The Best Spots for your Vino Vacation
1. Napa Valley, CaliforniaThis should come as no surprise: Napa Valley has so much to offer to a wine lover. With over sixteen subregions, it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to do there. Many wineries in Napa offer tours and tastings, and between the beautiful scenery, world-class wine, and a little education on winemaking – what’s not to love? If you prefer to do your vineyard tours sitting down, you’re in luck. Board the Napa Valley Wine Train or take a guided bike tour. For lovers of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa will be your personal paradise. This full-bodied red dominates the region. Plus, Napa Valley Sauvignon blanc, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Merlot tend to be budget-friendly varietals.
2. Willamette Valley, Oregon
Heading north, Willamette Valley – Oregon’s largest wine region – is a cool-climate region that’s worth writing home about. Vintners there are serious about tinkering around with their grapes to produce a range of styles. This region is best known for its delicate Pinot Noir, which makes sense since the Willamette Valley lies at the same latitude as Burgundy, France – the birthplace of Pinot Noir. You’ll also find white wines like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
3. Walla Walla, WA
From Oregon, head to Washington and make a stop in Walla Walla, a region known for red blends made with Cabernet Sauvignon. Though much of Washington sees rainy, gray weather, the eastern part of the state – where most of the vineyards are located – is sunny and dry. Thanks to these conditions, the region produces some very bold, fruit-forward reds. Cabernet is the big one – as a single-varietal wine and in blends. Some red blends are called “Bordeaux style,” and feature a rare mix of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec. Plus, Washington Riesling has a wonderfully zingy acidity. If you want to spend time in an urban environment, you can check out Walla Walla’s 40 downtown tasting rooms, and then make a pit stop in Seattle – just four and a half hours away.
4. Boise, Idaho
Traveling east from Washington, be sure to stop in Boise for some big, bold reds. You might not have heard much about Idaho wine, but experts are calling it the next great American wine region. The Gem State has a pretty fascinating geological history and that’s part of what makes the wine made there so special. Millions of years ago, Idaho was home to an ocean-sized lake and a volcano. Volcanic ash enriched the fertile soil left behind by the lake after it drained. Today, Idaho is making a name for itself with reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cinsault, along with an array of aromatic white wines like Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne. The wineries in the Snake River Valley offer vineyard tastings, and neighboring Garden City is one of the best urban wine districts in the country.
5. Sedona, ArizonaHeading south, you’ll want to spend some time in and around Sedona. Just outside the city, you’ll hit the Verde Valley. This region isn’t even an official AVA yet, but it’s already considered to be an exciting up-and-coming wine region. The Verde Valley is home to a large free-flowing river that supports fish and wildlife, provides clean drinking water, and sustains agriculture and viticulture in the area. There is also, thankfully, just enough rainfall in the region to allow grapes to grow. Be sure to try Verde Valley Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc before hitting a nearby spa or taking a detour to check out the Grand Canyon.
6. Palisade, CO
From Arizona, head east to Colorado and stop in the Palisade region, west of Denver. It’s a small but beautiful place that makes some excellent expressions of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc. Outdoor lovers can bike the Fruit and Wine Byway to take in scenic mountain views along the way to more than two dozen wineries, like Maison La Belle Vie, Colterris, and Restoration Vineyards. If you prefer to motor, you can take a little detour out to Whitewater Hill Winery and stop along the way for a rafting excursion on the Colorado River.
7. Augusta, MissouriAs you enter the great plains, make a stop in Augusta, Missouri for a taste of wine history. Winemaking in the area dates back to the 1830s when German settlers started planting grapevines, and Augusta became the first official AVA in 1980. Today, Augusta makes wines with French-American hybrid grapes as well as European grapes like Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Mourvedre. Be sure to stop in Hermann, Missouri (an hour outside of Augusta) to check out Stone Hill Winery, which has been rated among the best wineries in the Midwest. There’s an adorable bed and breakfast if you want to stay the night, and you’ll be just 90 minutes outside of St. Louis if you want to see the famous arch.
8. Door County, WI
No wine road trip to the Midwest is complete without a stop in Door County, home to a gorgeous wine trail nestled between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The eight wineries along the peninsula produce Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Merlot, as well as fruit-based wines like apple and cherry wines. Fall is a particularly beautiful time of year to visit, but there is also plenty to do in the summer months. Check out the eleven historic lighthouses in Door County, including the oldest – Pottawatomie Lighthouse – built in 1836.
9. Traverse City, MIFurther east, you’ll find another spot that’s famous for both cherry wine and regular wine – Traverse City, Michigan. Traverse City is located on the same parallel as Bordeaux, France, so you’ll find similar medium-bodied reds there, like Cabernet Franc and Merlot. You can spend time at the 30 wineries in Traverse City – including Mari Vineyards, Chateau Grand Traverse, and Bonobo Winery – and then check any number of fun and interesting walking tours before you go kayaking on Lake Michigan.
10. The Hamptons, NYFinally, make a stop at the Hamptons, on Long Island – particularly if you like to drink rosé all day. Pink wine flows like water – so much so that rosé is actually called Hampton water. However, this region has even more to offer. Today, the Hamptons makes a variety of red and white wines including Bordeaux-style blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling. While you’re there, you can hit the beach, check out a museum, and visit this gigantic duck. Plus, it’s not unlikely that you’ll catch a celebrity sighting while you’re there. As the sun sets, you can grab an ocean-fresh lobster roll and raise a glass of local wine to yourself, knowing that you’ve completed the trip of a lifetime.
Tips for Planning Your Road Trip
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your wine destinations road trip.
Make a Plan, but Leave Room for Spontaneity.
Do some research before you go and figure out the wineries you want to hit. Popular wineries are great, but small little-known spots can also be delightful. So, don’t try to squeeze too much into any one day. Leave some room in your itinerary for a leisurely diversion off the beaten path. Sometimes, those are the most memorable parts of the trip.
Plan Your Transportation
Though you may be driving between cities, you don’t necessarily have to drive between wineries within a city or town. Plan to have a designated driver or figure out a safe method of transportation for getting from one tasting to the next.
Stay Hydrated and Don’t Sip on an Empty Stomach
Remember to bring plenty of water and some snacks, and plan to stop for lunch before your first tasting.
Show Up Unscented
This may sound like a strange piece of advice, but you don’t want to wear a fragrance to a vineyard. Perfume will get in the way of the aromas of the wines.
When you get to your wine destinations – be it a vineyard tour or a wine tasting – don’t be afraid to ask questions about the land and the wines. Then, feel free to take notes, since you likely won't remember the names of all of the wines you’ll try. If you’re at a place that doesn’t ship their bottles, save room in the car to take some souvenirs.