When it comes to wine tourism, it’s easy to be seduced by far-flung destinations, or rely on the big players in America, like Napa Valley and Sonoma County. But as American viticulture becomes more and more sophisticated, underdog regions have grown increasingly interesting. While nearly 9 out of every 10 bottles of U.S. wine come from California, the U.S. Department of the Treasury actually recognizes 238 distinct American Viticultural Areas, most of which aren’t in the Golden State. (If you’re a wine nerd, it’s worth browsing the AVA’s website for a few minutes—there might be a wine region closer to home than you think.)
Here, 7 emerging American wine regions that offer both critically-acclaimed wines and enjoyable travel experiences. They could prove fruitful for your next weekend getaway, birthday, bachelorette, or just as an excuse to find your new favorite varietal.
Verde Valley, Arizona
Arizona might bring to mind cacti, tumbleweeds and sandstorms, but the elevation and arid climate of Arizona’s Verde Valley are surprisingly grape-friendly. Thanks to some Pacific cold fronts and late summer monsoons, just enough rain bursts come through the region each year, providing the right amount of irrigation for grapes to grow. It’s not an official A.V.A. (yet), but Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel do particularly well here, so if it’s big reds you’re after, check out any of the wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail. On top of it all, the genius part about visiting Verde Valley is its proximity to Sedona, home to some of the country’s top-rated spas. Opt for a couple nights at Mii Amo, a luxurious 16-room property that offers three-, four- and seven-night all-inclusive packages and decadent treatments to take the guilt out of a wine-centric vacation. Or if you’re willing to stay a few miles north of the action in Verde Valley, you can check out the recently renovated Little America Hotel Flagstaff, where you will be well-positioned to add a quick jaunt up the Grand Canyon to your itinerary.
History buffs and oenophiles alike can do double duty at this southern AVA where colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War-era histories intersect with unique viticulture. In July 1808, when none other than President Thomas Jefferson planted some vines here, he wrote back to a friend: “We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.” The region’s winemaking languished for a while, but thanks to a few passionate vintners who have been at work over the last 20 years, Monticello is making a major comeback, now offering award-winning Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the action happens near Charlottesville, where Barboursville Vineyards, Blenheim Vineyards, Pippin Hill Farm, and Pollak Vineyards lead the way. There is no shortage of cute places to stay either, such as The Clifton, Boar’s Head Resort, or the Farmhouse at Veritas Vineyard, nestled among rolling hills covered in grapevines.
Finger Lakes, New York
Anyone who has lived in upstate New York is familiar with the “lake effect,” or, how the region’s long, narrow north-south Finger Lakes affect weather patterns. For grape growers, proximity to these lakes means more temperate (albeit snowy) winters and cooler summers. The region is perhaps best known for its Rieslings, but more and more wineries are making world-class Pinot Noir, as well as Gewürztraminer. It’s an easy weekend trip from New York City, and tasting rooms abound—for starters, check out Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Bloomer Creek, Anthony Road, Fox Run, and Konstantin Frank. Pair any of those with a stay at Inns of Aurora, and you’ve got a fabulous wine-filled weekend.
Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, Michigan
If Michigan is a left-hand glove, the Leelanau and Old Mission AVAs would be its ring finger. These long, narrow peninsulas feature well-drained soils with glacial deposits, and slightly tempered weather patterns from the surrounding waters of Lake Michigan. That’s not to say that the region is exempt from the midwest’s brutally cold winters—it isn’t. For that reason, there can be hit-or-miss vintages, and white grapes tend to do better here. Must-visit wineries include L. Mawby for its authentic méthode champenoise sparklings; Big Little Wines for small-batch pinot gris and sauvignon blanc; and Chateau Chantal as well as Black Star Farms, both of which offer charming on-site accommodations. Proximity to the Traverse City airport makes this area surprisingly accessible from most major airports in the east and midwest, and you can even add a couple nights on nearby Mackinac Island, a historic place where cars are outlawed and people still drive around in horse-and-buggies.
Texas High Plains, Texas
While there are several AVAs in Texas, the Texas High Plains area at the heart of the state’s panhandle has been on critics’ radars for years. With some elevations reaching up to 5,000 feet, the dirt here is alkaline and calcium rich, and being on some of the flattest, most sweeping land in the country adds a sense of romance to the region. Vineyards here are sprinkled in between massive fields of cotton and peanuts, and the climate lends itself to warmer-weather varieties as you would find in Spain or Portugal, like Mourvèdre, Albariño, Viognier, and Tannat. Check out Llano Estacado Winery, which offers tours and has a wonderfully Texan tasting room, then move on to McPherson Cellars, which makes a fabulous French-style rosé.
Naches Heights, Washington
It’s no secret that Walla Walla is one to watch, but there are so many nooks and crannies to explore in the broader Columbia Valley that you could easily spend a week here, sampling Washington’s best wines and eating like royalty. The Naches Heights AVA sits on the world’s largest Andecite lava flow, and features all sorts of biodynamic and volcanic wineries that are perfectly in step with global wine trends. Set up camp in one of the rooms at Canyon River Ranch or the Orchard Inn B&B, and make sure to visit Treveri Cellars, and Naches Heights Vineyard. (Also: locals rave about the cheeses from nearby Tieton Creamery, so don’t leave without sampling the “Black Pearl” bloomy rind aged in grape leaf ashes—it’s sublime)
Grand Valley, Colorado
Colorado’s Front Range tends to get most of the attention from tourism, whether it’s visiting makers in Fort Collins, getting outdoorsy in Boulder, or winter sporting at any of the state’s top-notch mountain resorts. But if you drive just a few hours west from Denver (or take a quick flight over to Grand Junction), you’ll arrive in the Grand Valley AVA, where the landscape is dramatically different from anywhere else in the state. There are rivers, canyons, mesas, and mountains to explore, as well as some 22 up-and-coming wineries in one of the country’s most exciting yet unknown wine regions. The Wine Country Inn sits amidst 21 acres of vineyards, and uses the grapes from those vines to create their own signature wines. Over a dozen other wineries are all within biking distance. Don’t leave without sampling the wines at Red Fox Cellars, Colterris, and Carlson Vineyards, or without having a sublime wine-paired dinner at the hyper-local, super-seasonal Bin 707.