15 California Small Batch Wines to Put on Your Radar

Buy local now more than ever.

With an estimated 4 million acres damaged by the fires in the Napa Valley this past summer—and even before that, an estimated 400 million in losses due to COVID—the California wine industry needs support now more than ever.

Here we introduce you to a group of family farmers and artisanal winemakers, most of whom use organically grown grapes and sustainable vineyard practices.

From a lushly fragrant Russian River viognier to a world-class coastal grenache, an iconic Napa cabernet sauvignon and more, each of these bottles is a handcrafted testament to entrepreneurship and the spirit of the Golden State.

A Tribute to Grace Grenache, Besson Vineyard (Santa Clara County, 2017) – $53

At the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains lies this incredible plot of century-old grenache vines. Made by Angela Osborne in honor of her late grandmother Grace, this wine is a classic expression of California grenache. Notes of cranberry, crunchy red apple skin and baking spices like cardamom predominate.

gracewinecompany.com (120 cases made)

Beauregard Chardonnay, Bald Mountain Vineyard (Ben Lomond Mountain, 2018) –$60

Farmer-turned-winemaker Ryan Beauregard works this parcel of mountain-grown chardonnay planted on unique white sand called Zayante. Just a touch of French oak lets the fruit shine; this chardonnay presents with aromas of honeysuckle, crisp Asian pear and oyster shells.

beauregardvineyards.com (550 cases made)

Beekeeper Zinfandel, Montecillo Vineyard (Sonoma Valley, 2017) –$65

With partner Clay Mauritson, Ian Blackburn founded Beekeeper Cellars to showcase the exceptional potential of old-vine zin grown in Sonoma. While some inexpensive zins can taste like IHOP blueberry syrup, Beekeeper makes age-worthy wines with structure and acidity. Notes of blackberry bush, currants and cedar complement zinfandel’s characteristic white pepper.

beekeepercellars.com (250 cases made)

Curran Tempranillo, D’Alfonso-Curran Wines (Santa Barbara County, 2018) –$42

Kris Curran is one of the finest winemakers in California. This smoky, gamy tempranillo—Spain’s great red grape—is layered with incredible textures and nuance. Aged 18 months in barrique, it offers aromatics of cranberry, leather and jam, and it pairs beautifully with grilled meats, charcuterie and, of course, spicy andouille paella.

d-cwines.com (350 cases made)

Dragonette Pinot Noir, Dragonette Cellars (Santa Rita Hills, 2018) –$50

Manhattan Beach resident and winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis has teamed with the Dragonette family to create some of the best pinot noirs coming out of Santa Barbara County. This blend uses fruit from coveted vineyards across the Santa Rita Hills, where the maritime influence of the Pacific preserves the pinot’s bright acidity while allowing slow ripening. Beautiful notes of black cherry, damson plum skin and star anise. It should cost twice as much as it does.

dragonettecellars.com (900 cases made)

Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Fathers & Daughters Cellars  (Anderson Valley, 2017) –$52

The pinot noir inside this bottle is wonderful, but so too are the people behind the label. Fathers & Daughters’ inaugural vintage was launched when granddaughter Ella was born in 2012, and it continues to be a family affair, with three generations working the vineyard. Aromatic notes of violets, tarragon and macerated strawberries with great acidity and lift on the palate.

fanddcellars.com (104 cases made)

Bien Nacido Syrah, Herman Story Wines  (Santa Maria Valley, 2016) –$60

Planted in 1969 in the singular soils of the Santa Maria Valley in northern Santa Barbara County, Bien Nacido is considered a crown jewel among wine lovers and makers. From, the opportunity to work with syrah grown in Bien Nacido is a gift. The 2016 vintage, his fifth production of this wine, is big and brooding. It’s an intense style of syrah with stewed plums, black peppercorn and bacon notes.

hermanstorywines.com (312 cases made)

Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Hourglass Wines (Napa Valley, 2017) –$125

