10 Unexpected U.S. Wine Trails
Looking for a wine tasting that hasn't been done to death? Turns out you can squeeze in some quality vino while vacationing all over the U.S. Here's where to drink in places as unexpected as Western Colorado, New Mexico, and Central Texas.
Trail: Grand Valley
Number of Wineries: 18
Distance: 55 miles
Description: Colorado’s grape-growing regions range in elevation from 4,000 to 7,000 feet and contain some of the highest vineyards in the world. The hot days and cool nights encourage grapes to retain acids and build natural sugars. Due west along the I-70 corridor is the Grand Valley, birthplace of Colorado’s resurgent wine industry and home to 18 wineries. Located along the Colorado River, they form a rough triangle with points at Grand Junction, Palisade, and Whitewater.
Where to Sip: Plum Creek Cellars, located in the small farming town of Palisade on Colorado’s Western Slope, is the state’s most award winning winery. Be sure to taste its stellar 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Where to Stay: Los Altos B&B is a charming inn with panoramic views; you’ll feel like you’re part of the mountains and valley.
Trail: Central Region
Number of Wineries: 11
Distance: 150 miles
Description: The first commercial wine-growing region in the United States (a Franciscan priest and monk from Spain first planted grapevines on the banks of the Rio Grande in 1629), New Mexico wine country is broken into three main areas: northern, southern, and central, the latter known for its intense sunlight, high desert, and dense forests. By 1880, New Mexico was outproducing New York wineries, but drought and Prohibition soon made New Mexico go dry. In the 1970’s wine made a comeback; now there are 30 thriving wineries throughout the state.
Where to Sip: Known for its reds, Casa Rondena is an award-winning winery and one of the oldest in New Mexico; its Meritage Red—a fruity blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes—was recently named by a national food magazine as among the 10 best reds in the U.S.
Where to Stay: Los Poblanos Inn, two historic buildings designed by renowned New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem, sits under cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande.
Trail: Anderson Valley
Number of Wineries: 25
Distance: 10 miles
Description: Anderson Valley, located less than 100 miles north of San Francisco, has morphed into one of the best, if lesser-known, grape-growing areas in California. Thanks to the different soils, elevation, and combination of cool, foggy coastal climate, paired with warm, sunny days, grapes mature slowly and develop to the height of their character. Expect vines teeming with white Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir grapes. Each of the wineries/tasting rooms—many of which are small, friendly, and family-owned—has entrances along Highway128, and the 10-mile trail is easy to complete in one day.
Where to Sip: Try a Pinot Noir at Goldeneye, a modern Mendocino County winery surrounded by gardens and redwoods.
Where to Stay: Boonville Hotel is a modern roadhouse where each of the 10 colorful rooms features hillside views.
North Central Texas
Number of Wineries: 8
Distance: 300 miles
Description: North of the Hill Country outside of Austin and just south of Dallas-Fort Worth, this trail features boutique wineries in the heart of Texas. The vineyards grow at the junctions of the state’s two most acclaimed winemaking regions—Texas Hill Country (the second largest appellation in the U.S.) and the Texas High Plains. Varietals well suited for warm climates thrive here: Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Blanc du Bois, Chenin Blanc, and Viognier. Due to distance between tasting rooms, plan on a day and a half for the full trip.
Where to Sip: Built in 1879, Brennan’s McCrary House Tasting Room is a landmark and one of the oldest remaining homesteads. Its 2006 and 2007 peach and honey-scented Viognier was recently voted the best white wine in Texas and awarded the Grand Star by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Lone Star International Wine Competition.
Where to Stay: At the peaceful Star of Texas B&B, just four miles from Brownwood, guests can stroll 25 acres, spend the night in a tepee or cottage, and relax under the starlit Texas sky.
Trail: Brandywine Valley Wine Trail
Number of Wineries: 7
Distance: 60 miles
Description: With approximately 14,000 acres of grapes and 100 wineries, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in amount of grapes grown, and eighth in wine production. The warm climate, gently rolling hills, and large bodies of water make the Brandywine Trail—situated in the middle of the lush landscapes of southern Philadelphia countryside—ideally suited for winemaking. Wineries here range from a turn-of-the-century barn at Twin Brook to the high-tech Black Walnut (opening in November 2008).
