The New Top 10 Cities for Wine Snobs

From small towns in Idaho and Washington state to the tried-and-true regions of Napa Valley who are shaking things up, you’ll never guess where (or how) you’ll be drinking your next glass of vino.

Photo By: Ashley Bowen / Burnt Shirt Vineyards

Photo By: Tap & Barrel Room

Photo By: Law Estates Winery

Photo By: Rancho Sisquoc

Photo By: Richard Duval / Woodinville Media Group

Photo By: Bonobo Wines

Photo By: Grape Creek Vineyards

Photo By: Fujishin Winery

Photo By: Mark Mularz / Weisinger Family Winery

Photo By: Madrone Napa

Asheville, North Carolina

North Carolina is home to more than 100 wineries with more than 20 in the mountains. Varietals near Asheville include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. The largest winery in the area is the world famous Biltmore Estate, in operation since May of 1985, when the Biltmore Estate Wine Company opened its $6.5 million state-of-the-art winery to the public. But newcomers cannot be overlooked. Burntshirt Vineyards features a 10,440-square foot winery with a crush pad, special equipment to de-stem the grapes, a laboratory to test grapes, and a 1,700-square foot barrel room which mimics wine caves found in European chateaus. Overmountain Vineyards, a boutique winery on a 70-acre family-owned farm, grows 17 acres of French vinifera. While they focus primarily on Petit Manseng (an aromatic white grape originally from southwest France) and classic red varietals, two acres of organically grown blueberries are also under cultivation for future winemaking.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

In 1990, this region had 17 wineries. Today there are around 200, growing everything from Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, Pinot Franc and, most recently, Syrah. The 132-mile Okanagan Valley is British Columbia's largest wine region, but wine lovers can also explore Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island for a taste of the old-vine plantings plus new-breed blends. For an over-the-top experience in Fraser Valley, take a tour with SKY helicopters, which offers private tastings, spectacular views, and your very own sommelier guide. For a unique way to enjoy Vancouver Island, take a floatplane across the Strait of Georgia to Victoria. Staying in the city of Vancouver? Try more than 51 British Columbian wines on tap at one of the three locations of Tap & Barrel or explore the 16 BC wine taps at their smaller sister restaurant, TAPshack.

Paso Robles, Calif.

Paso Robles, one of the cowboy-meets-winemaker towns in the Central Coast, has more than 200 wineries and 26,000 acres of vineyards, but often takes a backseat to its better-known and older sibling up north (Napa). Situated slightly inland, its warmer climate is ideal for Zinfandel, Bordeaux, and Rhone-style vintages—and it’s often referred to as “American Rhone.” Not to mention, it’s completely stunning. The proprietors of Law Estate Wines believe that a tasting room should be just like your living room, and their modern architecture in an idyllic setting will incite any wine lover to want to stay awhile. Turley’s renowned Zinfandels and Petit Syrah are part of their collection of 28 separate wines from 35 different vineyards (some with vines that date back to the late 1800s), which comes as no surprise since proprietor Larry Turley is a former emergency room physician and he can now focus his skills on the old vineyards. Others in the area not to miss include Booker, Jack Creek Cellars, and Denner Vineyards.

Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County, Calif.

The Santa Maria Valley is hot right now. Why? For starters, the cost of living and of properties in this Central Valley region are much less expensive than up north in Napa. And that is attracting many young, up-and-coming winemakers to the area. Fruit is so spectacular here that many northern winemakers are traveling south to purchase pinot grapes. Mild days and cool evenings help Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes reach their maximum potential—the climate is ideal for these varietals, with its perfect flow of air from the coast without being blocked by mountains. Scar of the Sea is receiving very high marks from top wine publications, and the Presqu’ile Winery, led by a South African winemaker, just built a stunning tasting room. And veteran Rancho Sisquoc is situated on a 37,000-acre cattle ranch nestled in the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and produces more than 20,000 cases per year. 

Woodinville, Washington

Woodinville, in the heart of the Sammamish River Valley, is a great day trip from Seattle. Spend a relaxing day at the more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms in this urban-esque area—a new wine lover’s addition to nearby (and better known) Walla Walla. Nestled between the vast vineyards east of the Cascades and the Puget Sound, the area is home to authentic beverage makers (wine, beer, and spirits), great food, a diverse downtown, and a myriad of scenic outdoor activities. Take the Savor at Sunset Wine Walk on the first Thursday of every month, or visit a nearby winery. During the summer months, relax on the patio of the Bookwalter Wines tasting studio. Chateau St. Michele hosts outdoor summer concerts and there's always live music at the DeLille Cellars Carriage House Tasting Room or the Maison DeLille Wine Lounge.

