Have Corkscrew, Will Travel
For many, a glass of wine is synonymous with relaxation and retreat. For others, it represents the growing population of oenophiles (lovers of wine) who are fascinated by the varied aspects of viniculture. Whether you are looking for relaxation or education, a wine inspired getaway is a great way to find an enriching travel experience, relatively close to home. Cheers!
Wine Destination #1: Paso Robles, California
If you are looking to experience California wine making without the hassles and corporate sponsorships of Napa Valley, look no further than the jewel of the Central Coast, Paso Robles. With over 26,000 vineyard acres producing over 40 different wine grape varieties, you will be able to immerse yourself in viniculture in the laid-back way in which wine is meant to be enjoyed.
Where to Stay:
Christopher Joyce Vineyard and Inn
This B&B sits on a real dry-farmed zinfandel grape vineyard, about 10 minutes north of Paso Robles. The hostess, Joyce, is passionate about making guests feel at home among the eclectic modern décor, offering gourmet breakfasts and generous wine and cheese happy hours. Book the large and private loft space if you are traveling with someone who thinks they are not a fan of bed and breakfasts.
If you are looking for a truly sumptuous wine retreat, overlook the silly name and book a room at the Just INN bed and breakfast at Justin Vineyard and Winery. The rooms boast amenities like wood burning fireplaces, marble soaking tubs, coffered ceilings and vineyard view balconies.
Where to Eat:
Thomas Hill Organics Market Bistro and Wine Bar
This restaurant is unlike most, but definitely worth the trip outside your culinary comfort zone. The menu changes with the season and you might not always be able to find a filet of salmon or steak, but when you put your taste buds in the capable hands of Parisian chef Julie Simon, you are not likely to be disappointed.
With entrees like Rabbit Porchetta and Boar Tenderloin, you could call this American bistro style restaurant innovative. However, they are also keeping it simply by serving vegetables grown in their own garden and offering a variety of accessibly priced wines from local vineyards.
Where to Play:
Annual Wine Events
No matter what time of year you go, there is a good chance that somewhere along the Central Coast, you can find a wine or food themed event taking place. The big three in Paso Robles are the Zinfandel Festival, the third weekend in March, the Wine Festival, the third weekend in May, and the Harvest Wine Weekend, the third weekend in October. While wineries in Paso Robles are generally open to the public, during these three weekends you will find a smorgasbord of tasty food pairings, live music, and chances to chat with the winemakers.
You have never been on a tour like this. At the historic Steinbeck vineyards, the Steinbecks will personally take you out among the vines and teach you what it takes to grow grapes along the Central Coast. Hop in their 1958 Willy Jeep as you tour the vineyard to gain a hands-on understanding of soil pH, sustainability practices, conservation practices and more. If you are interested in what makes a good wine before it hits the bottle, this is a one of a kind experience that is not to be missed.
First Crush: Wine Education and Weekend Encounters
Learn how wine is made, from grape sorting to stomping to blending and bottling. First crush offers individual classes focusing on specific subjects, or for the true enthusiast, book a weekend long encounter that includes hands on education from area winemakers and viticulturists as well as tasting, dining and dancing at area wineries and vineyards.
Wine Destination #2: Finger Lakes, New York
The unique lake effect climate in the Finger Lakes region is ideal for the production of aromatic white wines like Rieslings and Gewurztraminers. This area is home to almost 100 wineries centered around the four main Finger Lakes: Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, and Canandaigua Lakes. You’ll find friendly tasting rooms, world-class wines, winery tours, and gorgeous views.
Where to Stay:
Bragdon House Bed and Breakfast
This lovely bed and breakfast is located on one of the region’s many lakeshores, affording you the opportunity to enjoy brilliant views as you take your breakfast on the spacious veranda. Afterwards, enjoy a personalized winery tour with the owner or take a stroll through the quaint shops and restaurants of downtown Geneva, which is located just a few blocks away.
Los Gatos Bed and Breakfast
Located on six pristine acres, amidst the Mennonite community of Benton Valley, this bed and breakfast not only offers wine tour packages (complete with knowledgeable driver and luxury sedan), but if you book your stay from late Spring to early Fall, you can also enjoy a bottle of wine from the basket of your very own hot air balloon. Balloon tours can be booked through the owner, and launch, conveniently, from the back yard. If that isn’t enough, the lack of streetlights affords the perfect opportunity to view the Andromeda Galaxy or other wonders of the clear night sky through the owner’s 10” reflective telescope.