Where to Sip: Chaddsford Winery, which produces 30,000 cases a year of tannin-rich reds and whites, is co-owned by a husband-and-wife team, who turned a 17th-century barn into a small premium operation in 1982.
Where to Stay: Housed in an 1856 English country mansion, the Hamanassett B&B is owned and operated by Civil War reenactors.
Trail: Loudoun County Wine Trail
Number of Wineries: 19
Distance: 60 miles
Description: Located at the tip of northern Virginia, Loudoun County’s wine trail covers 336 acres. Thanks to 19 busy wineries and more in the works, the region has emerged over the past 25 years as a leading producer of wild vitis vinifera and New World grape wines. Expect a wonderful diversification of varietals, including Viognier and Cab Franc, and don’t miss trying pours made from Norton grapes, which are native to North America and have a big fruity taste not unlike Concords.
Where to Sip: Tarara Winery is worth visiting for its unique location—in a 6,000-square-foot winemaker cave on a 475-acre farm. For something different, sample its berry-forward 2005 Wild River Red with some chocolate.
Where to Stay: Lansdowne Resort features a 12,000-square-foot spa and 18-hole golf course, plus the infamous Greg Norman–designed “Shark Bite,” an easier nine-hole course located adjacent to the back nine of the 18-hole championship course.
Trail: Yadkin Valley
Number of Wineries: 27
Distance: 200 miles
Description: Ranked 13th nationally in grape production and 14th for wine, North Carolina was one of the first states in the union to grow grapes. With tobacco farming declining in recent years, entrepreneurs have again turned to winemaking, especially in the Yadkin Valley, whose climate, soil, and growing season are like that of Burgundy, France. Sweet native grapes like Muscadines and Scuppernongs, as well as Cabernet Franc, thrive here. Because the trail is so large, it’s best to hit wineries in Davidson, Davie, and Forsyth counties one day and those in Yadkin, Surry, and Wilkes counties the other.
Where to Sip: Shelton Vineyards is the largest family-owned winery in North Carolina, and sponsors a concert series on its 200-acre estate every summer.
Where to Stay: Childress Vineyards, Yadkin’s newest winery, is owned by legendary NASCAR team owner Richard Childress and consists of a 65-acre vineyard and winery and will include a hotel complex.
Number of Wineries: 19
Distance: 50 miles
Description: Ohio’s eastern Lake Erie shore has a surprisingly high number of wineries and vineyards, with about 65 percent of the state’s wine grown along the Wines and Vines trail, on the ridges above the Grand River. The climate, weather, slope of the land, and angle of the sun allow for a dramatic grape-growing season. Many wineries are close to major metro areas and are family owned. Visit in the spring when new ice wines—sweet dessert wines made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine—are introduced, or in the fall during traditional grape harvesting.
Where to Sip: Debonné, the largest estate-grown vineyard in Ohio, offers outstanding tours and award-winning Rieslings.
Where to Stay: The Lodge at Geneva offers spectacular views of Lake Erie, and is an ideal base for exploring the rest of Ohio’s vine country.
Trail: Western Iowa Wine Trail
Number of Wineries: 7
Distance: 71 miles
Description: In 1919, Iowa ranked sixth in grape production in the U.S., but ran dry years later. Thanks to a recent resurgence, more than 225 commercial vineyards have been established since the year 2000. The Western Iowa Wine Trail’s seven wineries now feature 86 different wines. This trail, one of several designated wine trails in Iowa, is situated in the Loess Hills, where the undulating terrain provides the air drainage necessary to grow high-quality grapes, and the soil resembles that found in southern France and the Rhine and Moselle river valleys in Germany.
Where to Sip: King’s Crossing Vineyard and Winery is a 3.5-acre vineyard that produces wine with 100 percent Iowa-grown grapes. Try its 2006 King’s Mead (honey wine), 2006 Jester’s Quandary (red table wine), 2006 Guinevere’s Lace (white table wine), and the award-winning 2006 Edelweiss. The patio includes an oversize checkerboard—complete with tree-trunk checkers that are 12 inches in diameter.
Where to Stay: Check into the Country Homestead B&B in Turin, owned by a knowledgeable Loess Hills tour guide.