California’s famed Napa Valley is about as close to idyllic as a place can get. But it’s not the only part of the country where exceptional wine, great food, and stunning natural beauty come together.
“Everybody knows and loves Napa,” says Alex Andrawes, a wine expert and founder of Austin, Texas’s Estate Wine Brokers. “But there are other amazing wine regions that have the same kind of appeal while offering their own unique experiences.” (They also aren’t as packed and pricey as Napa.)
Here are seven worth your time and money.
SONOMA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
A short distance from Napa and closer to the Pacific Coast, this area focuses heavily on Pinot Noir, red blends, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Zinfandel wines, Andrawes says. “You’ll find charm and cozy atmosphere in this Valley, along with extraordinary value and authenticity.” You may even find proprietors and winemakers who are happy to offer up barrel samples or personal wine tastings, as opposed to the “cattle call” some encounter at tasting rooms in Napa. “Start in Healdsburg and head west along the trails of the Russian River Valley for an old world, authentic wine tasting experience that won’t leave you with buyer’s remorse,” Andrawes says. La Crema and Simi are probably the two heaviest hitters, but you may have more fun at Blanchard Family Wines or Williamson Wines.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON
If Sonoma is making Bordeaux-style wines, the Willamette Valley is the American equivalent of France’s Burgundy region. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines of this Oregon valley are exceptional, and also a quarter to half the price of their French cousins, Andrawes says. “There are several small towns within Willamette that offer up a tasting experience that is reminiscent of the wine business going back to the 1960s,” he says. He recommends checking out Breaux Frères, Domaine Roy & Fils, EIEIO, and The Carlton Winemakers Studio. At this last stop, be sure to taste the Retour Pinot Noir. “It will blow your mind,” he says.
WALLA WALLA, WASHINGTON
“The Walla Walla region may seem a little low-brow, at least compared to Napa, but it delivers high-brow taste at a fraction of the price,” Andrawes says. If you want to taste some Old World Bordeaux-style wines, “super-extracted Syrah without the heat,” or some juicy red blends that pair well with burgers, look no further. “People are chill and the wines are amazing,” he says. Spring Valley Vineyard and Northstar Winery should be among your first stops.
OLD MISSION PENINSULA, MICHIGAN
The northwest coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula routinely lands on (or tops) national lists of America’s most beautiful places. Traverse City is the area’s economic and culinary hub, and nearby Old Mission Peninsula is home to several of the Midwest’s best wineries. While some of the reds are solid, the real gems are the Rieslings, Cab Francs, and some light- to medium-bodied blends. Make sure Chateau Chantal, Chateau Grand Traverse, and Bowers Harbor Vineyards make your itinerary.
FINGER LAKES REGION, NEW YORK STATE
For New Yorkers or anyone on the East Coast, the Finger Lakes Region of western New York State would warrant a long summer visit even if you took away the wine. The lakes are among the most beautiful in America. Add the delicious light-bodied wines, and the place is a must for fans of German-style Riesling and Gewurztraminer, as well as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, Andrawes says. He recommends a visit to the Dr. Konstantin Frank winery, which was one of the region’s earliest producers. Ravines Wine Cellars and Sheldrake Point Winery—among others—are also worth your time.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
“Most people know Austin for SXSW or Austin City Limits,” Andrawes says. “But an hour drive away you’ll find yourself in Fredericksburg.” Featuring “all the charm of Austin and a small winemaking community of 50 wineries,” he says this area produces excellent varietals like Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, and Moscato. “You won’t find a wine over $30, but you will find plenty of good times and good BBQ,” he says. Becker Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards, and McPherson should be on your list of stops.
Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of French wine, and today the area on and around his estate is producing some of the best grape juice in the Mid-Atlantic. Nestled near the Blueridge Mountains and Charlottesville, Monticello is unquestionably one of the most beautiful parts of the country. And the winemakers here are making some good Voignier and Nebbiolo—wine varietals mostly seen only in France and Italy. Barboursville Vineyards and Keswick Vineyards are two to try.