There’s never a better time to drink wine than right now. Smaller wine regions like Moldova and the country Georgia are sending more wine out into the world. In the US, there are now wineries in every state, as well as wine-specific tasting rooms to show off the region’s capabilities. Traditional winemaking regions like the Languedoc in France are receiving renewed attention. Unfamiliar grapes are being brought to the forefront in new ways.
All this is to say that if you appreciate a good glass of wine — or need more good glasses of wine in your life — then 2019 is looking up. These are the best wine festivals to go to, regions to visit, and winemaking areas to buy bottles from this year. Some are small, some are established, and some are still up and coming. All, however, are worth the trip.
1. Vevey, Switzerland
On July 18 and for the following three weeks, Vevey, Switzerland, will play host to the Fête des Vignerons, which is one of the world’s largest and longest-running wine festivals. It first started in 1797 and will bring in around 400,000 visitors to the 20,000-person village. The Fête des Vignerons, which was given a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation in 2016, only occurs once every 20 years to celebrate the region’s wine harvest.
The festival is run by the Confrérie des Vignerons and is more than just a giant wine tasting. Along with the general party atmosphere and tours there are 20 shows — all of which are wine-themed, naturally. This year, the inaugural three-and-a-half hour show is directed by Cirque du Soleil artistic director Daniele Finzi Pasca.
Spain is often overshadowed by France and Italy when people are looking to buy a bottle of Old World wine. This should be the year you change that. Spain’s winemaking regions like Navarra, Priorato, and Penedès are coming into their own. The regions that you likely know, like Rioja, are only getting better — especially if you’re looking to visit the area, regardless of whether you like modern complexes like Vivanco or traditional cellars like at Viña Pomal.
This year, go to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in Catalonia in early September for the Fiesta de la Filoxera. The multi-day party tells the story of the phylloxera bug that wiped out much of the European wine industry in the mid-1800s. It’s much less depressing than what the bug brought in Europe, though. It all starts with the first dance of farmers, who represent how calm Sant Sadurní was before phylloxera hit the region. Then all hell breaks loose. Residents dress as the bugs and down absurd amounts of wine while running through the streets with drums and firecrackers, and a parade marches through the street that tells the stages of infestation, hurting grapevines, concerned farmers. A finale fireworks show represents how the bugs were defeated with grapevines that have American roots. The final celebration ends with a cava shower.
3. Trento, Italy
You know sparkling Italian wine as Prosecco, but there’s a smaller wine region in the Dolomite mountains that you should be paying attention to: Trento. The wine producing area is in the valleys of the Trentino-Alto Adige mountain range and has a dedicated portion of the winemaking region devoted to sparkling wine that’s comparable to Champagne. Its small size means it can be hard to find bottles in the US, and many of the best bottles don’t even make it stateside at all, so you have to really be there to experience it. But who can complain about a trip to try some of the most interesting bubbly in Europe?
Trento’s surrounding region is just as much worth the visit as the wine is. The Italian Alps make for a breathtaking backdrop, and there’s no shortage of outdoor activities year-round. Go now, though, as Trento is starting to get more attention from wine nerds and fans. If you see it this year you’ll still be ahead of the crowds.
4. New Zealand
New Zealand’s maritime climate influences every ounce of the 75 million gallons of wine produced here each year. No vineyard is more than 80 miles from the ocean, and the growing climates are cooler than those of many inland growing regions. Add onto that New Zealand’s seclusion and ample environmental regulations and you have a unique climate for grapes like sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and chardonnay that creates far different expressions than you taste in places like France and California.
The best part for you as a visitor is that no matter where you land — from Auckland to Waipara — great local wine is never far away. More than 500 wineries line both the North and South Islands in 10 major wine producing regions. Interest has been building around New Zealand wines over the past two decades, with exports growing some 24 percent every year. Make this the year you see it for yourself. Stunning views of mountain peaks and open vineyards that stretch to the sea accent the country’s tasting rooms, and the country is the perfect balance of refined and wild.
5. Grand Junction, Colorado
Colorado’s only wine region is small but ever-present in a region where nearly all the state’s tourism is built around getting outdoors. The almost two dozen wineries surrounding Grand Junction, western Colorado’s largest city, draw the adventurous crowd by sitting them on a mountain bike and directing them from tasting room to tasting room on the popular winery bike tours. These self-guided romps across the dirt roads and open fields of Mesa County are the perfect fit for a state not lacking in nature-filled endeavors.
To get there, fly into Grand Junction Airport and hop in an Uber toward the neighboring town of Palisade, just a few minutes up I-70. Once there, head to Rapid Creek Cycles to rent a bike and map your own route down the aptly named Fruit and Wine Byway. Get ready for an experience where farm-fresh peaches and other fruits are as much a part of the experience as the grapes themselves. The region’s wines are light and fruity, influenced by the hot days and cool nights of the surrounding desert. Mesa County sees far less snow than Colorado’s high country, meaning these rides are doable from early spring through autumn. The ride itself is mellow and easy, the only tough part is deciding which bed and breakfast to crash in for the night.
6. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is the rising star of North American wine regions, an expansive stretch of fertile growing terrain tucked between Vancouver and the Kootenays. The city of Kelowna anchors the region, a lakeside haven surrounded by vineyards and tasting rooms that offers easy access to the entire region. Summer is the best time to visit as you can work off some that cab franc with wakeboard sessions on Okanagan Lake and hikes through the surrounding hill country.
The wine region’s signature annual event, Chef Meets BC Grape, has grown from an exclusive summer get together at See Ya Later Ranch to a three-city affair in Vancouver (April 18), Calgary (May 9), and Okanagan (June 8). All of the dates and places give visitors a taste of Okanagan Valley’s best dishes and wines in one place.
Virginia doesn’t get as much wine attention as states like California, Oregon, Washington, or even New York. Which makes now the best time to go, because that won’t be the case for long. Virginia wine country has attracted winemakers from around the world as a place that they can experiment and branch out from traditional techniques and grapes varieties. Those winemakers, along with a crop of locals, are quickly creating a respectable wine scene. Some are even calling America’s oldest wine region the Wild West of wine.
Virginia’s vineyards are easy to navigate by car. Start up north in the Shenandoah Valley and proceed south through the mountains, then east towards Hampton Roads and finally up the coast to the Chesapeake Bay. The wine is world-class, and it’s a far more affordable experience than trekking through Napa or Sonoma.