Calling all wine lovers: When it comes to US wine regions, Sonoma and Napa Valley aren’t the only spots worth visiting—although they should definitely be on your list. The country is brimming with hidden gems, from Willamette Valley, Oregon, to Charlottesville, Virginia.
Here are seven of the most vacation-worthy vino destinations. Cheers!
1. Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is one of the world’s premier wine-making regions. It’s renowned for its manicured vineyards, impressive Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Merlots.
“It’s the Las Vegas of wine country, and is capable of showing an exquisitely decadent experience. I've only been blown away by two wineries—Schramsberg Winery and Jarvis Estate. Both in Napa, both have wine caves,” says Wes Narron, chief wine ambassador of City Wine Tours.
At Schramsberg Winery, you’ll explore 125-year-old caves, and learn about the classic method of producing sparkling wine. And at Jarvis Estate—the first US winery built entirely underground—the entire tour takes place within the 45,000-square-foot caves.
2. Sonoma, California
Often described as Napa's more rustic and relaxed sibling, this award winning wine destination is home to 17 distinct growing regions (also known as appellations)—from Russian River Valley and Carneros, to Sonoma Coast and Dry Creek Valley.
Like its geography, the diversity of viticulture in Sonoma is bar none.“As far as grape varieties go, they really run the gamut here, but it’s the Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Chardonnays that really shine,” says Katie Owen, Wine Director at Winc.
New wave winos will love Scribe Winery (pictured above), where the focus is on terroir-driven wines and sustainable production methods. Head to the tasting barn at Horse & Plow for the latest organic, biodynamic, and non-GMO vinos.
Short on time? Rent a car, and visit the multitude of family-owned wineries along Highway 116.
3. Willamette Valley, Oregon
Willamette Valley in Western Oregon sits on about the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, which is famous for its Pinot Noir.
So, it should come as no surprise that this region has also become a haven of Pinot Noir, but if you’re a fan of Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay, you’ll find them here too. Not only is Willamette Valley home to more than 500 wineries, but it’s also less than an hour away from Portland, making it an easy day trip.
Wondering which wineries to visit? Rachel Driver Speckan, National Wine Director at City Winery, recommends Abbott Claim Vineyard and Hyland Estates. When the weather’s nice, you can either schedule a wine tasting outdoors, or purchase a bottle to enjoy at one of the picnic areas.
4. Charlottesville, Virginia
Sure, Virginia is more closely associated with historical sites than sensational wines, but you might not know the Commonwealth was actually the birthplace of American wine. Thomas Jefferson planted grapes at his home, Monticello, nearly 250 years ago. While he had little success, in the years that followed, the pastoral landscape, fertile soil, and lengthy growing season (over 200 days) have produced a number of award-winning wines.
Just north of Charlottesville is Barboursville Vineyards, which is Virginia’s largest. This 900-acre estate produces a Nebbiolo so authentic, you might just think you’ve been transported to Piedmont. If you favor Chardonnay or Cabernet Franc, a trip to Blenheim Vineyards—one of the 23 wineries located on the Monticello Wine Trail—is a must.
5. Texas Hill Country, Texas
It’s true what they say: “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” And that includes the Lone Star State’s premier wine region.
The Hill Country American Viticultural Area—essentially everything north of San Antonio, and west of Austin—covers a sprawling nine million acres, making it the second largest in the nation. The sunny, dry climate yields excellent Tempranillos, Syrahs, Albarinos, Cabernets, and Zinfandels.
Sniff and sip 29 award winning wines at Brennan Vineyards. Take a trip to Becker Vineyards, which—in addition to growing eight grape varieties—also boasts fragrant lavender and wildflower fields.
6. Finger Lakes, New York
If you like Riesling—you’ll also find Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer—the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York is the place to go. According to Narron, this is one of the most underrated wine regions in the world—which bodes well for vacationers looking to escape the crowds.
But don’t expect it to stay that way for long: It started growing in popularity a few years ago, and there are now over 100 wineries in the area. Be sure to pay homage to the birthplace of East Coast winemaking at Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. Other can’t-miss spots include Ravines Wine Cellars, and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard.
7. Paso Robles, California
Located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles is perhaps best known for Cabernet Sauvignon. But it also has some unexpected, hidden gems—like Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel—and superb white Rhône-style blends, according to Owen.
While it used to be fairly under the radar, in recent years, it’s become one of the most prominent winemaking regions in California, thanks to a bevy of beautiful estates and affordable bottles.
Adelaida Vineyards & Winery is one of the oldest and highest vineyards in the area, and guests can enjoy the spectacular views from the hilltop tasting room situated 2,320 feet above sea level. If ever there was a place to spend a day, it would be Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden. Aside from sipping on some vino, you can stroll the sculpture gardens, and play a game or two of bocce.
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