California is the best known wine producing region in the US. The State’s wine region is actually comprised of several different climate zones that support a diverse number of grape varieties, and, impart unique flavors, even to the same varietals.

California premium wine producers rank among the best in the world, which has led to increased demand, and in turn, expensive wines for consumers. As a result, VINUM has looked for wines produced by California wineries that the San Francisco Chronicle has dubbed the “Alternative Napa”, that is small producers of excellent wine at reasonable prices. We have found several who are recognized as leading the next wave in California winemaking, have been honored with awards and accolades, and have found the balance between quality and economy.

Amador County

Though not as well known as the Napa Valley AVA or Sonoma Valley AVA wine growing regions of California, Amador County was once the principal wine growing region of California. Many vineyards were planted to take advantage of the gold rush and from those days Zinfandel dominated the plantings in the county. The varietal is well-suited to the abundant sunshine and austere soils, but many other varietals, such as Sangiovese, Barbera, Primitivo, Mourvedre, are grown here as well. Some of the Zinfandel vineyards planted in this county are more than 125 years old; including the original Grandpère vineyard, planted with Zinfandel before 1869. This 10-acre vineyard is home to the oldest Zinfandel vines on Earth, with proof of existence dating to 1869 when the vineyard was listed as a descriptor on a deed from the U.S. Geological Survey.


The Sonoma Valley is sprinkled with many diverse micro-climates produced from the Pacific Ocean fog which into the valley through the Petaluma Gap. Sonoma Valley can produce excellent Pinot Noir from the cooler sites like Russian River Valley and Green Valley, yet also produces spicy Zinfandels from warmer areas such as Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley.  


Napa Valley contains some of the most famous AVAs and wineries of California, and is perhaps one of the most famous and glamorous wine growing regions in the world. Rich Cabernets and full bodied Chardonnays are the result of the hot valley floor which is warmer in the northern end of the valley than the southern end. On the surrounding hillsides the climate produces a firmer style of wine with riper tannins.


To the north of Napa and Sonoma lies Mendocino County. Ocean fog and cooler temperatures provide the ideal climate for growing crisp whites and well balanced Pinot Noir. Perhaps best known for the Anderson Valley AVA where excellent Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer are grown.

Central Coast

The Central Coast Region includes three Subregions (Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County) and 16 AVAs. This region tends to be warmer than the North Coast because only a few valleys traverse between the hot central valleys and the ocean; wine grapes however, grow well in these few selected areas where cool ocean climate can move into the central valley. Monterey County, located just south of Monterey Bay, has not been well known for premium wine until very recently. Most of these are Cabernet and Merlot varietals. San Luis Obispo County, includes the Paso Robles AVA and is located in the middle of the Central Coast. This subregion is the most comparable to Napa Valley, but without the high-priced real estate. It produces a wide variety of wines, including Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some white varietals, such as Viognier. Santa Barbara County, located south of San Luis Obispo County along the Pacific Coast, has been popularized by the movie “Sideways” and includes several distinctive valleys (i.e. Santa Maria, Santa Ynez). This subregion’s climate is surprisingly cool and supports the growth of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay principally, as well as some Syrah.    

California Wine Producers

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California AreaProducerLabelAbout the producer
Central CoastBeckmen VineyardsBeckmen Vineyards has emerged as one of North America’s premier producers of Rhône varietal wines, while also helping to establish Santa Barbara County as one of California’s most highly regarded winegrowing regions. Founded in 1994 by Tom and Steve Beckmen, this is a family-run, estate winery located in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. Beckmen Vineyards produces a full line of exceptional estate-grown Rhône varietals including Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Rosé, Marsanne, and the Cuvée Le Bec blend. It also produces small quantities of exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Hailed for the excellence of its portfolio, Beckmen Vineyards was named Food & Wine’s “Most Promising Winery” in the magazine’s 2000 American Wine Awards. Beckmen Vineyards has lived up to that promise, and was selected as one of the “Top 100 Wineries” in the world by Wine & Spirits magazine.
For winery, tasting & technical notes, vineyard and award information please see:
Sonoma CoastEvening Land"The Evening Land" has long been a symbol of the dream quest for the perfect garden. From ancient Greek myth to now, the search for The Evening Land is synonymous with adventure and romance that inevitably leads to the extremes of America's West Coast.

