A Perfect Week in Lodi

Visit a Central Valley town that knows its wine

Lodi Wine Country is one of California’s major winegrowing regions, located 100 miles east of San Francisco on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, south of Sacramento, and west of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is named after the most populous city within the region. Lodi is characterized by a rural atmosphere where wineries and farms run by 4th – and 5th generation families operate along-side a new group of vintners who have brought creative winemaking and cutting-edge technology to the region.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi has been a major grape growing region since the 1850s when prospectors drawn by the California gold rush began to settle the area. Today, Lodi comprises 18 percent of California’s total wine grape production―more than Napa and Sonoma counties combined.

Twenty years ago there were eight Lodi wineries. Today there are over 80, hundreds of Lodi-labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi is predominately a red wine-producing region, with approximately two-thirds of the acreage dedicated to red varieties. However, with over 75 varieties in commercial production, Lodi offers a vast portfolio of interesting and unique wines.

Michael David Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, producing over 32 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. Many of the region’s most distinctive wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines”—some dating back to the 1880s. An estimated 2,000 acres are unique pre-Prohibition own-rooted vines.

Lucas Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabernet Sauvignon is prevalent along the eastern edge of the Lodi appellation. Although a part of the local landscape for over a hundred years, Petite Sirah has seen a recent rise in popularity. A relative newcomer, Lodi Syrah has quickly become more prominent.

Van Ruten Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winemakers have also begun to explore the broad range of emerging varieties originating in similar climatic regions of the Europe, including Spain, Italy, Southern France, and Portugal such as Albariño, Tempranillo, Verdelho, Sangiovese, Viognier, Carignane, and Touriga Nacional.

Flag City RV Resort, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is slow and easy in Lodi. The locals not only make you feel welcome, they appreciate you being here. After settling into Flag City RV Resort, a 5-star RV park, we started our seven-day tour by driving to Galt about 8 miles north of Lodi on Highway 99 for their large outdoor market (weekly, Tuesday and Wednesday).

Galt Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its roots as a farmer’s market at the old Sacramento County Fairgrounds in the 1950s, the Galt Market of today is an expansive open-air mall with diverse products available. With over 400 vendors offering merchandise for sale, the quantity of items available is staggering. The Galt Market covers ten acres of great deals with all the adjacent parking lots reserved for customer use.

Galt Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seafood are displayed along ‘produce row’―an aisle 100 yards long with spaces on both sides of the aisle overflowing with offerings from both local and distant farms.

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to Lodi we oriented ourselves to the area briefly exploring the historic downtown area and stopping at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center situated on the picturesque grounds of the Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant, & Spa, and wine-tasted at the nearby Abundance Winery, a family owned and operated boutique winery.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our following day began with a delightful wine tasting experience at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi where roughly 30,000 cases of wine are produced in eight hours. Despite its capacity, Woodbridge’s intimate Visitor’s Center focuses on its family tradition and pours several small lot, winery exclusive wines.

Abundance Vineyard, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven wines we tasted are available only at the winery. The staff was friendly and informative enhancing the experience. The $5 tasting fee was waved as we purchased a bottle of petit syrah.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We drove to Hutchens Street Square Performing Arts Theater and Conference Center, home to the weekend’s annual Sandhill Crane Festival. The cranes winter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta wetlands west of Lodi.

Worth Pondering…

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.

―Ernest Hemingway

Temecula Valley Wine Country

Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first modern commercial vineyard was planted in 1968 by the late Vincenzo Cilurzo and his wife Audrey. Cilurzo worked as a television lighting director in Los Angeles for many years and, like many later Temecula Valley pioneers, he fostered an interest in winemaking as a hobby before he decided to pursue his dream full time.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later in 1968, Guasti-based Brookside Winery also planted a vineyard in Temecula Valley. In 1971, Brookside Winery produced the first commercial wines made from Temecula grapes.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Callaway Vineyard and Winery began farming grapes in 1969, and opened the first Temecula Winery in 1974. Its founder, Ely Callaway went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.

John Poole’s Mount Palomar Winery opened in 1975, and in 1978 the Cilurzos opened the third Temecula winery at a new site. Their original vineyard, Temecula’s oldest, is now owned by Maurice Car’rie Winery.

Temecula Valley received formal recognition as an American Viticultural Area in 1984, first as Temecula AVA with a subsequent name change to Temecula Valley AVA in 2004.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley now boasts over 40 licensed wineries, producing over 500,000 cases annually.

