Life

Lesser-Known American Wine Regions That Are Absolutely Worth Visiting


Unsplash

Wine is always worth traveling for. It’s a pursuit both intellectual and sensory. It’s easy to participate in (you just have to like drinking!) but incredibly difficult to master. Best of all, it’s a passion you can explore all over the world. Italy? France? Australia? The Americas? Wine’s got you covered.

Historically, wine regions like Napa and Sonoma have dominated the conversation about wine in the U.S. That’s understandable. There are killer wines being made across California. However, the United States is massive. And with all that space comes a lot of regional variances, weather patterns, and a diversity of soils — many of which combine to provide ideal conditions for growing a wide range of wines.

Today, we’re eager to shout out ten of our favorite lesser-known American wine regions. If you’re still on the fence about where to go and what to do with your last month of summer 2018, these are perfect late-summer road trip destinations. Each of these regions has its own distinct feel and styles. And all of them go hand-in-hand with great local food scenes.

FINGER LAKES, NEW YORK

New York’s Finger Lakes is a summer wonderland. The lakes provide the perfect place to unwind while staying close to nature. Then there’s the wine. The area is home to over 100 wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Depending on your tastes, you can go big or stay intimate and small. The Keuka Lake Wine Trail only has eight wineries whereas the Seneca Lake Wine Trail has 35. Obviously, drinking through 35 wineries in a single trip would be a massive undertaking. Still… worth a try, right?

The region is renowned for their crisp whites. Thanks to the frigid winters and breezy, sunny summers Riesling and Gewürztraminer flourish. The lakes actually help regulate the weather to a point that there aren’t big temperature swings (besides from winter to summer). The mild climes also offer the perfect space to grow heavy-hitting reds like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Tasting wine, long shade-filled lunches, and swimming in gorgeous lakes all make this wine region a must-stop on any east coast summer road trip.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA, VIRGINIA

Virginia’s Central Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in the United States. The long growing season combines with the clay and granite of the Blue Ridge Mountains to create a perfect wine country setting. Winemaking here goes back to Thomas Jefferson and his avid oenophilia (it means wine-lover, get your vocab on!). Jefferson spent a lot of time planting grapes and hoping to create the first great American wine region (though Vikings had made wine from local grapes around 1000AD and the French and Spanish were already making wine on the continent in the early 1500s). Still, Jefferson’s legacy of winemaking lasts to this day and places like Monticello are necessary stops on any wine tour of the region.

The Central Valley of Virginia is a vast area with vast resources. This makes for a wide array of wine varietals. You’ll find almost everything being grown and crushed in these parts from Cabernet Sauvignon to Petit Verdot to Syrah to Gewürztraminer to Muscat. It really is a wine lover’s paradise.

AUGUSTA, MISSOURI

Augusta, Missouri is a classic wine growing region in the United States. We know, that sounds bananas, but it’s true. Before the Civil War, Missouri was the largest producer of wine in the whole of the United States and even managed to stay in operation throughout Prohibition. Missouri’s Augusta region was also the first region in the U.S. to get an appellation designation. So, wine runs deep here and it’s pretty freakin’ great.

Augustan wine is deeply rooted in German styles and ancestry. Add in the fairly mild weather of Missouri with cold winters and mild summers and you have a great spot for grapes. Cabs, Pinots, Rieslings, Vignoles all reign supreme in the region. A trip to Augusta is a great summer getaway, especially if you tack on a trip to the Mark Twain National Forest for some outdoor adventure.

View this post on Instagram

Yummy birthday treat with @emlee822

A post shared by Shannon [she/her] (@cheesefry413) on

OLD MISSION PENINSULA, MICHIGAN

The Great Lakes are always the right option for a great summer vacation. The Old Mission Peninsula juts north from Traverse City into Lake Michigan with nine wineries peppering Highway 37. The wine trail from Traverse City to the Old Mission Lighthouse is only 20 miles long. So hitting all nine wineries is very doable in one day or — preferably — a long boozy weekend.

The Grand Traverse Bay sits right at the 45th parallel which tends to be the sweet spot for wine (for now anyway). The sheltered peninsula offers a very steady climate for growing big grapes like Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Gewürztraminer. Expect boldness up Michigan way with a great view of a great lake.

TEXAS HILL COUNTRY, TEXAS

Wine might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think, “Texas.” That’s a shame as the Texas Hill Country is a phenomenal wine region with an equally rad natural landscape. There are 53 wineries north and west of Austin that each deserves your attention. Every one of them offers a little slice of Texas alongside a nice bottle of vino. Our recommendation, start at as far out from Austin as you want to drive and then work your way back towards the city for a rollicking night out.

