While we’ve all heard of Napa and Sonoma, there’s much more to American wine than California. In fact, all 50 states in the USA are home to wineries, meaning the country offers an impressive variety of wine styles from a variety of terroirs and climates. To help shed some light on American wine beyond California, here are six lesser-known wine countries in the US that are worth a visit.
Bicycle from cellar door to cellar door
Photo by Derek Gavey
An easy day trip from New York City, Jitney Long Island is home to over 50 wineries, especially on the North Fork. Here, you’ll find wineries so close to together it’s possible to cycle from cellar door to cellar door — not a bad idea in the summer when traffic can be stand-still. There are endless vines of chardonnay and merlot, farm stands, pie shops (go to Briermere Farms!), antique sellers and a peppering of music and wine festivals every weekend. The North Fork is sunny and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound, which helps keep the maritime climate mild and allows for prime grape growing. Moreover, because the region is very wealthy you’ll find many wineries using state of the art equipment to make their wines.
- Bedell Cellars, one of the more refined options located inside a converted farmhouse with beautiful artwork
- Sparkling Pointe, where you can sip glasses of bubbly on leather couches in the vines
- Shinn Estate, known for its organic and biodynamic winemaking practices.
- Bonus: Shinn Estate offers accommodation, so you can have the experience of staying overnight on a vineyard. In Long Island’s wine country you’re also never far from the water, making beach hiking, boat trips, and whale and seal watching an easy addition to your wine-country vacation.
Photo by HelloMarkers!
From Cigarettes to Cabernet
Many people don’t know that North Carolina is home to over 100 wineries, many of which are in the Yadkin Valley. Encompassing about 1,400,000 acres (3520 square-miles), the Yadkin Valley offers excellent reds — mainly cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and cabernet franc — as well as whites using chardonnay and viognier. Originally known for its abundant tobacco, farmers needed to create a new plan when cigarette sales began to decline. They turned to wine. Today, you’ll find a hub of family-owned wineries sprinkled with antique shops, farms and bed and breakfasts. One fun experience is doing the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, home to over 30 wineries within close proximity to each other.
- Childress Vineyards, owned by former NASCAR star Richard Childress and housed in a beautiful Tuscan-style villa. Here, they produce everything from dry reds to dessert wines, and a structured tasting allows you to savor a variety.
- Divine Llama Vineyards, where one can relax in a rocking chair with a glass of vino and enjoy views of Pilot Mountain or a tasting in a nostalgia-inducing farmhouse.
Fruit-forward Wines & Friends
Photo by Tribp
Virginia is where the US first attempted to make wine in 1607 — Thomas Jefferson even planted vines here; however, diseases and other natural problems killed off many of the vineyards. The state’s modern wine industry started in the early 1900s, and today there are over 250 wineries home to passionate winemakers looking to turn the state into the “Napa of the East Coast.” Here red clay soil grows grape varietals like chardonnay, riesling, seyval blanc, vidal blanc, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, leading to very fruit-forward wines in a range of styles. What’s special about visiting the wineries in Virginia is that many of the wines can only be purchased directly from the producer, and visiting these small family-owned operations feels akin to visiting a gracious friend. One wine region of note in Virginia is the Shenandoah Wine Valley, located about hour from Washington DC and offering a mix of wine, history, culture and country charm — not to mention the 200-mile Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail.
- Bella Piazza Winery, offering wine tours, tastings and cheese pairings as well as regular pasta buffet events.
- Veramar Vineyards is home to 26 acres of sustainably grown vines and a number of tour and tasting experiences, including a “Picnic Pairing.” During the experience savor an al fresco lunch of local farm-to-fork eats and wines with views of the endless rows of grapes as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains.
- There’s also the annual ValleyFest Beer and Wine Festival where live music, artisanal vendors, and local beer and wine abound.
Photo by Adam Gerard
Hot days and cool nights
Photo by Tribp
Colorado is home to a number of wine regions, one of which is Grand Valley. This is where you’ll find about three-quarters of Colorado’s wineries, some sitting as high as 4,700 feet. This extreme altitude combined with the cooling effect from the surrounding canyons, hot days and cold nights leads to wines that are acidic, sweet and fruit forward, although a number of wineries are also making more Old World-style wines. In Grand Valley, the varietals that best reflect the region’s terroir are Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Syrah, which is especially adaptable and ripen early so winemakers can worry less about weather issues. A worthwhile way to immerse yourself in Colorado wine culture is via the Heart of Colorado Wine Country Trail, including wineries from both Grand Valley and West Elks wine regions and views of the Colorado River, Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa, driving along its scenic byway. Many of the wineries are also close enough to cycle to and from.
- Carlson Wineries, a fun stop for those who don’t take wine too seriously. Here they offer free tours and tastings in their 1930s fruit packing shed of traditional and more unusual wines, like a pear-apple fruit wine and a Cherry N’ Chocolate dessert wine, for which they’ll dip the edge of your glass in melted chocolate.
- Colorado Cellars Winery, which boasts being the state’s oldest and largest winery since 1978 and offers self-service wine tasting — including meads — as well as wine-infused foods.
Indulge in the Texas Holy Trinity
Photo by Katherine Lynch
In her book “The Wine Bible,” Karen MacNeil writes, “In Italy, wine, bread and olive oil are called the Santa Trinita Mediterrananea — the Mediterranean Holy Trinity. The Texas Holy Trinity is only slightly different: wine, cattle and oil (no, not olive).” For many people, it may be surprising to hear that the hot, rugged Texas terrain produces not just wine, but fine white wines and even some reds. In fact, it’s the fifth-largest state in the U.S. for wine production, home to 260+ wineries. This wine region features granitic soils, an arid climate and grape varietals like viognier, grenache, syrah, sangiovese, vermentino, tempranillo and chardonnay. While you’ll find the sleepy, rolling hill landscapes littered with family-owned bed and breakfasts, pie stands and antique shops, they also have loads of activities, trails and events.
Not-to-miss wineries & other activities
- Do some fishing or hiking before visiting Becker Vineyards for a barrel or vertical tasting.
- Peruse Fredericksburg’s Pioneer Museum or take a class at the Texas Hill Country Cooking School
- Lewis Wines, where beautiful views are paired with decadent wines made from 100% Texas grapes, like a 2011 Texas Merlot offering flavors of baked cherry pie and green chili and a 2011 Texas Tempranillo that tastes of chocolate and figs.
- Spend some time exploring the cellar doors along the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, or special holiday trails like the Texas Wine Month Trail in October and the Texas Holiday Trail in December.
Napa Valley of the Midwest
Photo by Paul S
Encompassing 1,280,000 acres, Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country offers plenty of chances to savor the superb wines of Michigan. Sometimes known as the “Napa Valley of the Midwest” the fine wines of the region are influenced by the destination’s sandy soils, mild climate and lake-effect rain. Along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail you’ll find 15 wineries offering tours, guided tastings and pairing experiences. It’s best to visit in the warmer months when there are wine events almost every weekend.
- Historic Tarbor Hill Restaurant and Winery, established in 1968 is home to a restaurant where you can pair estate wines with seasonal bites from their daily-changing menu.
- Free Run Cellars, as they offer tours and tastings of their small-batch wines and spirits.
- Baroda Founders Wine Cellar the best time to visit is between 5- 8 p.m. on “Wine Down Friday,” where wine and charcuterie are paired with soft mood music.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik
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