Best Winery Tour/Tasting around two hours from LA?
my family's coming in town in late June and they are interested in going to a winery for a tour and tasting. The requests are family friendly (everyone is of age except a 16 y.o. who is okay to taste if allowed), and not a big conglomerate thing. (my mom's words) They just want to get a feel of a California winery and enjoy it, but there's no time to drive up to Napa (nor the inclination, we like wine, we're not oenophiles).
My preference is someplace within two hours reasonable drive on a Sunday (and since I say two hours make it three for good measure). I have an ex who was from Ventura that was going to show me to a bunch of wineries up there (we never got around to it), but...
anyways, any sunday drive that takes us up the PCH is an extra bonus, I'm sure they'd love it.
The wineries around Santa Barbara in Paso Robles and Los Olivos are nice. The tasting room at Fess Parker is nice, but it doesn't have much of a tour. Firestone and Sanford have tours and tastings. You can drive up using a combination of PCH and the 101.
If you wanted to spend more time on tours, You might also consider taking the Grapeline shuttle, which will provide transport between wineries and lunch.
Los Olivos is more than two hours, but if you want to go that far, the best tasting experience I've had up there is Saarloos & Sons. The wines are absolutely outstanding, and they pair their wines with a flight scratch-made cupcakes. I'm not a huge cupcake fan, but these were amazing. There's no winery tour (it's just a tasting room), but the tasting experience is a must.
These guys have been ver popular growers for other wineries for years, but winemaking is relatively new to them. They had some left over fruit one year and decided to make some wine. Pretty soon, they had strangers knocking on their door to try to buy their wine. Their popularity has grown mostly through word of mouth.
BTW, another tour that we've taken up there aside from the Grapeline is Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours. They will pick you up in town and take you out to the wine country. The last time we went, they drove us over the mountains on dirt roads from Refugio Ranch. It's a great way to see the area. The jeeps hold about six passengers each, and the drivers are pretty good about steering you away from the tourist traps.
It sounds like you want to keep the driving to a minimum so I'd exclude Paso and stick with Santa Barbara county.
In the city of Santa Barbara, Jaffurs is worth a visit.
Driving into the wine country, I second the rec for the quaint little town of Los Olivos; you can walk around town and stop in the myraid of tasting rooms. Los Olivos Cafe and Patrick's are also great spots for lunch in town.
If you want to visit some estate vineyards (as opposed to tasting rooms) nearby I highly recommend Beckmen; some of the best wines in the area (although they don't make a pinot if that's what you're after).
Also near Los Olivos check out Rusack; outright gorgeous wine country setting that your guests will surely appreciate.
Last, I would skip Firestone and Sanford; just my opinion. Fess Parker actually makes some decent wines now; if you call ahead you can arrange for a private appointment.
The 16 year old will be out of luck -- that's just state law.
As above, your best options are in the Santa Ynez valley, which might be pushing your 2 hour limit. The Paso Robles area is definitely much more than 2 hours. There are a few wineries in Ventura County (and even a couple in Malibu & the Santa Monica mountains), but I wouldn't recommend any of them based on what you're looking for.
I'm not sure what you're looking for as far as a tour -- most wineries just have a tasting room where they'll give you all the info you want about the wines and how they're made, but getting into the vineyards or such usually requires special arrangements.
My choice for wineries that give the best 'feel' for the area:
Melville (and that puts your right near Dierberg for a nice two-fer...)
Those last three are located fairly far out on hwy 246; Almo Rosa is a good choice.
I have had issues with Foxen; too Disneyland like for me i.e. crowds, tour buses, etc. The wines available for tasting are average IMO.
Melville is a great setting with appealing wines and Babcock is right next door.
However, if you really want an outstanding vineyard/winery tour and are willing to drive out on 246 you should call Wes at Clos Pepe and see if you can schedule an appointment.
One of the best tours in the area and the wines are right up there too.
Wineries in Ventura? That's a new one on me, but they do make some really good Lemoncello in Ventura since the very close by Santa Paula Valley is the Citrus Capitol of the World. Some lovely farm and orchard country on Highway 126 traversing this valley from Highway 5 to Highway 101 and a quaint historic train (Fillmore Western) that takes you through its orchards and Victorian farm houses.
