Top 15 secret wine country escapes
Experience wine country without the crowds in these under-the-radar spots for sipping
If you haven’t been here since your dude days, you’re in for a pleasant, even refined, surprise. Lately Moab has sprouted more mellow pursuits that you don’t have to catch air or defy gravity to enjoy. Don’t mistake mellow for monotonous, though. We’re talking stellar wineries tucked among sandstone canyons, locally sourced eats, scenic bike trails that won’t chew up and spit out beginners, and suites along the Colorado River. It’s the same great outdoor playground, with a new sophisticated side.
Boonville / Philo, CA
This wine region located 90 miles north of Sonoma is perfectly suited for nature lovers, as it's a stone throw from the Mendocino redwoods. It's known for its small-production Pinot Noirs, but its Alsatian varietals—Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling—are worth exploring, too. Sip at Handley, Londer, and Navarro wineries and then soak up the scenery. Come summer, don't miss splashing around in the swimming hole at the Navarro River (pictured). Stay at the Boonville Hotel, offering Sunday afternoon wine and charcuterie (from $125; boonvillehotel.com).
Newberg / Dundee, OR
Art-minded wine lovers will enjoy this corner of the Willamette Valley, 25 miles south of Portland. French-leaning Pinot Noirs regin supreme here, but you can also discover new-wave Chardonnay and exhibits by local artists. Don't miss tastings at Anam Cara, Colene Clemens, Longplay wineries. Another must? Kayaking on the Willamette River in June. For the ultimate wine country sleep, check in at Le Puy, A Wine Valley Inn, which breaks the mold of Victorian B&B frill with feng shui balance (from $195; lepuy-inn.com).
More: Oregon's wine country
South San Luis Obispo County, CA
Beachgoer oenophiles will want to hit up this scenic region 90 miles north of Santa Barbara in Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. Beautifully balanced Chardonnays are the big draw, but then there are the Spanish and Rhône varietals, followed by oyster slurping on the coast. Favorite spots to sip include Baileyana (pictured; includes Tangent, Trenza, and Zocker), Chamisal, Claiborne & Churchill, Talley, and Wolff. For a natural diversion, go wildflower-watching at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in April (dunescenter.org). The Casitas of Arroyo Grande B&B, with fireplaces and a 25-meter swimming pool, make for a great stay (from $199; casitasag.com).
This town tucked 190 miles southeast of Seattle will wow you with its deep-fruited reds like Cabernet and Syrah, as well as Merlot with serious muscle. Go tasting room-hopping at Bunnell Family, Chinook, and Milbrandt, followed by squeezing your own apple cider at Bill’s Berry Farm in the fall (billsberryfarm.com). The suites at Desert Wind add luxury to a classic adobe experience (from $200; desertwindwinery.com).
Humboldt County, CA
This tucked-away county in Northern California wouldn't be your first guess for a wine tasting adventure, but it should be. From redwood groves in the south to funky fishing towns in the north to mountain vineyards in the east, Humboldt can be navigated––and the wines that have quietly come on line here in the last 15 years can be tasted in a weekend.
Grand Valley, CO
With its miles of cattle ranches and fruit orchards, Grand Valley once had a reputation for being a bit boring. But day-trippers from Denver and Boulder are drifting west to discover a mini Napa-meets-Boulder-meets-Moab. The trio of towns here—Palisade, Grand Junction, and Fruita—have it all. Vineyard-striped wine country? Check. World-class mountain bike trails? Check. Great food, shopping, and shows? Check, check, check.
Okanagan Valley, B.C.
This achingly beautiful wine country has new wineries and different kinds of grapes going in all the time―nearly 60 varietals, planted all over the benchlands, hillsides, and valley floor. Add to this the Okanagan's pristine lakes, orchards, and wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do (from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train to biking and hiking), and you have a wine-country experience like no other.
Lake Chelan, WA
Discover the sophisticated side of Washington’s summer playground, where sandcastles and jet skis are making way for (really good) wine. Serious winemakers have discovered Chelan’s “lake effect”—its ability to retain heat and lengthen the growing season in this otherwise chilly region. This Northwest hot spot is home to more than 15 local wineries harvesting grapes from the Columbia Valley. What we're excited about? The region's aromatic Alsatian whites: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris.
Monterey County, CA
Within an easy drive of Monterey, discover under-the-radar vineyards tucked against the mountains south of Salinas. Follow Monterey Country's Wine Trail to the 20 or so wineries along River Road. Along the way, pick up organic farmstand produce, stop for a picnic lunch, and even visit a ranch where lions and lynxes roam.
Snake River Valley, ID
Fans of earthy, tangy Spanish Tempranillo should try a Snake River Valley version. The dry, high-desert swath east of Boise even looks like Spain. Sip at Cinder, Davis Creek, and Sawtooth wineries.
More: Explore Boise
This Central Valley town knows its wine, and it's easy to explore much of its tasting rooms in a day, as most of the action is located within a 15-minute drive from downtown. The vibe is laid-back, but the grape cred is staggering: The 600,000 tons of wine grapes grown here each year is more than Napa and Sonoma combined. Reap the benefit of major wine production without Napa-sized crowds sipping the area's signature juicy Zinfandels.
More: One perfect day in Lodi
Baja California, Mexico
Think of it as Baja beyond fish tacos. There’s some excellent wine now, too, as producers experiment with lesser-known grape varietals such asTempranillo. Better yet, it’s easy to get here, since 90 percent of Mexican wine comes from Baja’s emerging wine country, only about 70 miles from the California/Mexico border. The self-guided, easy-to-navigate winery route, La Ruta del Vino, includes about 20 wineries.
Puget Sound, WA
Washington's Puget Sound has the perfect conditions for producing unique white wines. Flamboyant-white lovers can expand their wine vocabulary beyond Riesling in Washington’s Puget Sound. The chilly maritime weather is nurturing the great acidity and fresh aromatics of grapes you’ve never heard of. Don't miss Mount Baker Vineyards, San Juan Vineyards, and Whidbey Island Winery.
Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara, CA
The next new hot address for cult Cabs-and-cousins blends is Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. The warmest wine-growing pocket in the county, HC can get them big and ripe. Taste at Barrack, Cimarone, and Star Lane followed by enjoying the dining and beaches of Santa Barbara proper.