This area of Texas is hot year round. So you’ll want to look for the wines that align with the hotter European climates. Spanish Tempranillo and Tuscan Montepulcianos are prevalent. The area also has a distinct connection to French oenoculture as you’ll find some serious Rhône styles with plenty of Petite Syrah and Provence-like Chardonnay. It’s a wonderfully varied wine region within striking distance of one of America’s best cities. Wins all around.

GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO

Western Colorado’s penchant for grand mesas towering over verdant river canyons makes for prime wine growing. The whole area around Grand Junction is a great place for outdoor adventure as well. You can do a little mesa mountain biking in the AM, recover with some edibles and have a long lunch at a winery, and then end the day with a bottle of something nice, a spliff, and a beautiful Colorado sunset.

Colorado’s region is most associated with French Bordeaux and California Napa varietals. The rock walls of the mesas allow for a sheltered climate that doesn’t rage between extremes as hard as other parts of the state. There’s a strong Bordeaux sense with blends of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Cab Sauv. Of course, there’s more than just Colorado’s take on Bordeaux. You’ll find plenty of Riesling, Syrah, Shiraz, and even a few Tempranillos.

View this post on Instagram

I found my happy place #rose

A post shared by Erin Block (@erinwamblock) on

VERDE VALLEY, ARIZONA

The Oak River and Verde River Valleys from outside Sedona west to Jerome, Arizona make up one of the hotter and drier wine regions in the U.S. The whole area is in a lower-desert topography so the extremely cold temperatures of the high desert aren’t as severe, allowing enough stability to grow some serious vines. The Verde Valley also benefits from the rocker, erudite, and winemaker Maynard James Keenan setting up shop in the area with Caduceus Cellars.

The area is hot. So hot climate wines are what you’re going to be looking for in the Verde Valley. Spanish Missionaries brought their grapes to the region back in the 1500s, so there’s a distinct culture built around those grapes. More recently Italian Tuscan varietals alongside southern French Rhône traditional grapes are grown and turned into wonderful wines. Make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen for the wine trail. It’s sunny down Arizona way, people.

SNAKE RIVER VALLEY, IDAHO

Idaho is another spot that probably doesn’t immediately elicit thoughts of sun-kissed wine trails. Idaho is a big state that feels intimate. There are vast mountain ranges, grassland plains, and lush river valleys. The wine regions in the western reaches of the state around the Snake River Valley stretch east towards Boise. The valley creates a semi-arid microclimate that’s fed by the Snake River and benefits from a high elevation volcanic soil. All of this equates to stability when it comes to the weather which, in turn, makes for excellent grape growing.

The elevation and climate make this a great region for sharp and dry Rieslings and big Pinot Noir. Between Boise and the western end of the Snake River (near the Oregon border), you’ll find over 30 wineries making some unique wines that you’ll rarely find outside of the region. That alone is worth the trip.

Add in the remarkable beauty of western Idaho and you’ve got a winning adventure on your hands.

WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON

The I-5 and the Old Pacific Highway 99 corridor from Eugene to Portland, create one hell of an awesome route for a wine country experience. The Willamette Valley takes up a large swath of western Oregon along the windward side of Cascade volcanoes, sweeping into evergreen river valleys. Starting in Eugene and working your way to Salem (which sits at the coveted 45-degree longitude mark) and eventually ending up in PDX is the best way to experience the wonders of the Willamette Valley’s 200+ wineries.

The Willamette Valley is a decidedly mild and damp region in the lower, rain-shadowed river valleys that give way to sunnier volcanic soil slopes. The area is super mild when it comes to the weather, which makes is a world-class Pinot Noir zone. Other mild weather varieties are common — Riesling, Cab Franc, Gewürztraminer, Malbec — but it’s really the Pinot that people flock to the valley for.

COLUMBIA RIVER VALLEY, WASHINGTON

View this post on Instagram

Living the good life

A post shared by Cordell Dane Anderson Owsley (@daneowl) on

The Columbia River Valley wine region — not to be confused with the Columbia Gorge region that slices Washington and Oregon in two — is a varied and amazing stretch of country. The area is made up of the upper Columbia River Valley with a very high desert arid feel to it that leads into a massive agricultural area towards the Yakima Valley in the west and the grasslands of the Snake River to the south and east. The leeward volcanic slopes of the Cascades help add dimension to the soil and helps keep the weather fairly neutral with 300 days of summer every year. See? Varied.

There are 40,000 acres of vines planted in the Columbia River Valley, which helps make Washington the second largest wine producer in the U.S. (behind California). Expect to find a wide array of varieties. Cab Sauv, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Sauv Blanc dominate the scene, with niche grapes being grown in random valleys and on sunny slopes here and there. The best way to think about Washington wines is to imagine French grapes filtered through California craftsmanship to make something wholly unique and very much Washington.

×