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula, and this is a balance combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail is family owned Robert Renzoni Vineyards. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks. The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We tasted a portfolio of five wines in the Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We previously visited the Temecula Valley Wine Country in November 2001 while staying at Thousand Trails Wilderness Lakes Preserve. We took in the 10th annual Harvest Wine Celebration held the third weekend in November. At that time 14 wineries produced premium wines made possible by a unique micro-climate and well-drained decomposed granite soils.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling east on Rancho California Road, we started with the last winery, Wilson Creek. Founded and operated by the Wilson family, Wilson Creek carried a broad selection of premium wines and offered a unique tasting experience including the very popular Almond Champagne. Next to the winery and tasting room was an elegant wedding gazebo, landscaped gardens, a large event tent, and a natural creek and pond.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards features a welcoming tasting room, full-service restaurant with vineyard view dining and expansive patio, creek side picnic area, indoor and outdoor conference and event spaces, romantic wedding venue, and exclusive retreat accommodations.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The following day we returned to the Temecula Valley Wine Country stopping for tastings at Filsinger, Keyways, Van Roekel, and Callaway Wineries. And that was 17 years ago when wine tasting was $3 to $5 a person and often with a complimentary wine glass.

A family-owned winery since 1978, Filsinger currently produces about 7,000 cases including seven different varietal wines and four types of champagnes.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1989, Keyways Vineyard and Winery was one of the original wineries along Temecula Valley’s winding De Portola Wine Trail. Keyways’ beautiful building and grounds are reminiscent of an early California mission, complete with vineyards and horses grazing in a nearby coral.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maurice Car’rie Winery produces wines under the Maurice Car’rie and Van Roekel labels.

Callaway Vineyard & Winery wines are only available at the winery and are offered for tasting and purchase in their gift shop and tasting room.

Pechanga Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Temecula Valley: 50 Years in the Grapes

Winegrowing goes back over 50 years in Temecula Valley

A stone’s throw from the millions of people who inhabit Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, the Temecula Valley sits in western Riverside County.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a hot August day in the late 1960s, Eli Callaway, a very East Coast businessman, was being driven on what is now Rancho California Road when he came upon a very pregnant woman working in a small family vineyard.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It must have been over 100 degrees,” said Audrey Cilurzo, who with her husband, Vincenzo, had planted the first commercial vineyard in the region.

Dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit and wearing white shoes, Ely Callaway wasted little time.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“He walked up to me and said, ‘My name is Ely Callaway and I’m the CEO of Burlington Industries and I only have two hours to learn all there is to know about the wine business.'”

Fifty years later, much has changed in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula’s Wine Country, a dream of a handful of pioneers five decades ago, has grown in both size and prestige having been named one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast.

Ely Callaway and John Moramarco met on a dirt road in what is now Temecula’s Wine Country when Callaway was looking for property to buy.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1967, Moramarco who descended from a long line of viticulturists had been hired by Brookside Winery of Rancho Cucamonga to come to Rancho California to plant 1,000 acres of grapes. Brookside and the Cilurzos were the first to plant commercial vineyards in the valley.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Callaway asked Moramarco where a good location would be for a winery. Moramarco pointed to the spot where the winery sits today.

In 1968, Callaway bought 150 acres. Soon after, he hired Moramarco away from Brookside to plant grapes and manage the vineyard.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next year, Moramarco planted 105 acres of grapevines, including 40 acres of sauvignon blanc, 40 acres of chenin blanc, and 25 acres of white riesling.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1973, Callaway sold 25 tons of grapes to Robert Mondavi Winery, keeping just enough of his harvest to determine whether he should build a winery in Temecula.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After heading up giant textile manufacturer Burlington Industries, but being passed over for its chief executive officer position in 1973, Callaway “retired” to Temecula to oversee the vineyard. In January 1974, he began building the winery, with plans to crush and bottle the first Callaway wines that September. Moramarco served as the vineyard’s manager. The first wines were sold in October 1975.

Eli Callaway sold the winery to Hiram Walker & Sons in 1981 and went on to gain fame and fortune in the world of golf with his namesake company, Callaway Golf.

You can find almost every familiar variety in California here, from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Merlot. There are also some grapes that aren’t so common, like Vermentino, Falanghina, and Counoise.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red blends are popular including classic styles like Rhône and Bordeaux blends. Grapes that originate in warmer climates, like Sangiovese and Tempranillo, also do well.

