It’s going to be that time of year again soon… spring break! Since this feels…
3 lesser-known wine regions you should visit now
Where there’s wine, there are 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 are 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 smack dab 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, and tastings typically run from 10 am – 4:30 pm. 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 explore 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 a metal band, TOOL), along with his wife, Jennifer, are producing 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!
This Post Has 26 Comments
Monticello Wine Trail, Virginia best wines on the East Coast!
Agreed. Northern Virginia has some great wineries and breweries as well.
Temecula, CA. Spent a fabulous 3 days there 10 years ago when the vineyards were planted. There were at least a dozen different places. GrapeTours picked us up every morning & took us back every afternoon. We stayed in lovely French chateau. Drank some amazing wine & ate great food. It was an impromptu trip & one of my most memorable.
I used to be the manager at Falkner Winery but I left in 2007 due to creative and personal differences with the owner. Back then Temecula was the wild west of wine regions. I lost count of how many party buses I had to turn away, how many times I had to call the sheriffs department and how many accidents I saw on Rancho California. However, the number of wineries has quadrupled once the owners realized they had to crack down on the drunks. Now my friends tell me it’s Heaven on earth.
That was around the time I had visited the area a few times. I was absolutely turned off by the buses and crowds. I swore off the location. Now I’m hearing that the area is quite nice and picturesque. There are so many wineries now. Maybe we’ll give it another try.
The Anderson Valley, northwest of Sonoma in Mendocino County. It runs almost to the Pacific, and the occasional coverings of fog produces interesting results on the grapes. Roederer Estate produces perhaps the finest sparkling wines to be found in the U.S. Several wineries are being recognized for their excellent pinot noir and chardonnays. The entire valley is low-key and unpretentious, including Boonville, the main town.
Eastern end of long island, ny too.
We live in Napa. On a recent trip to Montana we went off the path to Walla Walla, WA.
Terrific wine at very fair price. And a beautiful small city.
Love you, Samantha, and all your great travel tips – have followed you for years – next time you are out and about, I hope you can head over to the east coast and try the wines of North Carolina ( Yadkin Valley), Virginia (Shenandoah area and Monticello), and north Georgia (near the western tip of North Carolina) – you will be surprised at the quality and taste! Enjoy!
After visiting Verde Valley in Arizona, head south to Patagonia! Wonderful wines and vineyards from there (even a cave wine cellar with a tasting bar) and the Kartchner Caverns to boot. On the way, visit the mission at San Xavier del Bac, known as the White Dove of the Desert.
There are dozens of wineries in Virginia. Most of them are excellent. There are also dozens of craft breweries as well.
Missouri also has several vineyards worth investigating.
As one who travels and enjoys wines from many areas I completely agree with your learned assessment of these wine regions. In particular the wines of Mexico are a treat. Next time checkout the vineyards southwest of the border with Texas, such as Casa Madero.
The Finger Lakes region in the center of NY state has a very exciting wine industry. Beautiful landscapes, too. I’m proud & fortunate to live in this incredible area!
In the northern part of Michigan is an area that extends into Lake Michigan/Traverse Bay. From Traverse City you can take one of 2 trails both traveling up 2 different peninsulas. There are at least a dozen different wineries from which to choose and many have some very good wines (as can be attested to by my wine cabinet). From at least one of the wineries you can look down at the bay to the east and lake to the west. It’s a beautiful drive.
Lake Chelan in Eastern, Washington – terrific wines in a beautiful location just 3 hours from Seattle. Also Yamhill Valley, Oregon…Dundee, Carlton, Newberg, McMinnville…fabulous wines at tons of small, intimate wineries and top notch restaurants serving amazing food to boot all in little towns just an hour southwest of Portland. Go Thanksgiving Or Memorial Day weekends when tons of small wineries open their doors, it’s a Pinot Noir lovers dream!
The Finger Lakes region of NY state is producing outstanding wines these days, and the summer/fall landscapes are breathtaking.
Great article! The Blue Ridge WineWay trail in Northern Virginia has amazing wineries too
The Livermore Valley in Northern California is also a must visit wine region. Just 45 minutes east of San Francisco, It’s one of the oldest wine growing areas in the state and has an amazing history of firsts when it comes to California wine. With over 60 wineries here, there is something for everyone here.
I really enjoyed the wine trail in Winston Salem, NC
Hubs family were one of the founding families of Templeton Ca. Still have the homestead there! Its nice to see how Templeton & Paso Robles have matured and come to be hip. Best thing i love there is @sensorio an immersive art installation.
Hope i might tun into you next you’re in town 😁
1. Northern Virginia & contiguous parts of Maryland
2. New York’s Finger Lakes Region (all 5 fingers!)
3. We visited Argentina’s Uco Valley several years ago. Eye-opening, awesome, cannot wait to go again!
One if my favorite places to visit is roughly 90 minutes from Victorville, CA off of the 15 Fwy. Temecula Valley. There are some great and fun wineries. Wilson Creek and their almond sparkling wine is pretty well known. But I enjoy Marie Carrie and their Viogner. They also have a killer sour dough and brie melt.
I’m a huge fan, your latest series is so great with off the beaten path places to visit in the places you love! I have been to the Temecula wine region, the Virginia wineries are great (300) and the Marlborough region in NZ. I’ve heard the TX hills region near Fredericksburg and NY finger lakes are also must see and would love to visit them as well. You are right, many have so much more than just wine! Keep up the great work 👍😎
300+ wineries (7 wine trails) in Ohio! #ohiowines
I visited Paso Robles back in February and it was an amazing trip. Couldn’t visit as many wineries as I would have liked to, but it gives me a reason to go back.