By: Kelly Soderlund, Hipmunk Staff
Exploring Established & Emerging Wine Regions With
It’s crush season, and no, we’re not talking about football. We’re talking about wine harvesting season, which begins when the grapes are picked and continues through processing and fermentation. From early September through late October, wineries throughout the Northern Hemisphere open their doors to novices and snobs alike who’ve come from far and wide to crush grapes, eat great food, and, of course, to drink wine.
These days, as the wine economy expands both nationally and internationally, one no longer needs to travel to traditionally pricey locations like Napa, Sonoma, or Burgundy, France, to have a Wine Country experience.
With that in mind, we enlisted the expertise of Eater Drinks Editor Kat Odell and compiled a guide of emerging and established wine regions to explore this crush season, along with the average prices for airfare to the region’s nearest airport, accommodations, and car rental prices. To complete the experience, we also asked Odell to offer her restaurant and winery recommendations near each location.
“I always seek out hole-in-the-wall hidden gem restaurants,” Odell said. “If I am in a cab I often ask my driver when he/she likes to eat, and I am always curious to learn where locals go for great food. Oftentimes big name restaurants can be tourist traps, so having a fixer or knowing a local is really the ideal way to discover the best restaurants. Which are frequently not the most expensive places to dine. And when traveling, saving a few bucks here and there really helps.”
We say, cheers to that!
If your only point of reference for Lodi is still a CCR song lamenting over being stuck there (again), it may be time to get reacquainted with this little town in the San Joaquin Valley . “People come to Lodi for the wines, but they tell us that they come back time and again because of the experience that they have when they are here,” said Nancy Beckman, CEO and President of the Visit Lodi! Conference & Visitors Bureau. “Because we have so many boutique family owned and operated wineries, the person in the testing room is genuinely invested in the experience that the taster has.”
Long Island, NY
Encompassing Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the majority of Long Island’s wineries and vineyards are located at the East End, on the North and South Forks, and has grown in a little more than 40 years from one small vineyard to 2,500 acres of vines and nearly 60 producers of world-class wines. According to the Long Island Wine Council, “A tour of the Long island wine region is a special experience, offering an opportunity to sample and purchase our award winning wines directly from producers while enjoying beautiful scenery, comfortable hotels and romantic bed-and-breakfasts, great food, and a wide range of sports, leisure and entertainment activities.”
When people think of Malibu, it’s most often of the famous, celebrity-frequented beach and as a surfer’s Mecca. Over the past 20 years however, numerous boutique wineries have taken root in the fertile mountains in Malibu, where, according to Winery Malibu, the microclimate in the hills above the coastal fog is excellent weather for growing grapes. And you may want to go sooner rather than later, as the wine lovers of Los Angeles are just now beginning to discover this well-kept local secret.
According to the Monticello Wine Trail, Thomas Jefferson, standing atop Monticello Mountain above the small hamlet of Charlottesville, Virginia, gazed out and envisioned a day when Virginia vineyards and wines that could rival the Old World. Some 200 years later, the counties surrounding Monticello were designated the Monticello Viticultural Area (AVA) in recognition of the region’s distinguished and burgeoning wine industry, which boasts 30 wineries within 25 miles of Charlottesville. Today, Virginia is the fifth largest producer of wines in the United States.
Odell recommends: Fosset’s
Paso Robles, CA
Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles Wine Country can be a little tricky to get to—but with more than 200 wineries (most of which are boutique and small family-owned) it’s worth the effort. Each year, wine enthusiasts descend on the Paso Robles wine region to get a first-hand experience of Paso’s harvest during the annual Harvest Wine Weekend event. According to Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, this three-day celebration features more than 140 Paso Robles wineries who open their tasting rooms, vineyards, and wineries for tours, with special tastings, live music, winemaker dinners and more.
Surprisingly, Arizona has three major growing regions, all in the high desert—a landscape that seems counterintuitive to wine growing. However, with elevation levels between 4,000 and 5,000 feet (leading to cooler summers and low evening temperatures), the wine produced here has garnered critical acclaim.The first and largest of these regions, the Sonoita/Elgin area (about an hour south from Tucson), is also the only designated AVA in the state. Furthermore, the Sonoita AVA is one of the first wine-growing regions in the United States to be granted AVA status. Currently home to the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in the state, the Sonoita/Elgin wine growing region has been recognized as one of the top 10 wine trails in the country by USA Today.
Odell recommends: The Cafe
Catalunya (Catalonia in Spanish) has been a long-established European wine region, with vineyards first planted by the Romans—and yet is often overshadowed by its Italian and French neighbors. The fiercely independent and often autonomous region, which is in the midst of another fight for self-governance, is located in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula and is an ideal location for winemaking thanks to its Mediterranean climate. Of Catalonia’s 11 major regions, its most famous is D.O. Cava. Cava is actually the Spanish version of Champagne, and though it uses a different name, the technique is exactly the same.
Loire Valley, France
Located in the heart of France, the Loire Valley contains several distinct wine regions, each with its own characteristic grapes, appellations and styles: Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, Centre-Loire. Over the past decade, the popularity of Loire Valley wines with sommeliers and wine writers has been growing steadily in a country dominated by the legendary Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne regions.
Famously known for its Icewine, Ontario produces “cool climate” wines. According to Wine Country Ontario, grapes grown in cooler regions (such as Ontario, Germany or northern France) ripen and accumulate their flavour slowly. Icewine, which Ontario has produced since 1984, is wine made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine. The province has three primary grape-growing regions, or appellations: Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, and Prince Edward County.
“Slovenia is one of the best wine regions you’ve never heard of,” declared Bottlenotes earlier this year, and it’s hard to disagree—the tiny country, located between Austria and Croatia and with a Mediterranean climate, has one of the oldest winemaking traditions in Europe. The best wines from Slovenia are white, and each of the three major wine regions has its specialties. The Primorska wine growing region, the only region with the prevailing influence of the Mediterranean climate, is the leading wine growing region in Slovenia, stretching from Goriška Brda on its western side, to the Vipava Valley, Karst and Slovenian Istria on its southern side.
*Methodology: Airfare is based on historical September and October averages for round trip flight prices from the top 30 U.S. airports. Hotel prices are based on historical September and October averages per night in designated city. Car rental costs for each destination were as of publication.