Robert Renzoni Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rather warm region is cooled by Pacific Ocean wind and fog that sails through the “Rainbow Gap” of the Santa Margarita Mountains. Today, thanks to more than 40 wineries and their multifaceted tasting rooms, the hospitality industry is thriving, with restaurants, hotels, golf courses, breweries, distilleries, and even a casino with a 5-star RV Park.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With great wines and beautiful scenery, Temecula Valley is a fun place to spend a few days or a few weeks in your RV with lots of options for all ages.

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Pechanga Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

P.S. I Love You

Petite Sirah (aka. Durif, Petite Syrah) I Love You!

Developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region where it is known as Durif or Petite Syrah, this grape variety is more commonly known by its slightly anglicized synonym, Petite Sirah—particularly in California. The “petite” refers to the size of its berries and leaves that look like its namesake.

Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Francois Durif, a grape botanist and grape breeder at the University of Montpellier in Southern France, released this new variety that he named after himself. The result of a cross between the noble Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin, Durif was developed to resist mildew, to which Syrah is susceptible. Although mildew-resistant, the tightly-bunched variety never really caught on because of gray rot or root rot in the humid Rhône region .

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, the grape has adapted well to the more arid climates of California and Australia (Victoria State). Petite Syrah has, in fact, succeeded better abroad than in its south of France birthplace, where it is now almost never grown. 

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The combination of Peloursin and Syrah results in fruit with saturated color and very dense fruit clusters. Its small berries, and consequently high skin-to-juice ratio, allow Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannin levels, surprisingly high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Characteristically, these wines have dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes.

Van Ruiten Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The grape’s similarity to parent Syrah became confusing for early planters in California. Starting in the 1880s, some of the original Durif vines were confused for a clone of Syrah and subsequently named Petite Sirah. DNA fingerprinting has shown that the majority of Petite Sirah plantings in California are actually Durif.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Until the push for varietal-labeled wines came to the fore in the 1960s and ’70s, little thought was given to the actual name of this variety in California. It was often added to provide color and body to California’s bulk wine production, or used to add richness to North Coast Zinfandel and Barbera.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is nothing “petite” about this wine. This is one of the few wines that can often be identified by just looking at its beautiful deep black/purple color often described as inky. Petite Sirah is one of the dark grapes that are often referred to as “black grapes.” This is largely due to the dark skin of the grape itself. After you uncorked a bottle you can see exactly how inky and dark the end of the cork is. If you are not careful, you can stain a countertop, your clothes, or your hands. 

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines are relatively acidic, with firm texture and mouth feel. Vintners will sometimes introduce a small amount of white wine into Petite Sirah to calm the intensity with little effect on color. The bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones, and typically offers flavors of blue fruit especially blueberries, black fruit, plums. Petite Sirah wines that are very tannic have aging ability that can exceed 20 years.

When purchasing a bottle from the winery, ask the tasting room staff for the winemaker’s recommendation on bottle aging.

Van Ruiten Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petite Sirah can sometimes be rather “short,” that is, the flavor does not linger in the mouth; hence, the benefit of blending with another grape which may lack mid-palate depth will add length and elegance like a Zinfandel.

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acreage for the grape has had its ups and downs over the years, reaching its heyday during the 1970s before plummeting to its lowest point of about 1,750 acres statewide in 1995. These days, almost 10,000 acres are planted to the variety, which is great news for fans of big, rich, hearty wines.

Cooper Vineyard Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Petite Sirah plantings in California date back to 1884 in Alameda County. But we have Concannon Vineyard in Livermore Valley to thank for Petite Sirah’s popularity. The winery was the first in the U.S. to call out Petite Sirah on the label—in 1964. Now it’s Concannon’s rock star grape.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines made from the Petite Sirah are not subtle, and provide a generous mouthful of juicy black fruit and grippy tannins. Some of the producers that are currently creating great Petite Sirah include David Bruce, Girard, and Michael David with their Earthquake series—one of our personal favorites.

Michael David © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pick up a bottle and find out why, despite the label, this wine is anything but “petite.”

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Franc’ly, My Dear

Cabernet Franc is a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Sauvignon Blanc). The crossing occurred sometime during the middle 1600’s around southwestern France (Bordeaux).

