Sip and Savor Your Way Through Southern California's Wine Country

Southern California has a history steeped in winemaking: In 1769, Franciscan missionary Father Junípero Serra settled in Mission San Diego de Alcalá and planted grapes to make sacramental wine. In 1830, after arriving from Bordeaux, France, Jean Louis Vignes started the first commercial vineyard when he sowed Vitis vinifera vines in what is now downtown Los Angeles. Not long after, German quasi-utopians planted a large vineyard in Anaheim. Since then, the Southland’s wine industry has expanded exponentially. While wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley, Napa, and Sonoma get all the buzz, these wineries in Ventura County, Temecula Valley, and San Diego County are intimate, approachable, and just a scenic drive away.   

Ventura County

The wine-tasting scene in Oxnard and Camarillo can be social to the point of boisterous some weekends, but it’s a lot of fun. The tasting rooms often are located in office parks, and their industrial setting offers a surprising bonus: You’ll find yourself in the winemaking facilities and storage caves. And the winemakers are often on hand, mingling with wine club regulars and newcomers. 

Where to Sip

Herzog Wine Cellars is the largest and most commercial of the Oxnard tasting rooms and has its own kosher restaurant, Tierra Sur. Tasting fee: $10–$14. 3201 Camino del Sol, Oxnard. 1-805-983-1560;

Magnavino Cellars offers 15 wines made from 10 different varietals, including smooth and fruit-forward Petite Sirah and popular white blends Symphony and Beautiful. Here, as in most of the local tasting rooms, fees are waived with the purchase of a bottle. Tasting fee: $10. 961 N. Rice Avenue, Suite 5, Oxnard. 1-805-983-2500;

Opened in 2014, Strey Cellars might be small, but it offers big flavors with its luscious late-harvest Zinfandel that’s full of ripe blackberry notes. Tasting fee: $10. 951 N. Rice Avenue, Oxnard. 1-805-988-1087;

In Camarillo, Millésimé Cellars’ 13 wines include an Orange Muscat and two wines made from Touriga, a Portuguese varietal. Owner Brittany Rice grew up in the wine business and has carried on her family’s tradition. Tasting fee: $14. 425 Constitution Avenue Suite H, Camarillo. 1-805-896-1482;

Where to Stay

Oxnard’s Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach resort has both a pool and direct access to the beach. Rates start at $219. 2101 Mandalay Beach Road, Oxnard. 1-805-984-2500;

Where to Dine

Moqueca, a Brazilian restaurant in Oxnard, serves specialties such as a seafood stew, paella, and Brazilian-style Stroganoff. 3550 S. Harbor Boulevard, Oxnard. 1-805-204-0970;

Temecula Valley

Home to more than 40 vineyards and rolling hills with lush grapevines, Temecula has become a worthy destination for wine lovers. The tasting rooms welcome visitors seven days a week, and many have on-site restaurants and cafés. Old Town Front Street is lined with boutiques that offer treats from the area’s other bounties, such as lavender and olive oil.

Where to Sip

Danza del Sol has separate tasting rooms for wine club members, as well as large welcome-to-all tasting rooms and patios. Sweet-wine lovers will appreciate the Orange Muscat and sparkling wines; Danza is one of three producers in the region to offer bubbles. At 45 years old, Danza’s Sauvignon Blanc vines are the oldest in the valley, and the wine they produce tastes like a juicy peach. Tasting fee: $15 weekdays, $17 weekends. 39050 De Portola Road. 1-951-302-6363;

Oak Mountain Winery is a must-stop for its Rhône- and Bordeaux-style wines, and also for its 10,000-square-foot wine cave located 111 feet belowground, the only one in Southern California. Naturally cooled by the earth, it’s a haven on hot afternoons. The winery’s café is also in the cave. Owners Valerie and Stephen Andrews planted their first vines 19 years ago. Wines range from blends to single varietals, including the unusual hybrid Pinotage. “These vines love the sandy soil here,” says Valerie, adding that the roots burrow deep. “When we dug the cave, we found vine roots hanging 25 feet beneath the surface.” Oak Mountain offers cave tours. Tasting fee: $12 weekdays, $15 weekends. 36522 Via Verde. 1-951-699-9102;

Some vineyards, like Fazeli Cellars, known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petite Sirah, have tasting rooms in town. 41955 Fourth Street, Suite 101. 1-951-695-9100;

Where to Stay

Set on a 27-hole golf course, Temecula Creek Inn has more than 130 rooms and suites, a swimming pool, and a farm-to-table restaurant. 44501 Rainbow Canyon Road. 1-951-694-1000;

Where to Dine

In Temecula’s quaint Old Town, the Italian menu at Palumbo’s Ristorante is custom-made for great wines. Don’t miss the Bolognese with house-made pappardelle. 41925 Fifth Street. 1-951-699-7925; 

San Diego County

Ramona Valley is the county’s most nascent wine-growing region. “The first vines were planted here in the ’40s and ’50s, but no one got serious about it until 2000,” Teri Kerns, co-owner of Ramona Ranch Vineyard. About 30 miles away, Warner Springs is experiencing a similar dawning with a handful of wineries that make up the North Mountain Wine Trail. 

Where to Sip

At Ramona Ranch Vineyard off State Highway 78, Kerns and her husband, co-owner Micole Moore, create a Burlesque white blend that pairs well with just about any food, and their Tannat and Sangiovese wines are simply outstanding. Their pet-friendly patio is a great spot for a picnic. You can also tour the barn, where you can meet miniature ponies Thelma and Louise, as well the many exotic chickens and roosters. Open 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Fridays–Sundays.  Tasting fee: $6–$15. 23578 Highway 78, Ramona. 1-760-789-1622;

In 1990, Alex and Pamela McGeary took over Shadow Mountain Vineyards, one of the region’s older wineries, from the original farmers, Agusto Mase and his family. A half-mile up a dirt track, you’ll find the tasting room, shaded patios, and a picnic area among the rows of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier. The McGearys grow some cooler-weather varietals, thanks to the property’s 3,500-foot elevation, which brings snow in the winter and cool Pacific Ocean breezes the rest of the year. Many of Mase’s original vines remain. Winemaker Alex makes an Old Vine Zinfandel with grapes from those still-healthy 70-plus-year-old vines, their trunks as thick as mesquite trees. Tasting fee: $10–$15. 34680 Highway 79, Warner Springs. 1-760-782-0778;

Where to Stay

Shadow Mountain Vineyards has two rustic cottages for those who might enjoy a stay amid the vineyards. Room rates start at $125 per night and include a bottle of vino. 34680 Highway 79, Warner Springs. 1-760-782-0778;

Where to Dine

For a perfect picnic, pick up local cheeses made by Kim Spero of Cheeses From the Cave (858-334-9840; and Ramona Gold olive oil at Ramona Family Naturals market (325 Sixth Street, Ramona. 1-760-787-5987; Grab lunch at the Round Up Grill on Route 76 with views of Lake Henshaw. Be sure to order the Aussie fries and fried pickles. You’ll also find Ramona Ranch Wines on the menu. 26439 Highway 76, Santa Ysabel. 1-760-782-2729.


Please drink responsibly and always use a designated driver.