State of the wine union
A vinous trip across the USA may not be a quick affair, but those who attempt it will find great hospitality.
Winemakers in the USA may, at various points in the past, have looked to Europe for inspiration and, until recently, validation for their wines. But when it comes to wine tourism, the influence has often flowed in the opposite direction. Offering a warm welcome, with proper tasting facilities, maybe a restaurant or an art gallery, rather than a grudging trip to a barrel cellar guided by a winemaker who makes it very clear he or she has got better things to do—this has generally been the American vintner’s way. And if the French, Italian, and Spanish have by now cottoned on to the ideas pioneered by the likes of Robert Mondavi, the USA remains a market leader when it comes to vinous hospitality.
And the Mondavi winery (www.robertmondaviwinery.com), while no longer in family hands, is in fact a good place to begin a tour of what is still California’s—and the United States’—most visited wine region, the Napa Valley. The operation is slick in the best sense, with well-organized tours, workshops, wine-and-food matching, and lunch and dinner options, ranging from a simple tour featuring two wines to taste ($25) to a four-hour “Five Decades Dinner” ($375), featuring wines from each of the past five decades matched to seasonal food.
If Mondavi set the standard, most wineries, in both Napa and Sonoma, have followed suit. As with all wine regions, it’s best to draw up a wish list before you arrive and check if you need to make a reservation: www.napavintners.com, www.sonomavalleywine.com, and www.sonomacountywine.com all offer plenty of information on wineries open to visit and other tips for the visitor. And once you’ve decided which producers to visit, it becomes a question of how you get around. Public transport isn’t great in California, and most will choose to do the Sideways thing and take a road trip, following either Highway 29 or the more scenic Silverado Trail (www.silveradotrail.com), a wine route on the tranquil eastern side of the valley supported by 40 different vintners.
But you can also see the valley by balloon, courtesy of Napa Valley Balloons Inc (www.napavalleyballoons.com), with a morning one-hour flight across the valley starting at $239, rising to $2,200 for a private flight for two, concluding in a breakfast at Domaine Chandon. Or you can take the Napa Wine Train (www.winetrain.com), with the restored vintage railcars making their way around 25 miles (40km) of track in the heart of the Valley. Book a day or an evening tour, complete with lunch or dinner, or meet and taste through the range of one of the region’s top winemakers on board at one of the “Meet the Maker Private Dinners” that this year have included Chappellet, Trefethen, and Inglenook.
A consistent theme in California wine country is a love of art, with many of the most striking collections in wineries such as the Hess Collection and Mumm Napa. Luxury resort Auberge du Soleil has a fine sculpture park open to guests; and the Oliver Ranch project (www.oliverranchfoundation.org) in Sonoma features site-specific installations from the likes of Richard Serra, Andy Goldsworthy, and Bruce Nauman.
While Napa and Sonoma remain by the far the most visited destinations in California wine, the state’s many other regions offer myriad attractions of their own. A trip north of Napa into Mendocino is an opportunity to take in the tranquil magnificence of redwood forests, as well as the region’s many organic and biodynamic producers (www.mendowine.com), while a trip to the cool-climate hot spot of Santa Barbara, home to many of the state’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, might begin with a stop in the glamorous coastal city of Santa Barbara, where many of the area’s top producers have tasting rooms in the city’s trendy Funk Zone.
Given that it accounts for some 85 percent of American wine production, it’s no surprise that California dominates American wine tourism, too. But wine is produced, to a greater or lesser extent, in all 50 of the country’s states, each with its own distinctive character. In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon’s gently undulating wine country is populated by small producers—many family owned and working their land organically or biodynamically—and is very much a part of a thriving wider farm-to-table food scene. The website www.oregonwinecountry.com is a mine of information on how to explore the main center of production in the Willamette Valley.
Across the border in Washington State, the small, previously sleepy town of Walla Walla has become the epicenter of the state’s fast-growing wine scene, with dozens of tasting rooms dotted around town—from the funky Charles Smith, to the former school that houses L’Ecole 41. The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance (www.wallawallawine.com) has all the details for those visiting this oasis in the middle of the sagebrush desert.
On the other side of the continent, wine has been produced in Virginia since the earliest days of European settlement, and with vineyards just a short drive from Washington, DC, the state’s wine country is well set up for wine tourism. Featuring 30 wineries near Charlottesville, the Monticello Wine Trail (www.monticellowinetrail.com) is a fine way to explore the producers of Virginia’s oldest AVA, a region steeped in vinous history thanks to the vision of Thomas Jefferson, who dreamed of making great wine in his home at Monticello.
Farther north, New York State’s Finger Lakes’ increasing reputation for Riesling and other cool-climate varieties has made it a popular draw for visitors from New York City and beyond. Most of the 100 or so wineries now clustered around the Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga lakes welcome visitors without reservations, usually for a small fee that will be deducted from any wine you buy. The website www.fingerlakeswinecountry.com has a comprehensive list of wineries, itineraries, and other things to do in this charming, bucolic setting.