Traverse City, Michigan

Traverse City is situated halfway between the North Pole and the Equator—the same locale as the wine regions of France and Italy. The area’s two wine trails are located on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas—both of which stretch out into the waters of Lake Michigan. Bonobo Winery, founded by brothers and Traverse City natives, offers world-class wines in a rustic yet elegant atmosphere. Mario Batali (of Food Network fame), curates the menu to pair with their unique wine selections, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. The facilities at Black Star Farms Winery include tasting rooms, a distillery, a luxury inn, a farm-to-table cafe, an equestrian facility, and a unique urban tasting room/wine bar in the historic Village at Grand Traverse Commons. And for a brush with celebrity, wine and pop-culture lovers can visit Ciccone Vineyard, which is owned by Madonna’s father, Silvio Ciccone, and offers a special Madonna series of wines.

Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg, Texas

Wine Road 290 is an association of 15 wineries located on a 45-mile stretch of US Highway 290 from Johnson City to Fredericksburg. Only 90 minutes from Austin and San Antonio, the dynamic nature of the Texas Hill Country wine industry makes every visit to this rapidly growing region a journey of discovery. “In the past five years we have seen wineries grow from boutique curiosities to beloved estates. Tourists come to taste the wines along Wine Road 290, and many become wine club members for an experience that is uniquely Texas Hill Country,” explained Miguel Lecuona, part of the Fredericksburg Road 290 Association. Hye Meadow Winery, in the heart of Wine Road 290, is just one of dozens of wineries that dot the area. “Wine aficionados are rapidly discovering this area and we see a great mix of people who have been visiting us for years and folks who are just discovering the great wines now being made in Texas," said owner Mike Batek. Grape Creek Vineyards utilizes a state-of-the-art wine production complex with more than 35,000 square feet of crush, production, cellaring, and bottling space. The Pedernales Cellars winery and tasting room is located just south of the Hill Country town of Stonewall, and opened its doors to guests in 2008 to sell its inaugural wines produced from the 2006 vintage. 

Snake River Valley, Idaho

Snake River Valley creates a micro climate that has shown its suitability for grape growing, despite its higher elevation and arid landscape. New-wave vintners are planting Riesling, Malbec, Syrah, Viognier, and more—in the last decade, the number of in-state wineries has jumped from 11 to 50. Since 2009, Fujishin Family Cellars has focused solely on wines made from the Snake River Valley in their unique high-desert climate—the combination of warm days and cool nights creates a balance of acidity, fruit, and regional character. The tasting room for Cinder Wines, named for the volcanic cinder of the area, is located inside their urban winery, just five minutes from downtown Boise in Garden City.

Ashland, Rogue Valley, Oregon

Ashland consists of more than 100 wineries and 250 vineyards growing grapes on nearly 5,000 acres, which is not surprising since Southern Oregon has a seven-month European-like growing season, making it an ideal place to grow wine grapes. The 12 area wineries that market themselves as the Bear Creek Wine Trail won an unprecedented number of top awards at the statewide competition called the Oregon Wine Experience (OWE) this past summer. The Weisinger Family Winery won a Double Gold medal for both their 2013 Malbec and their 2015 Chardonnay. RoxyAnn Winery won a Double Gold medal for its 2012 Claret. Other must-visit vineyards include Ledger David, Edenvale Wines, and up-and-comer Bella Fiore

Sonoma and Napa Valley, Calif.

The new proliferation of urban tasting rooms on and off the Sonoma Plaza are creating a totally different experience than visiting the vines. But traditional wineries are also changing things up, focusing more on the experience of tasting wine. Madrone Estate Winery in nearby Glen Ellen offers special events featuring yoga. One Hope Wine, led by innovative CEO and co-founder Jake Kloberdanz, integrates a social impact into every one of its wines: the Chardonnay funds clinical trials for breast cancer, the Sparkling Brut funds meals for children, and the Pinot Noir funds pet adoptions, just to name a few. Jordan Kivelstadt of Kivelstadt Winery and Free Flow Wines is putting wine in kegs, which reduces the cost of traditional packaging and transportation, and allows establishments to offer more wines by the glass. And newcomer Materra Wines has incorporated sustainability into all facets of the operation. Their self-pump tanks save a minimum of 8,100 gallons of water during harvest, about 25 percent to 60 percent of the normal amount of water needed for cleaning.

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