Franc(ly) my dear, I DO give a damn…about good wine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Puns aside. Yes, you guessed it, my focus today is on that black grape, Cabernet Franc—a peppery little number that needs attention and can demand it when given the limelight and not blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot which used to be its only end.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s appealing about Cabernet Franc is its family resemblance to Cabernet Sauvignon. But while Cabernet Sauvignon can be hard-edged, especially when young, Cabernet Franc is less tannic and quicker to mature. That means Cabernet Franc can be an easier-drinking wine sooner.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabernet Franc’s flavor is intriguing. On the plus side, it has lots of ripe raspberry-like flavors, sometimes with hints of anise. But when Cabernet Franc is grown in cool areas, it tends to be more herbaceous, sometimes leaning toward green bell pepper, a negative characteristic for many fans of red wine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While ironically overshadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc remains the unexpected parent of Cabernet Sauvignon (having been partnered with Sauvignon Blanc), which is believed to have been crossed during the Middle Ages near the Basque region of northern Spain. The grape itself is rather thin-skinned and prefers well-drained soil structures for optimal ripening. When ripeness levels are lacking the grape’s green themes, which steer towards green veggie aromas and bell pepper streaks, tend to dominate. However, when it’s on, it is on and wows with a medium body, solid acidity, medium fine tannins, a lively, welcoming personality and savory flavors.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aromas and flavors includes raspberries, strawberries, black currents, plum, green pepper, green olives, stone, tobacco, violets, graphite, stone, and spice.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the years, Cabernet Franc has been successfully grown in places like Australia, California, Chile, Italy, South Africa, Washington State—and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While used in Bordeaux more as a blending grape, as a single variety Cabernet Franc is a pillar of the Loire Valley. In the Okanagan Valley, where its embraced as much as anything for its ability to ripen earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, it has also been used for blending, although in recent years its popularity as a stand-alone has also been steadily on the rise.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Compared to the brawny characteristic style of many Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs tend to be lighter in color and a bit fruitier and softer on the palate. The main big difference between the two varietals is that most Cabernet Francs are not made for ageing—they’re meant to be drunk young.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is the Cabernet Franc grape the next red wine trend waiting to happen? 

Cabernet Franc is considered by many to be the iconic red grape for British Columbia because of its ability to produce wines more complex and intriguing than its big brother Cabernet Sauvignon.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As optimistic as that is, as of the 2014 BC Wine Acreage Report, Cabernet Franc only accounts for 10.44 percent of all red grape varieties and a mere 5.32 percent of all grapes planted in the province with a total of 546.13 acres. Compared to Merlot at 29.90 percent and Pinot Noir 20.53 percent respectively, Cabernet Franc rank fourth below Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tinhorn Creek, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oft referred to as “the other Cab,” Cabernet Franc continues to distinguish itself as a grape well suited to South Okanagan growing conditions. Cassini Cellars earned its first ever LG Award for its 2012 Collector’s Series Cab Franc. Fairview Cellars, River Stone, Tinhorn Creek, Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl, Le Vieux Pin, Poplar Grove, Stag’s Hollow, and Painted Rock also produce standout Cabernet Franc wines.

Tinhorn Creek, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do— from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards with juicy peaches, apricots, and cherries—and you’ve got a wine country experience like no other.

Hester Creek Winery, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now is the time to taste your way through the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

Worth Pondering…

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.

―Plautus

Farewell My Summer Love

The RV lifestyle allows those of us who travel in our coach or towable to visit wineries in many different locations

As summer comes to a close, it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming change in seasons. What better way to end an amazing summer than to dive into a wine country extravaganza? We’ve handpicked 4 unique wine country regions that we think will make the perfect final getaway to end your summer with a bang! So, grab a glass of vino and cheers to another amazing summer getaway.

Michael David, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi, California

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, the Lodi Wine Region enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes.

With a grape-growing history that dates back to the 1850s, the Lodi Appellation boasts over 750 growers and is home to more than 85 wineries (65 of which boast boutique tasting rooms) specializing in small-lot, handmade wines.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 100 varieties currently being cultivated, Lodi offers a diverse portfolio of wines. While long renowned for its high-quality Zinfandel production, including an estimated 2,000 acres of pre-Prohibition vines, the area also produces award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay.

Van Ruiten Vineyards, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine enthusiasts will enjoy a warm welcome and a friendly face as they travel Lodi Wine Country and enjoy a diverse range of wines, delicious foods, and great hospitality. 

