When you think of vineyards along the West Coast, the fabled wineries of Northern California likely spring to mind first. But about 10 hours north of Napa is Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a mountainous region just outside of Portland with a surprisingly robust vino community. Other off-the-beaten grape paths like that exist all over the country. And if you have the time for a trip (and a few empty glasses), the following underrated trails prove more than worth the detour.
Hill Country, Texas
The trail: Just to the west of trendy Austin and to the north of quaint San Antonio is a pocket of 30-plus Hill Country wineries screaming for a weekend wine getaway. Texas-style gems such as Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, which offers a crystal wine glass souvenir with tastings and welcomes well-behaved pets and picnics, and boutique Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, which uses sustainable farming practices to produce organic wines (including an award-winning petite sirah), offer tastings on weekends and during the week. But perhaps the most enjoyable way to visit the Hill Country wineries is to buy tickets to one of the area’s wine trail events. Next up on the calendar is the 2013 Wine & Wildflower Trail, April 5-14, a self-guided tour of 32 wineries timed to coincide with the blooming of the bluebonnets.
Where to stay: There are plenty of inns and bed-and-breakfasts in the Texas Hill Country, but we have our eye on The Inn Above Onion Creek, nestled on a wooded hill in Kyle, which offers quaint countryside accommodations, a three-course dinner and a hot breakfast. If you’d prefer to stay in the city, check in to Four Seasons Hotel Austin and make your trek to the Hill Country Wine Trail a day-trip.
Willamette Valley, Ore.
The trail: The lush Willamette Valley in northwest Oregon offers a plethora of trails for wine enthusiasts. Cycling addicts (particularly those who like the idea of riding along wildflower fields and endless green pastures) should navigate the peaceful Eugene Wine Trail. Art aficionados will enjoy the Corvallis Wine Trail, which is dotted with galleries and an arts center, and flower lovers should head for the fragrant Mololla, Canby and Silverton Wine Trail—it’s lined with tulip and dahlia farms. But to appreciate the ultimate panoramic view of this valley’s rolling hills, and a glass of the area’s legendary pinot, make your way to the Chehalem Hillsides Wine Trail in the Yamhill Valley. The Anne Amie Vineyards, set into steep hillsides near Carlton and Lafayette, Ore.; the family-owned, French-heritage WillaKenzie Estate; and the modern, boutique Winderlea Vineyard and Winery in Dundee Hills all offer lovely sweeping vistas, as well as plenty of pinot noir, gris and blanc to sip.
Where to stay: The Allison Inn & Spa in Newburg provides plush accommodations convenient to the Willamette Valley’s 200 wineries. Located just an hour’s drive from Portland International Airport, the luxury hotel’s guest rooms and suites have hillside and vineyard views, and the on-site spa serves a selection of top-notch treatments, and sauna and steam rooms.
Finger Lakes, N.Y.
The trail: There are three wine trails in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes—Keuka Lake Wine Trail, Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. But the Seneca Lake trail offers the most wineries to visit—at least 34—in addition to a distillery, three breweries and even a meadery. You’ll love the sights of the deep blue glacial Seneca Lake from the region’s hillsides, not to mention the many award-winning wines, including the rieslings, cabernet francs and pinot noirs that are produced in the area.
Where to stay: Cozy bed-and-breakfasts abound in the Finger Lakes region, but we are particularly enamored with Geneva on The Lake Wine Country Villa & Resort. Modeled after a villa in Italy, this Finger Lakes resort on the shores of Seneca Lake includes 29 suites and studios, some with fireplaces and balconies.
The trail: While this wine trail isn’t exactly out-of-the-way, it’s certainly not where you’d expect a wine trail to be—in the heart of a city. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail was established by area wineries that collaborated to set up tasting rooms, most within walking distance of each other, in downtown Santa Barbara not far from the beach. Wines from vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria can be tasted for between $5 and $15 right in the middle of this urban-beachside paradise.
Where to stay: Stay at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, a luxurious Spanish-style resort that sits on 20 beautiful acres along the Pacific within striking distance of the urban trail.
Eastern Shore, Md.
The trail: Maryland Wine Country is home to six wine trails, but the Chesapeake Wine Trail on the Eastern Shore promises to be particularly scenic, since its wineries dot the coastline. St. Michaels Winery is the largest on this trail, offering tastings seven days a week of its dry whites, dry reds and sweet wines. The boutique Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards in Church Hill, presents tastings of its chardonnay, merlot and viognier on Saturdays—plus its sprawling property includes apple, peach, pear and plum trees for the picking.
Where to stay: If you’re visiting St. Michaels Winery in the resort town of St. Michaels, you might as well stay at the ultra-plush, colonial-style mansion, Inn at Perry Cabin, an Orient-Express hotel, which has a pristine lawn that stretches to the shore and a full-service spa. You may recognize the charming inn from the movie Wedding Crashers, and it’s just as gorgeous in person.
Photos Courtesy of The Inn Above Onion Creek, The Baltimore Santa Barbara, The Inn at Perry Creek and Allison Inn & Spa