The growth in wine tourism means that more people than ever are seeking out the best wine-country destinations, fusing their love for the wines themselves with the scenery, events and accommodations that make for a memorable trip. The well-known Napa Valley region, with its wine train adventure or its Lincoln Theater, offers almost countless perfect pairings, resulting in some $1.9 billion in tourist spending in 2016, about 70 percent of that on hotel accommodations. Yet what the Napa region has learned is that almost 80 percent of its 3.5 million guests are Americans. With so many wine destinations emerging across the country – some right next door – they might want to check out Idaho, Michigan or Texas.
Here are the Top 5 surprise destinations to think about when planning wine tourism travel.
Taos, New Mexico
When it comes to the American Southwest, few destinations offer a more vibrant arts and culture experience than Taos. What people don’t know is that Spanish colonists planted grapes in and around Taos more than 400 years ago to produce sacramental wines, and the regional terroir supporting today’s grape varieties remains excellent.
“Sommeliers and wine buffs know that New Mexico is thought to be America’s first wine country,” says Karina Armijo, Director of Marketing and Tourism for the Town of Taos. “With its endless list of outdoor activities, thousand-year-old history and world-class cuisine, Taos continues to carry on New Mexico’s wine legacy with its local vineyards.” They include La Chiripada, the region’s oldest winery, to Black Mesa Winery, the 2017 Best of Taos winner. Art, artisanal cheeses, native cooking classes, music and more make Taos a special experience. Don’t miss the whitewater rafting tour.
Guests spend half the day in the exhilaration of Rio Grande rafting, and then visit 3 to 4 wineries for lunch, tastings and shopping.
If you want to go to Boise before it gets “discovered,” you best hurry. Idaho’s capital, nestled in the forests and foothills of the Rocky Mountains, has been getting lots of attention from Vogue, Thrillist and others as the next big thing in destinations. There are 30 wineries across the near Treasure Valley, all within a half-hour drive of the city. Boise’s Urban Wine District has tasting rooms right in center city, where you’ll also find the wine-themed rooms at the Inn at 500 Capitol. This boutique hotel caters to wine tourists – there’s a glass ready at check-in – with local day packages.
The area’s breathtaking beauty appeals to outdoors enthusiasts too, and with a 25-mile greenway path in the city and vineyards further afield, it’s possible to plan a cycling adventure or combine with hiking too.
There are lots of reasons to visit the progressive, sustainability-focused Twin Cities in Minnesota, but put wine tourism at the top of the list. This north country state has invested in its viticulture and wine-centered agritourism since the 1980s, and that’s paid off in high-quality grape varietals and the culture that surrounds them. Minnesota has four wine trails, with the Upper St. Croix Wine Trail just an hour (or less) drive to four different wineries, dining and B&B accommodations. At Wild Mountain Winery, there’s nearby skiing or warm-season events at Taylors Falls Recreation Area.
Hastings is just a few minutes away to the southeast, The Alexis Bailly Vineyard has a vintage story of its own, as a second-generation farm with some of the father’s grapevines still tended by the daughter who operates it. The patio, sculpture garden, lawns and live jazz make it the locals’ top pick. This vineyard claims it was the first to make wines with Minnesota-grown grapes.
If you’re visiting the city – or live there – one of the country’s most established and attractive wine destinations is just a few exits north on Interstate 95. Buck County is an oasis in the busy Northeast Corridor, filled with art and antique shops to browse, B&B lodgings and special events. The Bucks County Wine Trail is home to eight different wineries, along the scenic river near historic Washington’s Crossing, at trendy and eclectic New Hope, or north to the Sand Castle Winery at Erwinna. There, the wines are exceptional the vineyards are breathtaking and the castle is, well, real – and a popular regional events venue.
The Bucks County wineries enjoy relationships with local farms and markets, all of whom work together to support world-class restaurants and farm-to-table experiences. Be sure to see Earl’s New American!
California wine country doesn’t end when you leave Napa-Sonoma. “As the former director of tourism for Napa Valley, I was absolutely shocked by the quality and offerings of the Santa Ynez wine country, as it continues to be relatively under the radar,” says tourism industry expert Dan Howard. The city itself is one of California’s most beautiful Spanish Colonial gems; the Pacific Ocean seaside is exceptional; and fine dining and tasting rooms are right downtown. Tourists appreciate the balmy weather, the proximity to California’s urban centers, and the county’s wine trail.
There’s one more feature that sets Santa Barbara apart, Howard says. It’s the people culture, not the viticulture. “Due in large part to the fact that Santa Barbara is lesser known as a region, the winemakers are still interested in meeting visitors personally, in a truly welcoming, friendly environment,” he says. Santa Barbara slows down enough to complete the customer experience for wine tourists they’ll want to welcome back, and who share travel stories with family and friends.