Helwig Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador County, California

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley is the heart of Amador Wine Country. The valley offers country roads with breathtaking views, charming postcard-perfect farms, unique tasting rooms, and relaxing environments. This undiscovered California gem features rolling, golden hills studded with majestic oaks and rolling vineyards producing exceptional full-bodied wines.

Cooper Vineyards, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Amador winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

Moon Crusher Vineyards, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape growing region and boasts 131 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Hester Creek Winery, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From world-class operations to family-run boutique vineyards, Okanagan wineries are rich with character and consistently ranked among the world’s best at International competitions. 

Tinhorn Vineyards, Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable wineries are Mission Hill, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek, and Nk’Mip Cellars, Quails Gate Estate, and Tinhorn Creek. If you’re pressed for time the Penticton Wine Shop pours just about every wine made in the Okanagan.

Murphys, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Calaveras County, California

At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with numerous tasting rooms and many excellent restaurants in an historic downtown.

Ironside Vineyards, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Murphys was one of the Gold Country’s richest diggins. The picturesque village is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns, a charming Main Street, unique shops including art galleries, and spectacular wineries. You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.

Four Winds Cellar, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county.

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Planning a Wine Country Road Trip

Explore three beautiful wine regions on this fall road trip

All roads lead to wine. Isn’t that how the saying goes? No? Well, maybe it should.

With summer winding down and autumn approaching, now is a great time to plan a road trip through wine country.

Black Hills Winery, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re like me, you don’t miss the opportunity to visit a winery. In the same way I seek out farmers markets while on the road, wineries present the chance to mingle with locals who know and till the land and who have made it their occupation to bring us its wares. 

Borjon Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a wine country road trip, pick a single region. That is, unless you have limitless time and finances. Research the region—you’ll be doing more than just touring wineries and tasting.

Lucas Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t have a region in mind to visit, consider planning a road trip around a favorite wine. Or plan a trip around a regional wine festival or event. This will open all sorts of doors.

Choose no more than two to four wineries to visit per day.

We begin our grape-centered quest with region-by-region recommendations along with suggested campgrounds. All RV parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

California

Bella Piazza Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California is home to a legendary lifestyle embracing sunshine, beaches, the ocean, mountains, valleys, and vineyards that stretch in every direction. For wine lovers, there’s a treasure trove of wine regions and wine tasting experiences to explore.

Cooper Vineyard, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unless you’ve been living in a fallout shelter since the 1950s, you know that Napa Valley and Sonoma is California’s viticulture star. With close to 400 wineries, the twin valleys are second only to Disneyland on a list of the state’s most visited landmarks.

Grace Patriot Wines, El Dorado County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The legendary Napa Valley welcomes an estimated five million visitors each year. They come for wonderful wines, top-notch cuisine, and picturesque scenery. Beautiful and remarkably diverse, the Sonoma has some of everything from coastal breezes to inland mountains, to pancake-flat valleys, to rolling hills.

Ironside Vineyards, Calveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Commonly known as California’s Gold Country, the Sierra Foothills offers a fascinating landscape with an amazing variety of soils and elevations. Tour the counties of El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras and discover the region’s new gold in the tasting rooms you visit.

Van Ruiten Vineyards, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lodi Wine Region is home to more than 50 varieties including  amazing Zinfandel and remarkable Portuguese, Spanish, French Rhône, and Italian varietals.

Recommended RV Parks: Jackson Rancheria RV Resort in Jackson (Amador County) and Flag City RV Resort in Lodi

Washington

Yakima Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the second largest premium wine produces in the United States, Washington State has a booming wine culture. Currently, there are 13 distinct AVAs, from Lake Chelan in the northwest, to the mighty Columbia River in the southeast, home to Walla Walla Valley, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, and Naches Heights. In the northeast, just outside of Seattle, Woodinville Wine Country has wines and tasting rooms representing the grapes of nearly every appellation.

In the southeast, make the Tri-Cities your home base as you explore Washington Wine Country. Prosser is a nearby wine town to check out.

Columbia Sun RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recommended RV Park: Columbia Sun RV Resort in Kennewick (Tri-Cities)

British Columbia

Tinhorn Creek, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape growing region and boasts 131 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Okanagan Crush Pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From world-class operations to family-run boutique vineyards, Okanagan wineries are rich with character and consistently ranked among the world’s best at International competitions. 