Hourglass Wines, which produces this noteworthy red, suffered extensive losses in the Napa fires, but you can still purchase their wine at stores. In a valley crowded with overpriced “cult” cabs that are often fairly generic, this small-lot cabernet sauvignon stands out for both its integrity and elegance. Finished with a small amount of petit verdot and Malbec—the least known of the classic five Bordeaux varieties—this cabernet is exceptional. Lush cassis and violet aromatics are tightly wound in a core of fine-grained tannins.

hourglasswines.com (900 cases made)

Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir, Inman Family Wines (Russian River Valley, 2019) –$38

Made with grapes from the esteemed Olivet Grange estate, this rosé of pinot noir is aptly named. A seductive and highly perfumed wine, it is lower in alcohol and higher in mouthwatering acidity. With lovely notes of watermelon, guava and grapefruit zest on the nose, this rosé pairs beautifully with charcuterie and summer salads.

inmanfamilywines.com (1,251 cases made)

Hayley Marie Viognier, Porter Creek Vineyard (Russian River Valley, 2018) –$36

Once considered an exotic grape, viognier now has a devoted following among white-wine lovers. Thick and unctuous, with notes of honeysuckle, jasmine and unripe mango, viognier is the perfect wine for a lot of spicy Asian cuisines. The cool climate of the Russian River Valley helps to preserve the acidity in this version from Porter Creek. Try it with shrimp pad Thai or yellow curries.

portercreekvineyards.com (528 cases made)

Saddlerock Cabernet Sauvignon (Malibu Family Wines, 2017) –$37

Many of the local vineyards were decimated in the Woolsey Fire of 2018, so this 2017 cab from Saddlerock is a reminder of the region’s potential. It’s a cabernet grown on soils, with soft, approachable tannins that make it ready to drink when young. For under $40 a bottle, it’s an incredible deal.

malibufamilywines.com (1,180 cases made)

Esprit de Tablas, Tablas Creek Vineyard (Paso Robles, 2017) –$60

The story of the wine-importing Haas family and their connection to Beaucastel in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape region is, in many ways, one of the origin stories of the California wine industry. The Haases founded Tablas Creek in Paso at a time when the region was still largely undiscovered; their nursery material from the Rhône Valley has propagated a whole generation of amazing vineyards. This blend of mourvèdre, grenache, syrah and counoise is deep, dusty and rich with spice and bramble aromatics. It’s one of the best red wines made in the state, hands-down.

tablascreek.com (4,090 cases made)

Kick-on Ranch Riesling, Tatomer Wines (Los Alamos, 2018) –$38

Winemaker Graham Tatomer worked for several years at legendary Austrian producer Weingut Knoll, and his finesse with grape varieties like riesling and grüner veltliner is unique. If you expect all riesling to be syrupy-sweet, this bracingly dry, high-acid wine from the breezy Kick-on Ranch vineyard will be a revelation. Gorgeous white flowers and a saline tang make this riesling endlessly refreshing

tatomerwines.com (150 cases made)

Rosé of Mourvèdre, Tercero Wines (Santa Barbara, 2019) –$30

Make a point of visiting Larry Schaffer’s tasting room in Los Olivos, and you’ll be treated like royalty. I’ve always loved his rosé made from mourvèdre grapes, which is reminiscent of Bandol wines from the south coast of Provence, France. Mouthwatering notes of guava, watermelon and a hint of cinnamon bark make this my go-to poolside pink for the summer.

tercerowines.com (120 cases made)

Truchard Merlot, Truchard Vineyards (Carneros, 2017) –$35

One of the classic big-five grape varieties from Bordeaux, merlot has always thrived in Napa and Sonoma’s sunny climate. This delicious wine from Truchard hails from Carneros, one of the southernmost subregions in the valleys, and also one of the coolest. The temperate vineyard conditions preserve the acid in the merlot as it ripens, and an additional 25% of cabernet franc brings spice and herbaceousness. Notes of ripe purple plums, bitter dark cacao, spearmint leaf and star anise.

truchardvineyards.com (617 cases made)

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