Evening Land Vineyards has brought together a collection of pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards in the three great growing regions of the American West. From the Eola Hills in Oregon's Willamette Valley, to the true Sonoma Coast in the town of Occidental, California and ending on the western lip of Santa Barbara County's Santa Rita Hills, Evening Land organically farms over 120 acres of heritage vineyards that produce 13 Estate wines imbued with this unique spirit of place. An orchestrated mix of old vine own rooted Oregon and California heritage clones, cuttings from the great established pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards of Burgundy and an experimental block of pinot noir grown from seed, the Vineyards of the Evening Land present a vivid view of Burgundy’s legendary grapes raised in the amazing diversity of America’s climate and soil.

The opportunity to acquire great vineyard sites in three diverse climates gave Evening Land a rare opportunity to explore the sensitivity of pinot noir and chardonnay as it thrives in the red volcanic dirt of Oregon, the fog wrapped ridges of Sonoma and the windswept mountains of decomposed sea shells of the Santa Rita Hills. Soil and climate diversity make their mark on Evening Land wines, creating those delicious differences that are the hallmark of fine pinot noir and chardonnay.

Farming and winemaking techniques in each of the Evening Land Vineyards are deployed to align the wines closely with each of the individual and unique terroirs. In Oregon, consulting winemaker Dominique Lafon leads winemaker Isabelle Meunier and her winery and vineyard team employing his unique vision springing from his 25 years as the winemaker at one of Burgundy’s legendary Estates. Shaped by these Burgundian traditions, Sashi Moorman leads his team in the winery and the vineyards to produce elegant and rich wines from both Sonoma and Santa Rita.

The Blue Label wines are "climate" wines. Setting the compass to the East in Burgundy; the north for Oregon's Willamette Valley; to the West on the true Sonoma Coast; and, finally South to the western edge of the Santa Rita hills---the Blue Label wines provide a window into the sensitivity of pinot noir and chardonnay to these unique climates.

The Silver Label wines represent the "village" wines. They retain the impact of their climate coupled with the unique topography and soil characteristics of their specific villages.

The Gold Label wines are the signature monopole estate wines. These wines provide a singular capture of each vineyard's unique climate, topography, soil, plant material, farming practices and winemaking. Terroir in its most complete expression.

The White Label wines for when a special and very specific place within the vineyard produces a fruit of such spectacular character that it calls for it’s own cuvee. These are the pinnacle examples of the vineyard’s best self.

For more information, plus tasting & technical notes and accolades, please see:
NapaFrank Family VineyardsExcellent French-style Wines from the Friendliest Winery in Napa Valley
Frank Family Vineyards has a wine-making tradition extending for over 125 years since the construction of the Larkmead Winery in late 19th century. The winery rightfully self-proclaims to have the friendliest staff of “wine dudes” through out all tasting rooms in the Napa Valley. But that is not all that makes Frank Family Winery well worth the visit. Owners Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer have focused their energies on making superb, handcrafted wines in small productions and with exclusive distribution; for example, most wines are only available from the winery or a handful of restaurants and retailers.
The winery produces Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and several distinctly different Cabernet Sauvignons. Frank Family Winery sources fruit for their wines from three properties, Winston Hill, which has 20 acres in Rutherford AVA planted predominantly with Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewis Vineyard in Carneros AVA, which is dedicated to Chardonnay vines, and S&J Vineyard, which has Cabernet Sauvignon in the Capell Valley east of Vaca Mountain range. The highly regarded Cabernets, which barrel age for up to two and one-half years, are emerging as one of the most sought after wines. The Chardonnay is made in a classic California style. The Sangiovese and Zinfandel fruit is grown on the estate. Interestingly, Frank Family Winery is also continuing a tradition of producing very popular sparkling wines, including Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, and occasionally Rouge and Reserve offerings. All are made in the traditional French methode champenoise style. Frank Family Winery has been recognized for excellent wines in competitions and reviews, in particular garnering high scores from The Wine Enthusiast for their Cabernets.

For winery, tasting & technical notes, vineyard and award information please see:
NapaGrayson CellarsMike O'Connell, the founder of Grayson, believes that Grayson Cellars can put to work their prestigious Napa Valley winemaking skills to create some of the highest quality wines at the by-the-glass price point. The decades of Napa winemaking experience allows for the creation of a better bottle of wine at a better price point than what is in the market today.

The wines are carefully crafted by Larry Levin, who is among the most experienced winemakers in the Napa Valley. After completing his Enology degree at UC Davis, Larry spent seventeen years at Dry Creek Vineyard where over 18 vintages he produced more than 15 varietal wines. He has since covered the globe by making wine in New Zealand, Chile, and Australia across all price points and styles. For the previous nine years Larry was head of winemaking at Icon Estates where he oversaw the Franciscan, Mt. Veeder, Robert Mondavi, Estancia, Ravenswood, Quintessa and Ruffino brands. Larry also consults for wineries in the Stag’s Leap and Oakville districts in Napa and Sonoma.
Grayson Cellars searches throughout California’s finest growing regions to find the highest quality grapes. The wines are fruit forward, well balanced and pleasant to drink.

