Summer is a wine-drinking marathon in California, and up and down the coast, each weekend brings pleasant opportunities to imbibe outside. The diversity of events reflects the state's varied wine-growing regions. Those on hotel grounds come with a room night package -- a smart way to go.
Because it's a relatively slow time at wineries, winemakers tend to have some downtime before harvest to get out and pour their wares. And that's half the fun, meeting the folks behind the wine labels. Seminars and panels add an educational element, but the best way to learn more about wine is to try more. Here are 10 upcoming events, from Paso Robles to Newport Beach to downtown L.A.'s Union Station, at which to do just that. These are organized by date, with the events that are upcoming -- starting this weekend with No. 10 -- listed first. Turn the page.
10. Paso Robles Wine Country Festival, May 18-20, Paso Robles: The 30th annual festival has it all: A reserve and wine futures auction, a reserve tasting Friday afternoon (tickets must be purchased in advance) and the massive tasting on Saturday, which promises 60 wineries and food trucks in a downtown park (tickets available in advance or at the door). On Sunday, the entire wine region hosts an open house and those wineries typically open by appointment only throw open their caves.
9. Santa Lucia Highlands Gala, May 19: Off the beaten track, overlooking the well-tended Salinas Valley, the sixth Santa Lucia Highlands Gala is the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association's only public event of the year. Held at the Mer Soleil Vineyard, which will be pouring its Silver Chardonnay fermented in stainless steel and concrete tanks, this is a rare chance to sample limited releases from more than 30 wineries, including Belle Gos, Bernardus, Poppy and Mer Soleil.
8. Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, Solvang, Crawfish Boil (May 19) and Red, White & Blues (June 30): On the grounds of this Santa Ynez Valley winery and working farm in Solvang, pair Louisiana crawfish with Buttonwood's Sauvignon Blanc or Syrah rosé at a crawfish boil. In late June, in partnership with Longoria Wines, there's a blues band for entertainment at the 16th annual Red, White & Blues afternoon. Bring a picnic, as both Longoria and Buttonwood will offer wines. A pastoral bonus: Dancing under the cottonwoods.
7. Newport Beach Wine Festival, Newport Beach, May 25-27: The setting is picture perfect for this weekendlong wine and food extravaganza overlooking Newport Harbor on the grounds of the Balboa Bay Club & Resort. Seven events range from a five-course wine dinner on Friday night to Sunday afternoon barbecue. Cheese, sushi and more than 200 wines will be found at the Memorial Day weekend Saturday afternoon grand tasting ($125 per person).
6. Auction Napa Valley, Napa Valley, May 31-June 3: Party and taste with the wine world's elite at this 32nd annual charity auction. Thursday and Friday night overflow with vintner dinners at select wineries; lunch is by Dave Cruz of Ad Hoc prior to Saturday's live auction held on the fairways of Meadowood Napa Valley's golf course; afterwards, it's dinner by Emeril Lagasse. Can't make it to Napa? Bid via the online auction -- wine not provided when bidding from afar.
5. L.A. Wine Fest, Los Angeles, June 9-10: Held on the Raleigh Studios lot, this mega-fest promises tastes from California-based (like Napa's Frank Family Vineyards) and international winemakers, craft beer (Firestone Walker Brewery) and several distilleries. Barrie Lynn, the cheese impresario, will teach a wine and cheese pairing class; there's Scotch tasting, too, in addition to the 500 wines poured. Designated drivers are welcomed at a reduced admission price.
4. Chardonnay Symposium, Santa Maria Valley, June 29-July 1: Kick back via a Santa Maria-style barbecue Friday evening June 29 at the Sierra Madre Vineyard, in the midst of rows of prime Chardonnay grapes. The Chardonnay Symposium's Saturday activities include a panel on how terroir influences Chardonnay's flavor profile, a grand outdoor tasting at the Byron Winery showcasing 50 wineries, plus food and wine pairing ideas, followed by a Hitching Post barbecue dinner at the adjacent Kenneth Volk Vineyards. On Sunday, there will be a brunch and pops concert. Ticket prices vary per activity but a full Saturday ticket ($95) includes transport to and from the nearby Radisson Hotel.
3. California Wine Festival, Santa Barbara, July 19-21: 350 wines representing all of California's wine regions plus food by Santa Barbara area restaurants are all part of Saturday's beachside tasting at the California Wine Festival. There are smaller tastings of high-end reserve wines on Thursday and Friday nights; close to 2,500 are expected at Saturday afternoon's fete. Pacing is important; utilize the spit buckets and ample supplies of water and food bites to make it through the day.
2. East L.A. Meets Napa, Los Angeles, July 20: Enjoy a taste of Baja and more at downtown's Union Station at the seventh annual edition of Alta Med's popular East L.A. Meets Napa fundraiser, which brings together winemakers from south of the border (Cavas Valmar for one) and California Latino-owned wineries such as Ceja Vineyards. Dozens of restaurant participate; highlights from earlier editions include tacos from Guisados and Loteria Grill and handmade, flower-dotted tortillas from Rivera. Wineries from Mexico's Guadalupe Valley make a strong impression. The Red Line is a convenient ride to the festivities.
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1. Wine Lands at Outside Lands, San Francisco, Aug. 10-12: Not interested in a wine-only event? Outside Lands blends top music acts (Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young), Bay Area eats and wine via Wine Lands throughout the three-day festival in Golden Gate Park. Wine is sold by the taste or the glass; among the 50-plus wineries booked to participate, heavy on NorCal producers naturally, are Scribe, Long Meadow Ranch and Ridge Vineyards.
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