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable wineries are Mission Hill, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek, and Nk’Mip Cellars, Quails Gate Estate. Our favorite is Tinhorn Creek, near Oliver, and their Miradoro Restaurant is worth the sit down. If you’re pressed for time the Penticton Wine Shop pours just about every wine made in the Okanagan.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recommended RV Parks: Desert Gem RV Resort in Oliver and Nk’Mip RV Park in Osoyoos

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Amador Wine Country

Take a drive through the rustic vistas and rolling scenic vineyards of Amador Gold Country

What do miners do when they don’t find gold? They settle down to plant zinfandel, or at least that’s what they did in the Shenandoah Valley, the heart of Amador Wine Country.

Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The California Gold Country first rose to prominence during the 1849 gold rush, but now, people come to experience the region’s natural beauty, the balmy weather, and the wine.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, where gold once reigned, some forty wineries produce a new treasure: superb wines which have earned Amador County international acclaim.

The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors alike to enjoy all year long.

Borjon Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we first pulled into Plymouth, we asked ourselves where the “there” is—this tiny burg is the epitome of the one-horse town. But Plymouth is the real working heart of Amador wine country.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turning off Highway 16 (an extension of California Highway 49) onto Shenandoah Road, we find ourselves amid rolling, oak-studded hills where cows or sheep graze on one side of the road and tidy rows of grapevines climb the other.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards.

Amador’s first wineries arose in 1849 when European immigrants discovered that wine grapes thrived in the Sierra Foothills. By 1880, Amador had more than 3,000 acres of grapevines that thrived until Prohibition closed all but one of its wineries. By the 1970s, Amador had declined as a source for low-quality jug wine.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador wines were revived due to the rediscovery of zinfandel. Zinfandel arrived in Amador in 1852, thrived in the Sierra Foothills, and became the wine of choice in the Gold Rush and one of the most widely planted grapes in California.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During Prohibition, many zinfandel vineyards were destroyed. Fortunately, Amador maintained several old zinfandel vineyards dating to 1890 or earlier. Amador’s abundance of zinfandel grapes, combined with its complex raspberry and spice flavors, enticed a new generation of winemakers in the 1960s who ultimately made zinfandel California’s signature grape varietal.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 1960s, a new generation of pioneers began migrating to the Gold Country’s Amador County, this time drawn by the region’s rolling, sun-drenched hillsides, warm daytime temperatures, and volcanic, decomposed granite soils—ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes. When their robustly flavored wines, especially zinfandel, began attracting the attention of wine lovers, the historic Sierra Foothills wine region was reborn.

Borjon Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It began when Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley tasted Amador Zinfandel for the first time in 1968. He was hooked and decided to produce wine from Sierra Foothills grapes. A few years later, Sutter Home developed White Zinfandel, a major success that put Amador on the map.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1970, Montevina Winery became the first post-Prohibition winery in Amador County. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, new wineries sprang up and Amador shed its status as a backwater wine region.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Amador winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past 20 years, Amador vintners have begun producing a diverse array of varieties, especially those of Italian and southern French origin. While zinfandel, with over 2,000 acres, remains Amador’s signature variety, the region’s wineries also vinify superb examples of barbera, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc, and syrah; limited bottlings of pinot grigio, verdelho, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, grenache, mourvedre, petite sirah, aglianico, and tempranillo; rosés made from a wide variety of grapes; dessert wines made from muscat grapes; and port-style wines made from zinfandel and traditional Portuguese varieties.

Amador Flower Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

An Overlooked, Affordable & Scenic Wine Region

Forget Napa and head to Canada for your next wine tasting trip

It doesn’t take much effort to drop $500 when touring Napa. In a day! Not on insanely rare wines or dinner at an exclusive restaurant, either. 

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s not to disparage Napa Valley. Lovely place, that Napa, full of wonderful vineyards and terrific wines. Five hundred dollars-a-day good times just don’t fit within the typical RVers budget.

Trouble with Napa is, for a huge number of Americans, it’s just a short day trip away.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So how does an RVer drink great wines amid breathtaking natural beauty without blowing out a couple of credit cards? Easy: go to Canada.

