Best Wine Travel Destinations
Guest Post By Erin Vaughen, founder of Vinley Market
At Vinley Market, our online wine boutique is curated by young travelers and experienced sommeliers that travel the world to curate an exceptional collection of wine that doesn’t break the bank. It is with this experience that I share my top vineyard vacations that I feel make the best wine weekend getaways and wine trips.
Los Olivos, California
I’ve had local winemakers tell me that Santa Ynez Valley reminds them of the way Sonoma County was 30 years ago. The valley resides just north east of Santa Barbara and is stunning in all its untouched feels. You’ll see cows grazing in the shade of huge oak trees. You’ll drive through rolling grassy hills and narrow shaded canyons. And in the spring, the meadows turn bright green after the rain. My favorite town in the area is Los Olivos. Its buildings are very charming and quaint, with a freshly painted Wild West vibe. For a perfect day, visit Foxen (for their Pinot Noir), Demetria (for their Rhone blends), Brander (for their Sauvignon Blanc) and Rusack (for their Chardonnay). After picnicking (and drinking) in the vineyards, come back to town and drop your car off at your Airbnb or fancy room at the Fess Parker, and spend the rest of the day browsing tasting rooms in town. Our favorites are Tensley (best Syrah in the valley), Stolpman (for their a-typical varietals like Sangiovese) and Carharrt (try their Cab Franc!). Then have dinner at Sides.
Loire Valley in France
This is the land of epic chateaus and ancient white wines. Start east in the adorable town of Sancerre, the village where Sauvignon Blanc originates and arguably is still made at its best. Drive along the Loire River, stopping at such famous landmarks as Château de Chenonceau, Château de Chambord, and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. Make detours into the famous wine villages. You’ll find that each features its own unique style and history with some of the world’s most prolific grape varietals. In Chinon, try the Cabernet Franc. In Vouvray, the Chenin Blanc. And as you make your way west, Muscadet, with its laser sharp acidity and briny quality, is a price friendly alternative for lovers of Chablis.
This is a personal favorite for my husband and I. First of all, you can fly into Santa Rosa airport for a decent price if you book far enough in advance. This saves you the 2-hour drive up from San Francisco. We love to stay at the Hotel Healdsburg or rent an airbnb and from there hit all the wineries in the famous Russian River Valley. We actually ride our bikes to them, but you can easily hire a car. A drive along Westside Road brings you to Pinot powerhouses such as Arista, Williams Selyem and Rochioli (just make sure you make reservations at each winery ahead of time). Healdsburg is a charming town with great dining. Personal favorites are the tapas at Bravas and the pizzas at Scopa. Bonus: You can canoe along the Russian River if you’re the outdoorsy type!
Here, I’m a little biased because my husband is from British Columbia and I can’t get enough of the epic landscape of Western Canada. BC makes it difficult to import U.S. wine into Canada, which allows their domestic industry to flourish in their wine shops and restaurants. If you travel to the Naramata Bench, a cluster of boutique wineries have built up some nice hospitality, where they do make some very decent Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Riesling – basically, varietals that can stand the continental climate extremes of hot summers and frigid winters. But what I love best about the Okanagan are the amazing views.
While Chianti might be Tuscany’s most famous wine, the terrain through the DOCG of Chianti is pretty steep, wooded and rugged. You will be greatly rewarded if you travel south into the Val D’Orcia, where all your Pinterest dreams are made real. There you will find the famous rolling hills, cypress tree lined driveways, hill top villages and ancient villas of Tuscany. The wines there are also made mostly from Sangiovese, however they are of a completely different character than Chianti. In Southern Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino is king, however the lighter, fruiter Rosso di Montalicinos and Vino Nobile di Montepulcianos, which makes up the table wines around the villages for which the wines are named, are great! Stay at a winery or converted villa for the full experience.