Road Trip: Cowboy's Guide to California Wine Country

California's Wine Country, cowboy style.
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Credit: Dieter Braun

Credit: Dieter Braun

1) In California, it’s well known that San Luis Obispo Countyproduces great wines. In the cowboy community, it’s also where one finds real ranching heritage. You can get the best of both worlds starting with a visit to the Madonna Inn, complete with horseback riding, on-site tastings, lodging, and dining. Be sure to check out what’s happening at the Expo Center, which hosts everything from beer fests to theSustainable Ag Expo. Speaking of sustainable, swing by Ancient Peaks Winery to taste the fruits of the vineyards located on one of California’s oldest, continuous cattle operations, the Santa Margarita Ranch. Located on the Camino Real, beef cattle were introduced in the 1770s when Father Junipero Serra built his mission on the property, which still stands today. As you head north, stop by Tobin James Cellars, where the guesthouse is a restored stagecoach stop and the wines are served from behind a 1860s Brunswick bar in a Western saloon. 

2) Head for the coast inMonterey Countyand make a reservation with Happy Trails Wagon Tour for a sure stop at Cowgirl Winery in the Carmel Valley. Fellas, I suggest letting the ladies pack those extra pair of boots in the suitcase, because at this tasting room, if you bring an extra pair, you get a free bottle of wine in return! NearbyMonterey offers the Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival late in the year, and in July, California Rodeo Salinasis the not-to-miss event. Finally, trade the arena dirt for sandy beaches on a ride with Chaparral Ranch, which gets horseback in Salinas River State Beach

3) No California Wine Country tour is complete without a visit to Napa County. Still, get off the main drag and onto the Silverado Trail—the historic 1852 wagon road once terrorized by the 1880’s highway bandit, “Black Bart.” The only terrorizing part about the road today is having to choose which vineyards to visit, but a stop atBlack Stallion Winery—a former equestrian estate and stud farm—seems an obvious choice, especially if they’re hosting one of their oft-offered pairing events. Continuing north, a stop atStags’ Leap Wine Cellarsis non-negotiable. Though lacking in cowboy culture, the winery put California on the world’s wine map when its Cabernet Sauvignon won a blind test in France in 1976. Finally, come back to horse country at Tamber Bey Vineyards. Located on Calistoga’s Sundance Ranch—a 22-acre performance horse training facility—guests are invited to enjoy their tasting in the courtyard of the 16-stall horse barn, where they can visit with the current residents. 

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Planning a Western getaway? Check out American Cowboy Adventures, full of travel guides and ideas for your next cowboy vacation. From dirt-road, cowboy-country adventures to Western diamonds in a rough, urban city-scape, we’re here to help you find your true north—and it’s called The West.

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