Wine Country no longer just means Napa or the Willamette. Here are seven places in the West where you can get hip to some amazing sips.
If the idea of a weekend in wine country brings to mind only California's Napa or Oregon's Willamette Valley, think again. Alternative getaways—with great wine, yes, but also outstanding places to eat, play, and shop—are blooming around the West. Pluck your favorite from this tour of the best.
Southeast gets bubbly Try the words on your tongue: Crémant de Portland Brut Urbanique. The spoofy name, for a French-style sparkler from Division Winemaking Company in southeast Portland, makes a playful statement: We're city folk and proud of it. Never mind the whimsy—urbanique isn't exactly French or English—the wines are seriously good.
That's no surprise. Portland vintners at nearly a dozen wineries get their hands on truly great grapes: chardonnay and pinot noir from the Willamette Valley, cabernet franc and syrah from the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon. "For most of us, a trip to the wine country is not an everyday thing," says Kate Norris, Division Winemaking's proprietor and vintner. "Here you can visit anytime, and you don't need a designated driver—you can take the light-rail or call a car service."
At Renata, a neighborhood pizza and pasta spot, diners pair crisp pinot gris from Portland's Teutonic Wine Company with local cheeses. (Teutonic's new tasting room offers handcrafted wines alongside Scandinavian-style delicacies.) And at the wine bar of the Southeast Wine Collective, a winery incubator opened by Norris and her partner, you can sample any of three dozen wines made on-site while enjoying dishes such as a kale-and-beet salad or Moroccan lamb meatballs with parsley, mint, and almonds.
Nearby attractions broaden the neighborhood's appeal. At the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, gawk at locomotive No. 700, a 440-ton steam engine that plied the Columbia River Gorge. At the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, a short walk away, it's worth the $6.75 fee to descend into the USS Blueback, a submarine launched in 1959 and retired in 1990. Or you can stroll the Eastbank Esplanade beneath four bridges across the Willamette River.
Spanish grapes leap the pond For travelers with a taste for the good life, southern Oregon is a clear draw. Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival sells 400,000 tickets a year for modern classics, world premieres, and the Bard's works. At Crater Lake National Park, an hour and a half away, more than half a million people visit annually to gaze in wonder at the country's deepest lake. Some linger to fish or raft the Rogue River.
With so much to do in the area, it would be easy to forget this is wine country. The hilly terrain of the Applegate, Rogue, and Umpqua Valleys—cool here, warm there—has let vintners succeed with chardonnay and pinot and zinfandel. But the grapes now winning special applause are red tempranillo and white albariño, both natives of Spain.
"Tempranillo grows in a climate and a soil here that lets it taste like the tempranillos in Spain," says Earl Jones, founding winemaker at Abacela, off Interstate 5 near the popular Wildlife Safari south of Roseburg. "It's a delightful wine that goes well with spicy and boldly flavored dishes." As for his straw-gold albariño, "Someone told me it pairs well with a book on a deck on a hot summer day," Jones says. "To me, its aromatics of citrus, apple, and pear make it perfect with seafood. Chef Mario Batali called it killer."
South on I-5, in Medford, the tasting room of RoxyAnn Winery offers another rich tempranillo made from estate-grown grapes. You can also try wine and cheese at Wooldridge Creek Winery and CrushPad Creamery on the Applegate Valley Wine Trail—a short drive off State Route 238 between Grants Pass and Jacksonville. At Jacksonville Inn Dining House, visitors headed for the Britt Music & Arts Festival (through September 23 in 2016) can pick up gourmet picnic fare.
Back in Ashland, playgoers forget the torments of Prince Hamlet and King Richard II with massages, herbal wraps, and botanical facials at classy Waterstone Spa. Not your thing? A wild-and-scenic brand of hydrotherapy relieves any stress during half-day Rogue Wilderness Adventures raft trips out of Morrison's Rogue River Lodge near Grants Pass.
Snake River, Idaho
Riesling sparks a revolution To explore Idaho's crucible of winemaking, spend a day along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, a scattering of 15 wineries off Interstate 84 west of Boise. In the 1970s, the renowned Symms family launched Ste. Chapelle, now the state's largest winery. Atop Winery Hill south of Caldwell, you can sip smooth whites and reds while gazing out over the Snake River Valley from Ste. Chapelle's luxurious tasting room.
"Riesling and chardonnay got planted first," says Martin Fujishin, a busy winemaker. "In the late 1970s people figured out we could raise red wine grapes: cabernet, then barbera, sangiovese, and other Italian varieties. Syrah was a revelation. And I love what we're now doing with tempranillo, a lighter red." Stop by Fujishin Family Cellars, located in a former packing shed across from the Symms' seminal vineyard, to sample six of the 14 open bottles on hand. Or pick your favorites at Bitner Vineyards, Hat Ranch Winery, Hells Canyon Winery, Huston Vineyards, Koenig Distillery and Winery, or others along the trail.
Vintners like to eat at the Orchard House on Sunny Slope Road in Caldwell, where Idaho bottles fill the entire wine list and diners tuck into 12-ounce rib eyes and generous green salads topped with seared wild Alaskan salmon. For more adventurous fare—braised lamb shank, say, or eggplant napoleon—drive to Brick 29 Bistro in Nampa, 13 miles away.
Or head back to Boise, the region's undisputed cultural capital. Before dinner at the ardently local and seasonal State & Lemp, stroll the lush Boise River Greenbelt, catch a ceramics exhibit at the Boise Art Museum, or pay homage to regional history at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. The next day? Keep your palate in tune at Cinder winery's sleek tasting room in a remodeled, barrel-filled warehouse on East 44th Street.
