The cool climate, deep granite soils, and old clay loams of the Winelands region on South Africa's southwestern tip have begun attracting some of the world's top vintners. Pierre Luron, producer of Saint-Émilion's famed Château Cheval Blanc, recently signed on as a consultant to Morgenster (Morgenster Ave., Somerset West; 27-21/852-1738), in the Lourens River valley. Back in 1997, local wine maker Zelma Long and her husband Phillip Freese teamed up with Backsberg Estate's Michael Back to develop Simunye (Backsberg Estate, Paarl; 27-21/875-5141). The partners bought land in the Paarl Valley to plant Sauvignon Blanc; while waiting for their vines to mature, they've produced a generous, lime-tinged winner using grapes purchased from another estate. Many believe South Africa's fruity Sauvignon Blancs have the potential to rival New Zealand's—they lack the vegetal notes some find unpleasant in Loire Valley renditions.
Cape wine country, which includes the regions of Paarl, Stellenbosch, Wellington, and Franschhoek, is just 45 minutes northeast of Cape Town, and as you drive up the coast you're as likely to see a pod of whales in the water as you are to see baboons by the road. Although it's not cheap to get to South Africa, once you're there the opportunities for wine touring are not only marvelous but inexpensive—dinner at Buitenverwachting (Klein Constantia Rd., Constantia; 27-21/794-3522), one of the country's top restaurants, located in a 1796 manor house in a historic Constantia winery, costs about $50 for two. In fact, many of the wineries—such as Delaire (Rte. 310, Helshoogte Pass; 27-21/885-1756), outside Stellenbosch—have restaurants and even guest cottages, with vineyard views that are unmatched anywhere in the world.
Mendocino County has some of California's most spectacular coastline, redwood forests, and rolling green hills, but its wine country is its best-kept secret. There are more old vines in the Golden State's northernmost major wine region than anywhere else in the nation. And older varieties, such as Petite Syrah and Barbera, are making a comeback. Gregory Graziano's Italian-American family has been producing wine here for nearly 85 years; today he's the wine maker of Domaine Saint Gregory (13251 Hwy. 101 S., Ste. 3, Hopland; 707/744-8466). For his new label, Fattoria Enotria, Graziano has resurrected several of the varieties his grandfather originally planted—Barbera, Moscato—with resulting vintages that are lusher and more emphatic than their Piedmontese forebears.
Mendocino is also at the forefront of organic and biodynamic (taking organic farming one step further) wine making, and Fetzer Vineyards leads the way. Fetzer's new bed-and-breakfast (13601 Eastside Rd., Hopland; 707/744-1250), overlooking the winery's famed organic gardens, has been winning raves.
The town of Hopland, up Highway 101 from Healdsburg, is home to the tasting rooms of both Domaine Saint Gregory and Fetzer, as well as the excellent Mcdowell Valley Vineyards (3811 Hwy. 175; 707/744-1053). And what do the wine makers do for fun?Look for them unwinding at the boccie ball court behind the old schoolhouse, now Brutocao Cellars (13500 Hwy. 101 S., Hopland; 707/744-1664).