Ah, yes, so we tiptoe past the last Monday of May and our thoughts turn to … vacation!
On the lookout for someplace fun/cool/dramatic/different? Take your pick – or maybe take most of the descriptors.
Let me toss out a few ideas for your consideration, all in those diverse areas collectively known as Wine Country.
No discussion of American Wine Country could begin anywhere but California, which is responsible for 80% of American wine sales. Let’s assume you have already visited the low-hanging fruit of Napa and Sonoma, so close to San Francisco that the entire ensemble is easily achievable. You may have rushed through these areas or you likely were trying to squeeze in a little R&R while on a business trip.
But San Francisco will be visited again and then you can allow more time in those grand Northern California valleys, as well as the proximate reaches of Anderson Valley and Mendocino. This time let’s look at other options.
STARTING IN SAN JOSE
Flying into San Jose, immediately heading out of the airport to Santa Cruz and in less than an hour, you could be at Ridge Winery, Monte Bello Vineyards. Also in the area are Bargetto and Bonnie Doon. Not shabby in any way and far better than sitting in traffic going north in the Bay Area.
A little further to the south, along the California Coast, is Monterey, the town and the wine appellations. This fascinating place, sitting on the edge of the continent, is perfect for sightseeing, fine dining, wine tasting and maybe even a Clint Eastwood sighting.
Wineries along here include Bernardus, Chalone, Hahn Family, Wente and Wrath.
Then head a little more to the south into Santa Lucia Highlands, which are on the back side of Big Sur, and you’ll arrive at Paraiso, De Tierra and some brilliant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wineries.
Continuing your southernly direction – not a comment on your heritage – you’ll now head inland and straight to the Paso Robles region, which has recently become justly famous for both Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – no easy feat.
In Paso, stop by Gary Eberle, Adelaida, DAOU, Peachy Canyon, Tobin, Justin, Tablas Creek and Treana. In more than a few of the wineries and luxury accommodations around the area, spa experiences are included. Since this area is famous for its mineral baths, why not indulge in another sybaritic pleasure after a day of wine tasting?
But don’t linger too long here. Continue your trek south, staying inland to San Luis Obispo then a bit further to Santa Maria. Given the choice of accommodation, I would take SLO, but it isn’t the logical or best situated after some time in Paso Robles. Being just a little California coastal town, Santa Maria is decent but offers very little by way of “pretty."
Anyway, the wines more than make up for a lack of dramatic scenery. In the area you will find Presqu’ile, Bailyana, Edna Valley, Talley and Tangent. Around Santa Maria are Cambria, Foxen, Rancho Sisquoc and Byron.
For your information, you are in the middle of Sideways scenery. The classic 2004 film about final flings and wine was shot in this area, not in northern California.
Just a bit down the road is Lompoc, an agricultural and military town rolled into one ball. Not certain which way it should head, the town tries to serve both sides of the uneven equation.
On the site of a now-closed air base, with part devoted to light industry, there’s the Wine Ghetto – home to multiple, completely unromantic steel buildings where great juice is turned into fabulous wines. The Santa Rita Hills are generous with their soils and climate. Pali Wine Company, Longoria, Arcadian, Fiddlehead and Flying Goat do their magic in a most unmagical setting. Actually, the dichotomy is very fascinating.
South of here is Santa Barbara. This is where payback takes place for those travelers with you, who do not have a great love of the pursuit of wine. This debatably charming city sits on the ocean and offers shopping, fine dining, good wine bars and whale watching. It gives something for everyone, including an airport, which serves as a good jumping off place to head home.
If the California wine tour is not fully your idea of a great destination, then head to Portland, Oregon for a full pinot noir and chardonnay immersion accompanied by gentle spirits who seem to have arisen out of the 1960s – because they did. You can point the family truck south and west, about 90 minutes away from that charming city, to the Willamette Valley. It will not take long to arrive, unless you make frequent stops at craft shops and antique stores. Pinot Noir in this area is king, so if you’re a lover of cabernet sauvignon, be forewarned, ain’t much here.
Here Domaine Drouhin, Van Duzer, Ponzi, Moises (which you cannot get in Oregon, only New Orleans), Methven, Adelsheim and Domaine Serene all occupy hallowed places. The pace in Willamette is decidedly downshifted from Portland and certainly from California.
Washington State has come a long way with its wine industry and the area way up in the northwestern region of that state would seem highly inaccessible from New Orleans. But Alaska Airlines has provided us with a daily non-stop to Seattle. Golly, who thought it was going to be that easy? And with the state’s figurehead winery, Chateau St. Michelle, only 20 minutes from the airport, easier still than originally envisioned.
There are many wineries around the area, more than you probably imagine. And there are wineries on the other side of the state, to the southeast, about a three-hour drive to the Columbia Valley, Walla Walla and Tri-Cities. The more east you head, the heavier the grape types. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are the darlings of that area. But you’re going to be amazed at how many wineries there are, and how diverse the grape selections growing here have become – featuring the red fruit of Spain with Tempranillo and from Portugal with Touriga.
AROUND THE U.S.
I don't mean to give short shrift to wineries in New York State. The magical Finger Lakes District is taking cooler climate fruit, like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc along with some hybrid varietals, such as Diamond and Niagara, and achieving amazing results.
Then there are a bunch of wineries in Virginia. Turns out that Thomas Jefferson was right, wine grapes can be grown here to good result. He just chose the wrong ones.
And so it continues. At least three wineries in every state, including Alaska.
Visiting viticulture areas is rewarding with incredible vistas, excellent dining and beautiful people who are close to the earth.
Looking for Wine Country? Which one?