Where there’s wine, there’s typically beautiful places to experience the outdoors, excellent food, fun shopping, quaint towns and a laid back vibe. That checks nearly every box on my “perfect trip” list. You’re probably aware of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. However, there’s lots of amazing under-the-radar places to taste wine in the USA.
Here are three lesser-known wine regions to add to your list.
Paso Robles – California
Located smackdab between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you’ll find Paso Robles. The term “wine country” might give the impression that things can get a little snooty. Not here. With its quaint main street and small town vibe, you can really relax.
The area grows about 40 grape varieties, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Chardonnay. A stellar place to start is Justin Winery. Founded in 1981, this vineyard creates world-class Bordeaux style wines. Tours are offered twice daily, tastings typically run from 10am – 4:30pm. Those sips do add up, but there’s good news—you can stay at the on-property JUST Inn.
Another notable vineyard? AronHill. Owned and operated by Judy Aron, the intimate vineyard grows dry-farmed Primitivo—the European sibling to Zinfandel. Judy and her daughter Kathryn personally welcome you to their tasting room, which they treat as an extension of their home. Enjoy lunch on their bistro patio while savoring the idyllic hilltop views.
Celebrating a special occasion? Check out Il Cortile Ristorante, featuring local ingredients shot through an Italian prism (served with lots of delicious local wines, naturally.)
For Mexican cuisine with a Californian twist, visit Fish Gaucho. The fresh fish tacos served with piña pepper salsa, shaved cabbage, pickled onion, fresno chiles and micro greens pair perfectly with a margarita. After a day or two of wine tasting, something grape-free might be just the ticket.
For more of a hands-on experience, spend a night or two at Rancho Dos Amantes. This working farm takes reservations for their three on-site haciendas, complete with a farm tour (there’s a goat herd!) and cooking class if desired. It’s the perfect place to unplug.
Guadalupe Wine Valley – Baja California
Did you know one of the oldest wine growing regions in the Americas resides just a 90-minute drive from San Diego? After colonization by the Spaniards, settlers from Italy and Russia planted grapes in Valle de Guadalupe. Over 300 years later, the Baja California region produces roughly 90 percent of Mexico’s wine. And it’s really, really good.
The bad news? You’re not going to find bottles of this at your neighborhood wine shop as it’s rarely exported. The good news? That’s all the more reason to visit! Some of the popular varieties you’ll find include Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Malbec and Barbera.
The area offers many juxtapositions. There’s the rugged and relaxed country atmosphere—complete with many winding dirt roads that lead to incredible restaurants. Enjoy a lunch or dinner at Corazon de Tierra while overlooking the garden that produced your meal. With reclaimed wood tables and rustic décor, this place nails the super-casual atmosphere but elevated cuisine vibe.
For dining alfresco at its best, check out Finca Altozano. Chefs work in an outdoor open kitchen, grilling up octopus, steak and excellent tacos.
Stay at La Villa del Valle for a taste of Tuscany in Baja California. This luxurious retreat offers spa treatments, horseback riding and beautiful verandas overlooking the valley.
Though most things are open year-round, summertime is the best season to visit. The season’s bounty explodes from June to October, with many restaurants honing in on that time frame. Driving from San Diego is the best way to get here—be sure to check with the State Department’s travel warnings to Mexico to plan your trip.
Verde Valley – Arizona
Roughly two hours north of Phoenix, you’ll find the Verde Valley. Situated along the Verde River, the region boasts mesas, buttes, and mountain views. It’s hard to believe there’s a wine scene exploding here, but indeed there is!
Though Sedona is a great place to base your Verde Valley vacation, why not explode a stay in nearby Jerome? Founded in 1876, this historic copper mining town once eared the title of the “Wickedest Town in the West.” In its heyday, the town produced 3 million pounds of copper monthly. Today, Jerome is America’s largest ghost town, with a population of approximately 353. Don’t worry—there’s still plenty to do and see.
You’re in the wild west, so why not live like it by renting the John Riordan House. Originally built in 1898, this home remained vacant for nearly 60 years (mostly buried under mud!) before undergoing a restoration project in 2013. Walk to downtown for wine tasting, food and shopping. Buy a few bottles of vino to sip on your patio, soaking up views of the entire Verde Valley.
If you love wine and music, check out Caduceus Cellars Tasting Room, pouring in Italian and Spanish-style wines produced at its nearby vineyard. Owner and winemaker, Maynard James Keenan (yep, the guy from metal band, TOOL), along with his wife, Jennifer, are produce roughly 4500 cases a year in their tiny underground cement facility known as The Bunker. Who knew wine was so rock and roll?
What’s your favorite lesser-known place to drink wine? Share in the comments!