might be the most unassuming winemaker I’ve met. In fact, I’m guessing that most people who stop at Bedford Winery in Los Alamos and sample their wines don’t know they are being served by the owner and winemaker.
The small tasting room and outdoor patio are located on Bell Street, which is the main thoroughfare of the tiny hamlet of Los Alamos. If you have the time, grab a seat on the covered patio and take your time sampling the five wines — it’s both rustic and relaxing. At $15 per person, this might be the best deal in California.
The 2017 chardonnay, “Dear Prudence,” from the Santa Maria Valley was my favorite. After all, who wouldn’t like a wine named for the winemaker’s mother? There were only 70 cases made, so I can’t guarantee it will still be available, but you will still want to stop here even if it’s not.
Pro Tip: At first glance, Los Alamos and Bell Street don’t look like a place to spend a few hours. But don’t let first impressions deceive you. There are dozens of hidden gems including restaurants, cafes, and tasting rooms.
7. Callaway Vineyard & Winery
Temecula is full of wineries with fabulous views of the surrounding rolling hills. But many people agree that the best place to take in the views is at Callaway Vineyard, the first winery to open its doors in Temecula Valley. Set atop a plateau, the large campus looks out over miles of vineyards in all directions. The best time of day to visit is around sunset. Not only can you enjoy the changing colors of the sky, but you might also see hot air balloons rising. Large patios offer comfortable seating for wine tasting and relaxing.
I’ve had the chance to visit the winery and try a couple of their chardonnays. I liked them so much I often buy them back home. Fortunately, Callaway is widely available in stores. If you prefer red wines, Callaway makes several including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and sangiovese.
1-hour tours are available of the facilities. If you’re hungry, be sure to head to their highly rated restaurant, Meritage.
Pro Tip: Callaway — and most Temecula wineries — are very busy on the weekends. If you want a quieter experience, try visiting on a weekday.
If you’re traveling to California by plane and hope to take wine home, consider booking your flight with Alaska Airlines. This wine-friendly airline will allow you to take home one case of wine for free. If you purchase more than a case or are not flying Alaska, ask your winery to ship wine home for you. Then you can relive all these beautiful tasting experiences you had in the Golden State.