If you are in northern LA, then it would be pushing your 2 hour drive time limit to go on to Santa Ynez and/or Santa Rita Hills but those by far are your best and most scenic drives. There are wine tasting shops in Santa Barbara, but no vineyards. You can arrange a orchard tour in Santa Paula through Limoneira and they may have started their Dinners in the Orchard again for this summer.
Within the 2-hour driving limit, there is always the Temecula Valley Wineries.
They have tours on busses or in limos or just research and go on your own. Some have restaurants, some have barrel room tours, some should be avoided as too commercial. If you're going Sunday and not going mid-week, maybe avoid some of the larger ones, like Wilson Creek, Ponte, and South Coast Winery. Their wines are good, but they are known for meeting rooms and conventions, and large tasting crowds from out of town, so . . . ).
(1) Many enjoy Leonesse Cellars as quality. I recommend.
(2) Wiens Family Cellars is great, too.
(3) Hart Winery is very good.
(4) Frangipani Estate Winery has more delicate red wines.
(5) Mount Palomar Winery is the oldest in the area and worth it.
(6) Keyways Winery is very acceptable, especially if you want a quick tour of the residential grand country estates along the way. Exit I-15 at Winchester, then a quick right on Ynez Road. It paralells the I-15 and actually becomes De Portola Road (that is Keyways address). Start there and go on to other wineries on the list as it may get more crowded later. But, the neighborhood along Ynez/De Portola Road is pretty awesome.
(7) Baily Vineyard & Winery is worth touring and tasting, too.
(8) Wilson Creek has a really nice outdoor cafe where you can sit next to the vines. But, it is a litte "commercialized." Go during the week, yet definitely NOT on the weekend if no room in their cafe.
The wineries in Temecula are much closer together than north of Los Angeles. Most are around Rancho California Road (exit from I-15 and turn left). So, have a look at the map of all of them at ~ http://www.temeculawines.org/
I am not going to compare the wine makers north of Los Angeles (Napa Valley, etc.) to those in the Temecula Valley. But, I will say that you can find some good tours about 75 miles from Los Angeles in Temecula.
If you want an organized tour, there are some organized transportation services at "Plan Your Trip" link at ~ http://www.temeculawines.org/
And, another tour is "Going Grape" ~ http://goinggrape.com/ ~ that you may be able to talk with an customize your own tour - even include a horseback tour if you want.
For a beautiful scenic drive, head further south on the I-15 when your done at the wineries, past the cities of Fallbrook and Rainbow- the landscape is round rocks and flora - like The Lone Ranger used to ride through. Then, turn right on Valley Parkway, travel past Lake Hodges, Rancho Santa Fe, end up in Del Mar at the ocean. Then, you are two hours from Los Angeles driving northon the I-5.
re: kc girl
I live in SD, and I would rather drive thru LA in traffic and go to some wineries in SB, than go to Temecula. The wineries in Temecula are not awful (o.k. a couple of them are) but it gets so crowded in the weekends it is not a pleasant experience. If you go, Hart is probably the best. If you go up to SB, the wineries out in the Santa Rita area are nice. It is very pretty out there and a bit less crowded than over towards Los Olivios. Alma Rosa is my personal favorite.
For a short trip that is just about some wine tasting, you can do a Malibu tour. All three wine tasting rooms are fairly small, but it can easily be a 3 hour event to visit them all. I usually do Malibu Family Wines on Mullholland, they have a big lawn that's great for picnicking. Sip would be next on the tour, the have some fabulous wines but are a little on the pricier side. Finally, Cornell Wines has a great little shop that sells only Malibu wines and they change their tasting menu every week.
If Malibu isn't exciting enough my favorites in the Santa Barbara area are:
Sunstone - You move through three different rooms to taste, plus they have chocolate pairing and they were more than willing to accommodate a party of 9 for me last March.
Kalyra - I just love their wine, but you will need to book an appointment for a party of 5 or more.
Bridlewood - It's just awe-inspiring. Worth the view.
thanks to everyone who's replied, we'll be deciding what to do tomorrow night, so we have a lot of great info to work with. I'm not sure if they'll want to head north, inland, or south. scenery is a factor, driving is probably not so much of a problem. they're staying near my apartment in venice, the day after the winery is disneyland, the day after that they're zipping north to see the sequoyias before heading to las vegas the next day. So driving is not daunting, but I'm sure less is more, in some respects.