And, no, you won’t have to bundle up like the kids from South Park.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead, consider an autumn jaunt to the Southern Okanagan wine region in British Columbia. Obscure? Compared to Napa, sure. But it’s also possibly the most scenic wine region in North America, and a place where RVers and other normal people can afford to taste wine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”). Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine tasting here is as much about the surroundings as the wine itself. Wedged between the Cascades and the Columbia Mountains, the Okanagan Valley enjoys hot summers and mild winters unique to Canada—it constitutes the country’s only temperate desert region.

Tinhorn Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wineries sit on the eastern benches and western foothills of the gentle mountains, allowing you to enjoy the morning sun on the patio at Tinhorn Creek as you look east. To end the day, there’s a sunset tasting across the valley on the eastern bench at Burrowing Owl as you take in the westerly view. All of it overlooking the 12-mile-long Osoyoos Lake, which stretches south across the Washington State border.

So what will you be tasting?

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forget the ice wine—it is actually more prevalent in southern Ontario, where temperatures drop below freezing during baseball season.

The South Okanagan makes wine like the Pacific Northwest (think Washington, Oregon, and Northern California) with pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot, and syrah dominating the reds; chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer the whites.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with any wine region, some wines you’ll like, and others you won’t. But if you’re not a connoisseur—as the vast majority of RVers are not—the wine here serves the purpose of your RV trip: trying small-production wines you’ll likely never find again, then taking home some fantastic juice.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wineries have character that hasn’t been compromised amid platoons of tourists.

But the best thing about the wineries here? They’re inexpensive. You’ll rarely see a tasting over $5 while some are complimentary. Tasting fee, when applied, is normally waved when purchasing a bottle.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley’s abundance of you-pick farms and fruit stands (think cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, and pears) along Highway 97 gives a visitor the first inclination of the food ahead. The larger wineries all have restaurants, where chefs have relationships with the local farms, and menus take advantage of the local produce.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And the restaurants all come with a view. The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate feels like eating in an old hunting lodge over a lush desert valley. And the corner table on the patio at Tinhorn Creek’s Mirodoro might be the best table in the region.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So yes, Canada might not be the first place you think of when considering a wine-tasting vacation. But if you’re more into the quality of your experience than name recognition, it’s a tough destination to beat. The wines are good, the food is fresh, the scenery is unbeatable, the locals are friendly, and it won’t cost you a fortune.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Temecula Valley Named Best Wine Destination for 2019

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The esteemed annual list is a product of extensive travel and tastings that Wine Enthusiast editors and contributors undertake throughout the year.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We seek locales that offer world-class wines as well as unforgettable restaurants, hotels, and cultural activities suited for the intrepid wine lover,” says the publication’s executive editor, Susan Kostrzewa. “The list balances classic, famed regions with emerging, insider gems that have yet to be discovered.”

This marks the first time that Temecula Valley was selected.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The wines have never been better,” says Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Matt Kettmann, “and I’ve sensed an increased focus on grape growing and quality winemaking in just the past five years that I’ve been covering the region. Plus, there’s a lot more excitement surrounding their hospitality offerings now than ever before.”

Temecula Valley has been producing notable wines since the late 1960s, when early adopters discovered that a wide range of varietals could flourish here. Now, winemakers have had time to take their craft to the next level. In addition, some have opened hotels and gourmet restaurants to round out the experience.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Not long ago, Temecula Valley was just beginning to create tourism experiences with only a handful of wineries and offerings,” says Kimberly Adams, CEO of Visit Temecula Valley. “The pioneers had a dream and persevered; it was their passion—and that of those who followed—that continue to make this a destination people fall in love with.”

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Relative newcomers are making an impact, too—like Robert Renzoni and his vineyard, which he opened in 2008 on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks.

The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

“Back in the day, people used to laugh at Napa and Paso Robles,” he says. “It took determination and experimentation for those regions to get to where they are now.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

He says Temecula is following the same trajectory: Dedicated winegrowers are settling here, doing their homework, and continually experimenting. Now they’ve had time to figure out what grows best; with a terroir and elevation similar to Tuscany, that’s been mainly the Mediterranean varietals.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Syrah and Sangiovese will make this region famous,” he says, but Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and Vermentino are flourishing as well.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit we tasted a portfolio of five wines in their Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Renzoni also jumped on the flourishing hospitality trend by opening an on-site trattoria, Mama Rosa’s, a few years ago. And he’s happy to see the area begin to receive national attention for all of its offerings. “Eventually, we’ll get to the point where people will say, ‘Remember when people laughed at Temecula?’”

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966