It’s exciting to discover a road less traveled. At Touring & Tasting, we do it all the time. Someone writes in with a tip about a great little trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains or not far from the Atlantic Coast. We do a little research, make some calls, and quite often, we tour and taste there ourselves. With each new discovery, we’re reminded of how fun it is to discover new trails, new regions, and new wines.
Here are our seven top wine regions to watch for Spring 2011. They’re located in all parts of the United States—in the valleys of Columbia, Temecula, and Livermore, and in the counties of Fresno, Fauquier, Scotland, and Ventura—but they all have one thing in common: they’re interesting places to visit with great wines. So plan your next getaway, vacation, or wine purchase with these spots in mind, and experience the joys of touring on a less familiar road—at least for now!
1| WASHINGTON'S COLUMBIA VALLEY
Known as the heart of Washington Wine Country, Kennewick is located in the Columbia Valley in the southeast corner of the state where the Snake, Columbia, and Yakima Rivers come together. This water wonderland is a natural destination for sailors, boaters, water skiers, fishermen, and windsurfers. The terroir is pretty amazing, too. The fertile Columbia Valley boasts more than 160 wineries and vineyards. Wineries range from small boutiques to some of the state’s largest, but all are friendly and relaxed. And the wines are superb. The town of Kennewick proper offers chic boutiques, art galleries, and antique shops. After spending the day exploring the water, galleries, and nearby wineries, take in a downtown wine bar. Have dinner in a divine little eatery. And toast yourself for finding a wine region with so much to enjoy.
2| CALIFORNIA'S BLOSSOM
Short but very sweet, this new wine trail has recently emerged in Fresno County at the foot of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Basically, it’s a loop that starts and ends in historic Sanger and runs through a series of little towns and countless orchards of almond, apple, apricot, peach, nectarine, and plum trees and more. Appropriately named the Blossom Trail, the route is a sight to behold in early spring (as soon as late February) when the fruit trees are in bloom. Put the windows down as you drive and breathe in the heady nectar from the blossoms. Stop in Reedley and take a 15-minute ride on the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad, a half-scale live-steam narrow-gauge railroad. Besides the mighty Kings River, great for canoeing and fishing, the trail takes you to four wineries with many rare, award-winning wines. Spend a night in the vineyard at Sequoia View Bed and Breakfast and blossom a bit yourself.
3| NORTH CAROLINA'S SCOTLAND COUNTY
It’s time to explore the land of Scuppernong (a type of Muscadine grape), the official fruit of North Carolina and the first wine grape cultivated in the United States. Muscadine grapes are touted for a range of health benefits and powerful phenolic compounds. In North Carolina, there are 95-plus wineries growing European varieties, Muscadine varieties, or both. You’ll find Muscadine wines throughout the state’s three very distinct physical grape-growing regions, but there are more near Laurinburg in southern North Carolina’s Scotland County. This area, originally settled by the Native American Lumbee Tribe, Scottish Highlanders, African slaves, and others, is a tapestry of cultures. In Larinburg, visit the Scottish Heritage Center, Museum of Scotland County, and the Lumbee Indian Museum, and then drive out to the country to tour and taste. Scotland County boasts several culturally significant houses, churches, and cemeteries collectively referred to as Soul of the Carolinas. On every other Friday, you can unwind with live jazz and hors d’oeuvres at Cypress Bend Vineyards. A handful of gracious bed and breakfasts and comfortable inns are scattered about the county, encouraging you to slow down and savor the wines and countryside a little longer.
4| VIRGINIA'S FAUQUIER COUNTY
There’s never a dull moment in Northern Virginia, where you’re surrounded by historical parks and battlefields, monuments, and rolling hills ideal for growing world-class wines. Drive just 45 minutes from Washington, D.C., to Fauquier County with more than a dozen laid-back tasting rooms offering a wide range of European vinifera varietals. Wineries around Delaplane sit on the gentle slopes of Little Cobbler Mountain, affording scenic views. You’ll readily see why this undulating terrain is also known for horses and hunting. Between tastings, the Alpaca Full Moon Farm is a fun place to visit. Besides watching the gentle yet standoffish alpacas, you can shop for alpaca products in the gift shop. Come late spring, the area’s pick-your-own farms come alive with produce and fun things to do. For a divine picnic, head to Three Fox Vineyards, where you can sit along the banks of the historic Crooked Run. The winery delivers your wine to you on a cart, so you don’t have to carry it up and down the hill. Talk about gracious living!
5| CALIFORNIA'S VENTURA COUNTY
At the gateway to California’s Central Coast, several boutique wineries and cellars have taken root through the years. Although the region has a well-established reputation for growing strawberries, citrus, and avocados, it hasn’t been fully recognized for its grapes. In fact, until recently, many area residents were unaware that wineries even existed nearby! Now there’s a trail map and the wineries happily greet wine tourers in a relaxed, Southern California style with a variety of amazing wines. Keep in mind that many of the wines here are produced in small-lot batches and are only available in the tasting room, so be prepared to stock up. The wineries on this trail are all located within just a couple miles of the Pacific Ocean, so plan to take a walk on the beach, watch the sunset, and enjoy a gourmet meal in a beachside restaurant or Herzog Wine Cellar’s gourmet restaurant, Tierra Sur. Suddenly it will seem that wineries belong here after all.
6| CALIFORNIA'S TEMECULA VALLEY
Blessed with legendary sunshine and cool evening breezes, Temecula Valley is a great place to get away and taste an impressive variety of wines—not just the familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot—but Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Barbera, and Cabernet Franc. Temecula Valley is just an hour’s drive from San Diego and Los Angeles and just minutes from the freeway. The wine trail forms a loop through the rolling countryside, with gourmet restaurants at nearly every bend and curve. What’s unique about these restaurants is that they are, without exception, located in the wineries themselves. To date, we have visited eight. Each restaurant is truly gourmet, offering epicurean delights prepared by master chefs who emphasize the use of local ingredients and the pairing of their creations with an appropriate wine. Taste, dine, and drink in the views. If you’re planning an elegant party, check out one of the area’s newest venues at Monte De Oro. The valley offers some of the best conditions anywhere for hot air balloon rides, so take one and see—everything.
7| CALIFORNIA'S LIVERMORE VALLEY
One of California’s oldest wine regions is a lot closer to downtown San Francisco than you may think. Just drive 30 miles east and you’ll find yourself in a land of canyons and lush vineyards. There is nothing new about Livermore Valley. In fact, the region is actually credited with winning the state of California’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889. Today’s Livermore Valley has more than 40 wineries from small to gigantic. Many have tasting rooms where you can discover a wide variety of award-winning wines. Downtown Livermore has undergone a recent renovation and it is not to be missed. There are some intriguing restaurants, shops, and even a few downtown wineries to try. Concerts on the lawn at Wente Vineyards are a main attraction for locals and visitors alike. And then there’s The Course at Wente Vineyards for golfers. And for those who play bocce ball? Camp di Bocce of Livermore has eight state-of-the-art bocce ball courts. So play a round or two between winery stops. And marvel at the fact that the Golden Gate Bridge is just a short drive away.
As seen in the issue Spring 2011 issue of Touring & Tasting Magazine.
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