For winery, tasting & technical notes, vineyard and award information please see:
NapaO'Shaughnessy wineryHighly-rated, Small-Production Howell Mountain Cabernet
Located in the northern reaches of Napa Valley on Howell Mountain, O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery was established by Betty O’Shaughnessy over ten years ago. Since she has been nearly obsessed with producing single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and now has teamed up with celebrated winemaker, Sean Capiaux, who was at Pine Ridge and Peter Michael. O’Shaughnessy’s winemaking philosophy is focused on a single bottling of Cabernet expressing the character of our vineyards on Howell Mountain and Mt Veeder, and they have produced an impressive, albeit young, vertical of wines since the premier vintage in 2000.
The 100 acre O’Shaughnessy Estate has only three vineyards, “Del Oso” and “Amphitheater” vineyards on Howell Mountain, and “Progeny” vineyard on Mt. Veeder. Only 37 acres have been planted with vines, mostly with Cabernet Sauvignon, and the balance with Bordeaux blending varietals. The winemaking style is contemporary, utilizing “cutting-edge” fermentation equipment paired with natural, hands-on winemaking. The emphasis is on balance of flavors to produce a “harmonious wine”, which they only produce in micro quantities. Wine enthusiasts have praised the deep, intense fruit of these wines, through recognition in The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and San Diego Magazine.
For winery information, tasting & technical notes, and some vineyard notes, please see:
NapaSean Minor Wines
Four Bears Winery
Sean Minor Wines and Four Bears Winery were founded in 2005, named after Sean Minor and his 4 children respectively. Sean was born in Kansas and moved to California after graduating from Arizona State University. He began work for Napa Valley’s Beaulieu Vineyards and moved to the Northwest to manage the Estate at King Estate Winery.

He developed an even stronger knowledge of winemaking and gained a lifelong friend in Will Bucklin, who now is the consulting winemaker at Sean Minor Wines. At King Estate Sean learned the importance of site-specific viticulture and added to his winemaking skills.

In 2001 he returned to California to manage Renwood Winery and had the opportunity to work with Zinfandel and Syrah.

The winemaking philosophy at Sean Minor Wines is to offer wines that exude quality and truly represent the appellation, from which they’re produced, yet are affordable for everyday enjoyment.
The wines come from premium vineyard sites strategically located near the cool marine influences of the sun filled California coast. With each new vintage, they offer wines of consistent flavor and exceptional quality from vineyards perfectly suited to each particular varietal. In order for a wine to be considered it must exude the characteristics of the grape variety, and then of its chosen vineyard site within a specifically selected appellation.

Currently, the terroir-driven wines include: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, Pinot Noir from Carneros, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Central Coast, and Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County.

Sean Minor Wines are Monday thru Thursday on your pocket book but good enough to serve to your family and friends on Friday and Saturday night.

For winery information, plus tasting & technical notes and accolades, please see:
CaliforniaCycles GladiatorNamed for an 1880s Parisian bicycle company, and intended to convey the freewheeling and blissful spirit of the Belle Epoque, this brand was originally launched and owned by Hahn in Monterey County. These grapes are sourced from all over California and the 2014 vintage will be made by Adam LaZarre, the original winemaker, in a new facility in Santa Rosa.

While these wines are mostly California appellation, they are closing in on some new grape sources that will make these primarily from the Sonoma County and Central Coast AVAs in 2014.

Click here for tasting notes and further information:
SonomaGoyette WinesBob Goyette, founder of La Crema, makes these wines from fruit sources exclusively in Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast. They are superb, $20 values from the guy who made La Crema great so many years ago. For more information, check out Goyette's web site:

And here are some tasting notes and POS to check out: Goyette Wines POS
North CoastStephen VincentStephen Vincent is a winery founded and made by Bob Goyette from grapes sourced in Sonoma County, Lake County, Central Coast, and Monterey County. Here's a good synopsis of Bob's philosophy: "I keep one eye on the successful traditions of Europe, and the other focused on the grapes at hand. Using my own palate as a spring-board, I determine if the wines are really appealing to drink, rather than just done in a proper manner. I keep trying to work towards the best syntheses of the New & Old World traditions, while intuitively striving for wines that appeal to connoisseurs as well as people that just like wine. To me, it's all about balance and about listening." Drinkable, fruit-driven, value-priced wines from a Sonoma County veteran.

Download POS materials here: Stephen Vincent POS