Searching for a wine-tasting destination is a lot like searching for wine itself — there are nearly endless options, and unless you’re an expert, it’s difficult to tell the good from the bad. And while yes, it’s easy to just go with the obvious choices, like Napa or Sonoma Valley, there are so many other places to go wine tasting in the U.S. worth exploring.
That doesn’t mean the more traditional options shouldn’t be on your list. According to CEO and founder of bespoke travel membership service Essentialist, Joan Roca, California (and its aforementioned popular destinations) is still the top choice for vineyard-hopping. However, if you want to avoid the busiest places or just try something new, there are actually quite a few other locations gaining notoriety in crowds with wine-related itineraries.
And whether you’re looking to stay in the Golden State or go somewhere else entirely, Roca has a recommendation for pretty much everyone. In fact, his suggestions span the country, so you’ll have your pick of West Coast sunshine, the moody Pacific Northwest, or the historically rich East Coast. Just remember: These may all be in the same country, but travel restrictions and regulations still shift often by state, city, and even county, so stay up-to-date on changes to ensure you’re abiding by any and all rules while you’re planning your trip.
Without further ado, a few of the top wine-tasting destinations in the U.S. on Roca’s list.
Santa Ynez Valley
Where It Is: Roca describes this place as a “bucolic region just north of Santa Barbara” in Santa Barbara County, California.
Why It’s Great: According to the Essentialist founder, the Santa Ynez Valley is “home to more than 120 wineries, horse farms, and an ‘old West’ feel that takes you back in time.” It includes the towns of “Los Olivos, Buellton, and Santa Rita Hills (made famous as the setting for Sideways),” which he says are “all home to countless tasting rooms and where some of the best Pinot Noirs and Cabernets are produced.”
What To Do: The Brander Vineyard, which is just east of Los Olivos, Alma Rosa Winery in Buellton, and Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos are just a few popular wine destinations of the many, many choices in this region.
Where To Stay: The Santa Ynez Inn in Santa Ynez is a highly recommended and luxurious choice with lots of amenities and even a tasting passport. Fess Parker also has a plush inn in Los Olivos, so you can get your fill of wine and then head down the road to your room to rest and relax before round two.
Where It Is: The Mendocino coast (of Mendocino County) is also in California, but “further up the coast, about three hours north of San Francisco,” says Roca.
Why It’s Great: According to Roca, the area is a “rugged coastal region with world-class wines.” You can also expect beautiful views and Michelin-starred cuisine, he says. As for wine, Mendocino County produces lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Syrah, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
What To Do: Go wine tasting at one of the countless spots throughout Mendocino County; Toulouse Vineyards and Winery, Pacific Star Winery, and Goldeneye Winery are some good places to start. “[It’s] also home to Hendy Woods State Park; when you need a break from wine tasting, explore this forest of towering redwoods, some more than 300 feet tall and [possibly close to] 1,000 years old,” says Roca.
Walla Walla Valley
Where It Is: The Walla Walla Valley is located within Washington state, and extends slightly into the northeastern corner of Oregon. It’s just “a short flight (or a four-hour drive) from Seattle,” says Roca.
Why It’s Great: As Roca explains, the area offers your pick of high-end accommodations and “plenty of great restaurants like Saffron, Hattaway’s, and Passatempo.” It’s known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Chardonnay, but with more than 120 wineries, there’s plenty to choose from.
Where It Is: Charlottesville is located in Virginia, “just a short flight or drive from D.C. which makes it perfect for a weekend getaway,” says Roca.
Why It’s Great: “Charlottesville is a surprising destination, rich in history and brimming with culture and a young energy thanks to its resident university,” Roca notes. “It is also home to stunning vineyards.” You’ll find those vineyards in Monticello, the American Viticultural Area (AVA) that’s located around Charlottesville, which features varieties such as Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
What To Do: Of course, you’ll want to start by exploring the Monticello Wine Trail, which includes 40 wineries and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Then, don’t miss a hike at the Shenandoah National Park (especially in autumn, when Roca says fall foliage is “at its prime”).
Where To Stay: If you’re interested in exploring the city, you can’t go wrong with a night at the stylish new Quirk Charlottesville, which is set in the city’s historic downtown. For a more wine-specific stay, try The Farmhouse at Veritas, a luxurious bed and breakfast next to Veritas Vineyards and Winery in the Monticello AVA. Additionally, Roca says that “The Iris Inn is a beautiful property, surrounded by nature, and Pippin Hill Farm is a local favorite.”
Where It Is: The North Fork is 30-mile-long peninsula on the eastern end of Long Island in New York State.
Why It’s Great: “Some of New York State’s best wineries are on the North Fork, which make it a great weekend destination for wine-lovers,” says Roca. That’s especially true if you’re into Merlot, Cabernet Franc, or Chardonnay, some of the varieties it’s known for. And though it’s close to NYC, he continues, it “still has a strong agricultural heritage and laid-back vibe which makes it the perfect antidote to its southern sister, The Hamptons.”
What To Do: According to Roca, the best place to start is Cutchogue; from there, you can make your way along to the tip at Greenport. “Some of our many favorite vineyards to stop at along the way include Lieb Cellars, Bridge Lane Wine, the biodynamic Macari Vineyards, and Sparkling Pointe for those who prefer bubbly.” He also recommends hiring a driving service for the duration of your trip so you can taste to your heart’s desire.
Where To Stay: Once you reach the tip, Roca suggests staying at the boutique hotel The Menhaden: It’s “the perfect end to a day full of wine tastings.”