Thinking about a trip to Wine Country? Forget what the tourist guides say and get the best memories — and best bottles — using these practical pointers from insiders. We asked a wine writer, wine region rep, and two estate professionals to help.
Chris Taranto, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance
It can get very hot during summer and early fall in some wine regions — and laid-back, neighborly regions like Paso Robles in north-central California don’t want anyone’s morning purchases to suffer in afternoon heat.
"As you are purchasing wines along the wine trail, don’t be shy about bringing your purchases from previously visited wineries into the next tasting room. The tasting room staff will not mind, and you will be assured that the wine you tasted will have the same quality when you open it at home," advises Taranto.
Out-of-date guidebook info and incomprehensible directions used to be part and parcel of a winetasting adventure, but not anymore. Just like most industries, the wine world now relies on Web tools, including interactive trip planners that create custom itineraries for consumers.
"PasoWine.com is our brand-new tool that helps plot a course through Paso Robles wine country. Choose specific wineries, or search wineries based on varietals, or sort by amenities such as picnic grounds or dog friendliness," Taranto says.
As a denizen of one of the great Wild West wine regions, Taranto believes in practical provisioning: "Plan your midday meal ahead of time. Whether it’s a picnic lunch or a restaurant along the wine trail that requires reservations, you’ll be happy you did, since wine country can be rural, with limited options."
Nitsa Knoll and Todd Knoll, Jordan Winery
With a hospitality program that sets the standard even among Sonoma’s famous destination wineries, Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley sees thousands of visitors every year. And chef Todd Knoll has some tough love tips for those who are tempted to over indulge.
"Visit just one to two wineries maximum before lunch. Have a light lunch... and then visit one to two wineries in the afternoon," he recommends. Though picnicking is always a favorite mid-day option, food and wine pairing programs like the one he runs at Jordan are sometimes the only way for visitors to get a formal "dine among the vines" experience, that’s typically much less rushed than a tasting room.
"Drink lots of water between each tasting," Knoll reminds us. And don’t rush from your last tasting of the day to a dinner reservation. "Relax and recuperate before having that amazing dinner at Scopa or Cyrus," he says. After all, if you’re going to spend $200 per person on dinner, you don’t want to fall asleep halfway through.
As far as enjoying wine country bounty back home — well, don’t limit yourself to wine. Hospitality director Nitsa Knoll has all sorts of at-home spa treats and tricks that use California EVOO as the main ingredient.
"Dab a Q-tip in EVOO and use it to remove eye makeup with a natural product while softening your skin," she suggests.
Doc Lawrence, Wines Down South
It’s not necessary to go West to enjoy a wine country adventure in the U.S. There are wineries from Arizona’s Verde Valley to Colorado to Vermont to Virginia, and beyond. And as noted wine writer and Southern storyteller Doc Lawrence points out, the South was a booming wine region prior to Prohibition. Little-known grape varieties are flourishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, former Carolina tobacco plantations, and all over picturesque Virginia.
"North Carolina’s agricultural forces substituted vineyards for tobacco farming and the switch has paid off handsomely. The Tar Heel state is literally awash in wine production, with the Yanking Valley, once home to actor Andy Griffith leading the way," Lawrence reports.
For American history buffs, wine tasting at Georgia’s Three Sisters and Tiger Mountain should be full of significance, as it offers a chance to connect with one of America’s founding fathers by partaking of the grape which he once grew.
"Cynthiana, also known as Norton, could almost be described as Thomas Jefferson’s wine," says Lawrence. Cynthiana-Norton was the native grape of the Cherokee, and after it was domesticated during Jefferson’s time, it became Georgia’s most popular grape. Today, only select wineries grow it — not only in Georgia, but also in Florida, Missouri, and a few other states.
For a more complete introduction to the wine regions of Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina, read these regional tasting notes by Doc Lawrence.
— Lena Katz, JustLuxe
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