Where to Eat:
Veraison’s Restaurant at the Inn at Glenora Winery
If you want to find people how are passionate about great food, start your search at a winery. At Glenora Winery, amidst the cathedral ceilings and stone fireplaces, you will dine on a perfectly paired seasonal menu of local fare, like Rabbit Ravioli or Hudson Valley Duck Two Ways.
Union Block at the Esperanza Mansion
Offering a variety of dining options from casual to formal, you will feel right at home as you savor Mediterranean selections like chicken osso bucco, with fennel , tomato and saffron. Make time to explore the grounds or enjoy a glass of fine wine on the patio overlooking Keuka Lake.
Where to Play:
Finger Lakes Cheese Trail
New York state is well known for its high quality cheeses, which are sure to pair perfectly with one of your favorite bottles of wine. The cheese trail, much like a wine trail, takes you through idyllic countryside routes to visit local creameries and dairies where you’ll witness how wine’s perfect partner is made. You may just find yourself on a tour with the Master Cheese Maker (yep, that’s the official title!), learning everything there is to know about the delicate processes that go into creating the myriad of different tastes.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars
The good doctor, (who consequently holds a PhD in Viniculture, making him an official doctor of wine), immigrated from Europe to the United States to revolutionize the way that Americans grow European varietals of grapes, thus transforming the American wine industry from a lackluster copycat to the competitive market that exists today. If you are at all interested in the science involved in wine making, this is the place to visit. If you could care less about the botany and are only looking for an invigorating, dry Reisling, this is still the place to visit.
Water to Wine Tour
This unique take on the winery tour offers passengers the opportunity to tour and taste at some of the Cayuga region’s top wineries while taking in the breathtaking serenity of the Finger Lake’s scenic glacier waterways. The captain of your comfortably appointed boat will act as tour guide, offering a wealth of knowledge about the area and about the wine selections available at each winery stop.
Wine Destination #3: Palisade, Colorado
Colorado may not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re envisioning vineyards, but the Western Slope area of the state offers settings and wine-tasting rooms like no other wine region in the world. Colorado wines have long been locally loved, are beginning to draw recognition throughout the United States, and in some cases have become world-renowned.
Where to Stay:
Vistas and Vineyards Bed and Breakfast
This spacious, solar-powered ranch house is centrally located along the wine trail route, and is within walking distance of two of Palisade’s prestigious wineries. The spacious porch offers a wonderful place to enjoy a glass of your favorite local wine while taking in the majesty of the Rocky Mountain mesas that dominate the skyline.
Wine Country Inn
In a small town like Palisade, if you come across a hotel, you usually don’t expect too much from it. With its smartly manicured grounds and magnificent vineyard or mountain views, Wine Country Inn is one of the wonderful exceptions. Guests can enjoy a nightly wine tasting from the rocking chairs on the spacious wrap-around porch, or soak off a day of winery/orchard tours in the luxurious hot tub or pool.
Where to Eat:
Named for Inari, the Japanese deity for farmers and food merchants, this local bistro in downtown Palisade strives to connect the soul and the taste buds with a mix of Asian and Southwestern inspired dishes, like Korean Tacos or Flatlander Tostadas.
BIN707 Food Bar
If you’d like to pair your newly found favorite local wine with some equally awe inspiring local meats and cheeses, check out the charcuterie and cheese selection at BIN707 Foodbar, down the road in Grand Junction. Besides the locally sourced wines, cheeses and meats, you will find a truly imaginative menu with choices like Espresso Crusted Beef Carpaccio served with a blackberry vinaigrette, horse radish aioli and potato shoestrings.
Where to Play:
The Sunday Market
The town of Palisade is renowned for its unrivaled produce, so you might not be surprised to find that it has a fabulous farmers’ market. If you visit this market, which is held downtown every Sunday between June and October, you will be pleasantly surprised to find not only remarkable produce, but also local artisans, live music, and of course, a wide selection of local wines.
