How to Find the Best Value-Driven Wines in California


We love California and all of its viticultural glory. However, there’s definitely a lot of subpar juice coming out of the Golden State. When it comes to California sipping, knowing how to pick your bottles is key. We’ve rounded up five quick tips on how to snag the best bang-for-your-buck options in a sea of California wines. Get ready to savor the Golden State at its best. 

Head ‘Off-the-Beaten-Path’ 

California’s heavy-hitting regions (think Napa and Sonoma) are home to a plethora of reliable picks. However, veering off the beaten path to lesser-known regions can provide equally delicious options for a fraction of the price. We recommend looking to less popular appellations like the Sierra Foothills, as well as the hidden gems of Santa Barbara County (Ballard Canyon, Santa Maria Valley, etc.). These often overlooked regions are home to some of the state’s greatest producers (some of our favorites include Presqu’ile, Stolpman Vineyards, and Sandhi) and their juice is certain to keep your bank account happy, too. Win-win.  

Look to Smaller Producers

Finding affordable wines from California isn’t really an issue. However, many sub-$15 bottles are crafted by big-name brands who mass-produce their juice. Wines from these big-brand names are frequently subjected to heavy hands and excess manipulation in the cellar, which results in more chemical-laden and less terroir-reflective juice. We recommend seeking out wines produced by small growers and family-owned estates, as these winemakers tend to have more direct contact with their juice. 


Seek Out Sustainability

In a similar vein, many big-name brands source fruit from a plethora of growers, which often means that quality control over environmentally-friendly growing practices are not strictly enforced. When seeking out wines from small family estates, there’s a better chance that these growers are more in control over how their land is treated. Given California’s optimal growing conditions, seeking out sustainably and organically-grown fruit isn’t particularly difficult. Although sustainable/organic wines may cost you a few extra bucks (honest farming doesn’t come cheap!), we believe the extra spend is worth it. 

Find Something You Love, Then Branch Out 

Once you’ve ventured off the beaten path, sought out sustainability, and found a producer you love, there’s most likely another producer you’re certain to love lurking just around the corner. Love Pax Mahle’s wines? Jaimee Motley’s wines and Monte Rio Cellars’ juice are produced under the same roof. Think Larkmead is the best? Dan Petroski is also the mastermind behind Massican. Moral of the story, there’s always something to be discovered in the world of California viticulture.  

Snag a Rec from Your Local Wine Crew

With all of these parameters in mind (small, sustainable, and delicious), your local wine crew is certain to have a current favorite that they’re dying to share. At Verve Wine, some of our staples include Arnot-Roberts, Lieu Dit, and Reeve. Remember to use handy website filters (farming, method, style) to push you even closer to that perfect bottle. 



Looking to dive deeper into the world of California wine? Check out videos of our #WineWithFriends virtual tastings for more on all things California viticulture, and vinification featuring Michael Cruse, Presqu’ile, Massican, and Pax Mahle along with co-founder Dustin Wilson MS.