Our recent visit to Willamette Valley wine country in Oregon got me thinking about a U.S. wine tour wish list. If you think that Napa and Sonoma are the only places to hit up the wine trail, it’s time to think outside the box (of wine).
First things first…drink responsibly. My favorite way to tour wine country is with a pregnant friend as the designated driver. If your friends are already on the other side of motherhood, they will surely want to imbibe with you, so get a driver. Many of these areas have wine tours that will drive you around all day or you could use Lyft in between stops. Some are even walkable or bikeable. However you do it, you want to enjoy your time (and your wine) without worrying about safety, so take driving out of the equation.
Willamette Valley, OR. The largest wine region in Oregon and home to more than 500 wineries, the Willamette Valley is known for its Pinot Noir. And it sparked this list. Emily and I visited Ruby Vineyard and Montinore Estate as a day trip from Portland that ended in Cannon Beach (listen to Episode 4 to hear all about it). We are definitely planning to go back to see more!
Columbia Valley, WA. This wine region is 1/3 of the land mass of Washington State! Because it is so big, there are many different climates and they produce many different varietals, however the area is best known for their Cabernet Sauvignon. As expected, there are a LOT of wineries and you could spend a few days (or a few trips!) exploring all the different areas. I’ve (so far) only been to one, Cave B, which has just about everything you need – wine (an amazing Cab series), a full restaurant, and yurts to stay overnight!
Rogue Valley, OR. This region in southwestern Oregon is similar to France’s Bordeaux region and produces a lot of reds. My good friend from high school lives in nearby Medford, so last fall I visited. We went to DANCIN Vineyards for wine and pizza and Trium Wines (which is closing in September 2017, so hurry!) for a tasting on their beautiful deck overlooking the valley. Trium hosted occasional yoga and wine classes with Rasa Yoga (where April and I took a great class one morning), so hopefully one of the other 150 wineries in the area will pick up where they leave off.
Woodinville, WA. I’ve been here a handful of times because Woodinville is a 30-minute drive from Seattle and home to 140 wineries and tasting rooms. Mostly tasting rooms, so for the ambiance, definitely hit up the big name (and beautiful) wineries: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Novelty Hill Januik, and Columbia. After seeing one or all of those, hit up the clusters of tasting rooms in the Hollywood District or the Main Warehouse area. There are also some great restaurants and if you get sick of wine, Woodinville Whiskey offers whiskey tastings.
Walla Walla, WA. The Walla Walla Valley is a small region in southeast Washington State and part of Oregon. The Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon from Canoe Ridge is a wine I frequently find myself selecting at home and I would love to try Northstar’s Merlot.
Verde Valley, AZ. The Verde Valley Wine Trail in northern Arizona is worth a visit any time of the year, but mostly in the summer when Phoenix is scorching hot. The Verde Valley is relatively new, but growing. They currently have about 15 wineries and tasting rooms, which is more than enough for a weekend visit! Chateau Tumbleweed is run by two couples who look like they’re having way too much fun making amazing wine, like a red blend just called Le Blend. I definitely want to hang out with them. The area is also known for a nearby old western ghost town named Jerome. It has a lot of character and would be a great place to stay and eat during a wine weekend. Emily and her brothers hired the Arizona Winery Tours to safely enjoy traveling from stop-to-stop! Pictured above is Oak Creek Vineyards!
Paso Robles, CA. Cab, Merlot, Syrah, and Zin make up 72% of the wine produced in Paso Robles in central California. Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery was one of the earliest producers in the area. They have a lot of history and wine-making technique to share with visitors to their tasting room, located in a converted rusty tin-sided iron working shop. Plus, they have a Schnauzer, so obviously go there plus any of the other 200 wineries just north of San Luis Obispo.
Emily’s brother Anthony designed some of the labels at League of Rogues Wines in Paso Robles, CA. Check out their “cast of characters” including the Absent Minded Professor:
Santa Ynez Valley, CA. My sister recently visited this area just north of Santa Barbara for a wine-centric bachelorette party. This group really loves – and knows – their wine. In a region known for whites and soft reds like Pinot Noir, they favored the reds, but always took recommendations for other great finds. They stayed in Los Olivos, a small town with a ton of tasting rooms, but also did a bike tour to get out to some of the vineyards and wineries in Solvang. Beckmen Vineyards and Lincourt were two of her favorites. She also stumbled upon a place called The Crooked Path that just sounds like such a unique, small town experience, you’d have to check it out for yourself!
San Diego, CA. The San Pasqual region is warm and desert-like, which lends itself to production of Spanish-style wines, two of my favorites, Sangiovese and Tempranillo. It currently has about 100 vineyards and wineries. Vesper Vineyards is in the heart of it all in Escondido and features unique varietals that I would just love to learn about (and taste)!
Texas Hill Country, TX. Accessible from Austin or San Antonio, Texas Hill Country is home to 52 wineries. Fredricksburg is a great place to start and just thinking about sitting out on the the patio at Pedernales Cellars on a Texas afternoon has me dreaming of sipping their nice, cold Rosé!
Finger Lakes, NY. This tops a lot of best wine region lists, however I’m not a huge fan of Reisling, the prominent varietal produced there. But many of the wineries are on Seneca Lake and the pictures look beautiful. Plus, it’s an up-and-coming area with very inexpensive tasting fees. With 30 wineries to pick from, I’m sure I’d find something I like and I think I’d start with the Cab Franc at Wagner Vineyards.
Monticello Wine Trail, VA. In an attempt to get me to like wine, my first winery tour was led by my sister when I was 21 and visiting her in Virginia, where she was going to graduate school. This wine trail in Central Virginia has 30 wineries that produce a variety of wines, perhaps best known for Cab Franc. Veritas has a great one, plus they serve food over the weekend – very important during a day of wine tasting! The trail is named for Thomas Jefferson’s nearby home, Monticello, where he first dreamed of creating a world-class wine-producing region in the 1700s. It is a beautiful property that offers a great historical tour if you for some reason need a break from the wine.
These are just a few wine regions that are on my radar either because I’ve been there or heard of it or I enjoy the areas that are nearby. Luckily for me, 90% of U.S. wine is produced on the West Coast in California, Oregon, and Washington! But there are over 3,000 commercial vineyards in the U.S. and at least one winery in each state, so it is an activity you can do just about anywhere you travel.
What are your favorite wine regions in the U.S.? Where have you (or would you love to) go wine tasting internationally? Leave a comment, email us (firstname.lastname@example.org), or post to our social media to let us know!