Palisade Scenic Bike Trail
The best way to experience Palisade is to pedal through it. The scenic bike trail is a loop that offers breathtaking views of Mount Garfield and the Grand Mesa. As you bike through peach, apple and cherry orchards, you’ll also pass two wineries with public tasting rooms. You can rent a bike for the day at Rapid Creek Cycles, which is conveniently located just off the trail (and right near public parking) on 3rd and Main Street.
The Meadery of the Rockies
So you’ve done the whole winery thing, but have you ever been to a meadery? Call ahead to schedule a tour (weekdays only) where you’ll not only learn how raw orange blossom honey and clean Rocky Mountain spring water becomes some of the best tasting wines you have ever encountered, but you’ll also get a history of what is considered by most to be the oldest alcoholic beverage. During your tasting, don’t miss the Peaches and Honey variety, in homage to Palisade’s other famous harvest.
Wine Destination #4: Charlottesville, Virginia
Wines from the Monticello American Viticultural Area (named for the home of Thomas Jefferson, called the “father of vineyards” in Virginia) are considered to be some of the best produced anywhere in the Eastern United States. Part of their award-winning excellence comes from the topography of the region. In the area surrounding Charlottesville, ancient mountains have eroded down to rolling hills that yield incredibly complex wines, where slight variations in altitude, soil, and light can create subtle differences in grapes from vine to vine. The chance to work with that rich variety draws some of the most accomplished and respected winemakers working today to Charlottesville.
Where to Stay:
Arcady Vineyard Bed and Breakfast
True wine enthusiasts will love this place for the fact that it is the only bed and breakfast in Virginia located on a working vineyard. Upon check-in, you will be greeted with wines from one of the handful of wineries located within a two-mile radius. At turndown in the evening, you will be sent off to dreamland with a glass of dessert port and artisan chocolate. And somewhere in between, you will be treated to a winery tour that includes an in-depth look at the winemaking process. Even non-drinkers will appreciate the idyllic forested setting where deer and woodpeckers are never far away.
1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards
If you seek a true escape from the hustle of modern life (read no wifi or tv), a visit to the 1804 Inn, with its clawfoot tubs, original hardwood floors covered in antique oriental rugs, and historic portraits should fit the bill. Barboursville Vineyard and Winery has produced some of Virginia’s finest wines for decades, while the ruins, located within view of the properties many balconies, were designed by Thomas Jefferson himself in 1814.
Where to Eat:
Orzo Kitchen and Wine Bar
Located in the wonderfully walkable downtown area of Charlottesville, this restaurant pays homage to the flavors and wines of the Mediterranean, with culinary offerings from France, Spain, Italy and Greece. They offer, arguably, the best variety of by-the-glass wine options, with several reasonably priced selections.
The Old Mill Room at the Boar’s Head Inn
If you are in the mood for fine dining in a luxurious, historic environment, the Old Mill Room is the ideal stop. With a wine list that includes by-the-bottle options from nearby wineries like Blenheim and DelFosse, and courses like Saffron Butter Poached Halibut, you won’t be disappointed that you dressed up to dine here.
Where to Play:
Blue Ridge Wine Excursions
Blue Ridge Wine Excursions is the perfect company to help you plan your own unique wine country experience. Call ahead to build a tour that can include not only wineries, but picnics and even live music. While riding around the countryside that Thomas Jefferson described as “the most beautiful place in the world”(and he would know), your driver will assist and delight you with his or her valuable knowledge about the area’s vinicultural and historical significance.
While you might not spend the day here, one of your winery stops should be the Jefferson Vineyards where Thomas Jefferson first attempted to establish a wine production for export to Europe in 1774. Unfortunately, his efforts were cut short a few years later, when he was called upon for more pressing matters (namely drafting the Constitution).
Carter Mountain Orchard and Vineyard
Located atop the appropriately named Carter Mountain, guests who traverse some particularly windy dirt roads are rewarded with truly breathtaking views of Charlottesville and the surrounding area. The vineyards supply grapes to many of the local wineries, whose vintages can be sampled while taking in the views from the magnificent wrap-around porches out back. During warmer months, live music will further enhance your experience. Just remember, moderation is key, as you will soon have to find your way down the mountain, via those same windy roads.
Do you have a favorite wine-inspired getaway? Feel free to share it by adding a comment below!