A justifiably high-rated Napa luxury resort housing a fine three-Michelin-star restaurant with modern Napa food by chef Christopher Kostow and a fabulous wine cellar.
900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, CA 94574 | +1 87 79 63 36 46 | www.meadowood.com
Set in 33 acres (13ha) of olive groves and housing a sculpture park, spa, and Michelin-starred restaurant with an executive chef.
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, CA 94573 | +1 800 3 48 54 06 | www.aubergedusoleil.com
Chef Thomas Keller’s legendary restaurant in Napa’s Yountville is still going strong after a quarter of a century of fine California dining, and its wine list is as impeccable as ever.
6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599 | +1 70 79 44 23 80 | www.thomaskeller.com/tfl
Taking its name from the famous Burgundian road, chef Michael Mina’s mini-chain of French-inspired restaurants has become a bastion of newly balanced California wine on the West Coast.
301 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105 / 1433 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101.| +1 41 55 43 74 74 (San Francisco) | + 1 20 64 56 74 74 (Seattle) | www.michaelmina.net
Luxury hotel and spa in the heart of Oregon wine country, with a fine-art collection, sculpture collection, a fine-dining restaurant, and wines from its own Austin Knoll estate and others.
2525 Allison Lane, Newberg, OR 97132 | +1 50 35 54 25 25 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.theallison.com
Located in the heart of California wine country in St Helena, the exhaustive Press wine list makes it perhaps the best place in the world to sample the best in California wine, both old and new.
587 St Helena Highway, St Helena, CA 94574 | +1 70 79 67 05 50 | email@example.com | www.pressnapavalley.com
In an isolated location with dramatic views of vineyards 900ft (275m) up above the Columbia River in central Washington State, Cave B offers a luxurious range of accommodation and a fine-dining restaurant.
344 Silica Rd NW, Quincy, WA 98848 | +1 50 97 87 80 00 | www.cavebinn.com
Just south of Healdsburgh in Russian River Valley, the Farmhouse Inn makes good on its promise to combine “five-star amenities” with the “warmth and hospitality of a family-owned B&B.”
7871 River Road, Forestville, CA 95436 | +1 70 78 87 33 00 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.farmhouseinn.com
With views across Seneca Lake, a well-regarded restaurant, and a range of comfortable rooms and suites, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is a good base for a tour of the Finger Lakes region.
North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 | +1 60 75 85 61 16 | www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com
Patrick O’Connell’s much-acclaimed (by Michelin and others) restaurant and luxury hotel is in the heart of Virginia wine country in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Middle and Main streets, Washington, VA 22747 | +1 54 06 75 38 00 | www.theinnatlittlewashington.com
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Fine established Napa winery based around a historic winery building from 1896 that has now been fully restored after the 2014 earthquake.
1160 Oak Knoll Ave W, Napa, CA 94558 | +1 86 68 95 76 96 | www.trefethen.com
An important name in the history of California wine, Montelena is based in a 19th-century stone château built into the hill and overlooking delightful gardens.
1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515 | +1 70 79 42 51 05 | email@example.com | www.montelena.com
Beautiful 19th-century Napa property that welcomes visitors for tours, tastings, and trips into the Mayacamas Mountains and its fine Farmstead restaurant.
738 Main Street, St Helena, CA 94574 | +1 70 79 63 45 55 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.longmeadowranch.com
Matanzas draws visitors to its gorgeous property up in the remote Bennett Valley region of Sonoma County with its lavender garden, picnics, tastings, and tours.
6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404 | +1 70 75 28 64 64 | email@example.com | www.matanzascreek.com
This celebrated biodynamic Paso Robles collaboration between Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas has extensive tours, tastings, and workshops.
9339 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446 | +1 80 52 37 12 31 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.tablascreek.com
A warm and welcoming Oregon family estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, with a tasting room among the vines and private tastings by appointment in the barrel room.
18215 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 97132 | +1 50 35 54 04 68 | www.bergstromwines.com
Kill 13 birds with one stone by visiting this eco-friendly Oregon cooperative facility, where a baker’s dozen of the state’s best small producers make and show off their wine.
801 North Scott Street, Carlton, OR 97111 | +1 50 38 52 61 00 | email@example.com | www.winemakersstudio.com
A Washington State pioneer and now its largest producer, with a range of projects and a justified high reputation for wine tourism at its home in Woodinville.
14111 NE 145th St, Woodinville, WA 98072 | +1 42 54 88 11 33 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.ste-michelle.com
With views across Keuka Lake and some of the region’s oldest vinifera vines, the tasting room of the Finger Lakes’ most famous name is housed in the former home of its eponymous founder.
9749 Middle Road Hammondsport, NY 14840 | +1 800 3 20 07 35 | email@example.com | www.drfankwines.com
With the ruins of a Jefferson-designed mansion in its extensive grounds, plus a luxury hotel, restaurant, and extensive tour options, Barboursville raises the bar high for wine tourism in Virginia.
17655 Winery Road, Barboursville, VA 22923 | +1 54 08 32 38 24 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.bbvwine.com