Lake Chelan, Washington
Chardonnay and pinot mix it up Wineries in this corner of Washington, east of the Cascade Range, boast everything you'd expect: posh digs among manicured vines, expert staff pouring delicious vintages. But far from usual is 50-mile-long Lake Chelan, icon of one of the state's newest American Viticultural Areas, about three hours from Seattle near the towns of Chelan and Manson.
Steve Kludt, founder of Lake Chelan Winery, converted his apple orchard to a vineyard in 1998. "Our first wine from our own vines was a pinot noir," he says. "It's a really great grape for this valley," where air currents off the water cool the vines in summer and warm them in winter. Now Kludt and his family offer six reds and four whites. About 30 vintners have joined them near the lake's south end. Chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah are especially at home here, but at least 20 other varieties keep them company.
You'll find lots of spots to pair the wines with food. At Sorrento's Ristorante in Chelan, beneath Tsillan Cellars' Tuscan-style bell tower, sip estate syrah while you lunch on a hamburger with Gorgonzola in a ciabatta bun. The Kludts serve outdoor barbecue dinners—salmon, chicken, ribs, sausage—at their winery from May through October. At the Winemaker's Grill at Wapato Point Cellars in Manson, a glass of reserve merlot can accompany steak skewers with goat cheese and bacon.
The folks at Tunnel Hill Winery, housed in a tidy stone building in Chelan, invite tasting room visitors to picnic on the terrace after a trip to the adjacent Sunshine Farm Market for locally made breads, cheeses, and meats.
When the shining lake beckons, book a tour on the Lady of the Lake II, a 285-passenger ship out of Chelan. In summer, it makes daylong trips to and from Stehekin, a rustic village at the lake's north end, where you can rent a bike, then pedal off to grab a huge cinnamon roll at the Stehekin Pastry Company. Alternatively, Chelan Seaplanes' flightseeing trips let you zoom for 20 minutes over the lake and valley or soar for one breathtaking hour above the glaciers of North Cascades National Park, northwest of the lake.
Zinfandel goes to town On the waterfront in Oakland, visitors who return to shore from the USS Potomac, FDR's "floating White House," get a quick hint they're in a hot spot. There, in Jack London Square at the lip of San Francisco Bay, stands the upscale tasting room of Rosenblum Cellars, maker of two dozen zinfandels. Whether you step off the 165-foot yacht after a 45-minute dockside tour, disembark from the San Francisco ferry, or drive from anywhere, within a few blocks of Rosenblum you can enjoy a cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee, a bag of salted caramels at the French-style confiserie Miette, and the nine other wineries of the Oakland Urban Wine Trail.
"When we moved to this neighborhood 12 years ago there wasn't a whole lot going on," says Anne Dashe, cofounder of Dashe Cellars, a respected producer of Sonoma County zinfandels. "Now, with all the wineries and restaurants and shopping, it's a vibrant community."
A short hop north is Urban Legend, where the most intriguing bottle is an inky, blackberry-scented teroldego, made from grapes native to Italy, north of the Trentino region. Back near Broadway is Encuentro, a meat-free restaurant that pours a petite sirah from Stage Left Cellars, also on the trail. In the same neighborhood you'll find Oakland Crush, an artistically spare but genial wine shop.
Two miles inland, rented sailboats, canoes, and pedal boats ply the gentle waters of 155-acre Lake Merritt as walkers ramble on a lakeside path. En route, you'll pass the sprawling Oakland Museum of California, where displays range from art to science. Need a bite? Grab a fried chicken plate or a falafel at Shakewell. Or book dinner not far away at Camino and watch your meal—perhaps tender boudin blanc sausages or whole rockfish—being cooked over a crackling wood fire.
Santa Cruz, California
Pinot noir makes a splash Just 90 minutes south of San Francisco, hotdogging surfers, sunbathing sea lions, and lolling sea otters put on an irresistible show along a winding seaside street in Santa Cruz. An unhurried tour on West Cliff Drive can lead to a sweet pocket beach in Natural Bridges State Beach—great for sand-castle building—or to an industrial-chic area where artisans work gourmet magic.
"You can park once and walk to nine tasting rooms," says Jeff Emery, proprietor and winemaker of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, a low-key winery set in a former vegetable-packing plant. "Pinot noir is the top grape of the mountains' west slope," Emery says. "It expresses the character of the place—redwoods, oaks, and bay trees—with savory flavors such as spice, mushroom, earth, forest floor."
Amid a clutch of wineries dubbed Surf City Vintners, you'll find Kelly's French Bakery, where patrons grab loaves of sourdough or settle on a shady patio for melted Gruyère sandwiches. A cork's throw away sits El Salchichero, a butcher shop peddling as many as 100 types of salami and other meats, including Spanish-style chorizo. Visiting on Saturday? Check out the Westside Farmers' Market for breakfast burritos, live music, and sips of deep, berrylike zinfandel from Santa Cruz's popular Condor's Hope winery. Then detour to the nearby Seymour Marine Discovery Center to ogle the skeleton of an 87-footlong blue whale.
Come dinnertime, join the throng at Bantam waiting patiently for chefs to pull thin-crust pizzas from a wood-burning oven. Or venture to Soif, a downtown wine bar offering cheese plates and substantial fare such as grilled pork tenderloin, or to La Posta—Soif 's sister eatery in the Seabright neighborhood—for hearty pastas and soulful sides.
This article was first published in July 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.