In wine country, everything from the food to the spa treatments screams, “Indulge yourself!” Here are six U.S. wine regions where you can uncork the fun.
by Michele McEvoy
Home to only six vineyards and wineries in 1979, Virginia now boasts more than 100. A third of them are in the northern Virginia wine region (tourism info: virginiawines.org), which begins just over an hour’s drive west of Washington, D.C., and stretches to the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
Favorite Vineyard: Near the town of Amissville, Gray Ghost Vineyards makes a dozen wines on a 25-acre plot, including cabernet francs and chardonnays. The tasting room has three mahogany bars where you can sample various vintages at no charge. Out back, in the Victorian garden, there are café tables and chairs for picnicking, a shady gazebo, and flower beds that burst with dahlias, azaleas, and crape myrtles. 14706 Lee Hwy., 540/937-4869, grayghostvineyards.com.
Picnic Supplies: The Epicurious Cow, about five miles northwest of Gray Ghost, is stocked with things you’d expect from a gourmet grocery (produce, meats, cheeses, and crackers) as well as more unusual treats, such as pistachio-and-Grand-Marnier pâté and caramels in flavors like espresso and chipotle. 13830 Lee Hwy., 540/675-2269, epicuriouscow.com.
Spa Time: Along with the requisite massages, facials, and manicures, the Inn Spa at Poplar Springs in Casanova sells a Vinotherapy body treatment for $155. Many of the products used in the treatment are made with grapes from area vineyards. 800/490-7747, poplarspringsinn.com.
Fancy Dinner: Frank Maragos, formerly a chef at the highly regarded Inn at Little Washington, opened Foti’s Restaurant in Culpeper in 2005. His Mediterranean-inspired dishes may include vanilla-roasted lobster with johnnycakes in a chardonnay-butter sauce and a rich seafood paella. 540/829-8400, fotisrestaurant.com, entrées from $18.
Where to Stay: Hopkins Ordinary in Sperryville is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its name dates to 1820, when John Hopkins built an inn and tavern of the kind then called an “ordinary.” There are five rooms, each with a private bath, and a cottage that sleeps four. Guests receive a glass of wine upon check-in, and frittatas and scones for breakfast on the two-story wraparound porch. 540/987-3383, hopkinsordinary.com, from $108, cottage from $285.
LONG ISLAND, N.Y.
For many, the east end of Long Island, N.Y., conjures up images of beachfront mansions and polo matches, but there’s a refreshingly relaxed atmosphere on the island’s North Fork, where potato farms have traditionally outnumbered country clubs. A two-hour drive from New York City, the North Fork is home to more than two dozen wineries and vineyards (tourism info: liwines.com).
Favorite Vineyard: The new tasting room at Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards in Peconic is bright and airy, with four skylights and three walls made of glass. For $5, you can sample five wines, from fruity Rieslings to full-bodied Meritage blends. On Friday nights in summer, people picnic on the lawn while listening to local bands play jazz and classic rock. 888/295-6188.
Picnic Supplies: The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck sells a staggering selection of imported and domestic cheeses, as well as platters that include three or four different cheeses, crostini, grapes, and olives. 631/298-8556, thevillagecheeseshop.com.
Fresh Air: The 101-year-old clipper schooner Mary E sets out several times daily on two-and-a-half-hour cruises from Greenport. On hot days, Captain Ted Charles may anchor the boat so passengers can cool off with a swim. 631/369-0468, schoonermarye.com, $40.
Fancy Dinner: In the dining room at The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, walls are upholstered in a red Japanese floral pattern, and contemporary rice-paper lanterns hang from the ceiling. The owners–two Manhattan caterers–print a new menu daily depending on what’s available locally (striped bass, Long Island duck, sweet corn). Customers are allowed to bring their own wine. There’s no corkage fee for the first bottle, and $5 per person for each bottle after that. 631/477-4265, thefriskyoyster.com, entrées from $24.
Where to Stay: The Greenporter, a renovated 1957 motor lodge, reopened in 2001 as the first boutique hotel on the North Fork. The 30 rooms have blond-wood floors and mid-century modern furniture. Standard rooms can sleep as many as three people, and deluxe kings acommodate four. The hotel’s La Cuvée Wine Bar and French Bistro is popular with nonguests. 631/477-0066, thegreenporter.com, from $99.
In the 1800s, central Missouri had a robust wine industry, due to German immigrants who had settled there. Prohibition hit hard in the 1920s, and virtually all of the 100 vineyards and wineries closed. But recently, Missouri wine country–and the area around Hermann, in particular (tourism info: hermannmissouri.com)–has made a comeback, becoming a weekend escape for people from St. Louis (a 90-minute drive) and Kansas City (three hours).
Favorite Vineyard: In 1965, the Held family helped spark Hermann’s renaissance when they restored the 1847 Stone Hill Winery. Much of the vineyard is planted with Norton, the state’s signature grape. In the three tasting rooms you can try free samples of hybrids you won’t find in warmer climates, like vidal blanc, vignole, and chambourcin. 800/909-9463, stonehillwinery.com.
Picnic Supplies: Hermann does not have a gourmet grocer–yet–but Hermannhof Winery & Vineyard sells a $13 plate lunch that includes cheese, sausages, pickles, apples, and half a loaf of bread. 800/393-0100, hermannhof.com.
Fresh Air: Much of the 225-mile-long Katy Trail, a rails-to-trails path, runs parallel to the Missouri River. Rent a bike at Hermann Ride Rest & Go Bicycle Shop. 573/486-9170, $15 per day.
Fancy Dinner: The best restaurant in Hermann is Europa, owned by Bob and Chris Rappold, a husband-and-wife team. The kitchen and dining room are on the first floor of their Victorian home. The name and the menu reflect the couple’s travels in Europe. Entrées include Wiener schnitzel, and filet mignon in a mushroom sauce. 573/486-4333, europa-restaurant.com, entrées from $19.
Where to Stay: The Hermann Hill Village Cottages are on a bluff with views of the Missouri River. Four of the two-story cottages sleep up to four people, while a fifth can accommodate as many as eight. Each has a kitchen, living room, a deck or patio with a gas grill and hot tub, and two fireplaces. 573/486-4455, hermannhill.com, from $314 for four.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY, ORE.
More than 200 vineyards and wineries can be found in the Willamette Valley–pronounced “wil-lam-et,” rhyming with “damn it”–which stretches for 100 miles, from just south of Portland to Eugene. Sheltered by the Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Range to the east, the valley has a climate perfect for producing Oregon’s famous pinot noirs (tourism info: willamettewines.com).
Favorite Vineyard: In Carlton, Anne Amie Vineyards produces 20,000 cases of pinot a year. Paintings by local artists hang in the tasting room, where you can sample the estate’s wines for $5. French doors lead to a long terrace that overlooks the vineyards and the Coast Range. 503/864-2991, anneamie.com.
Picnic Supplies: Harvest Fresh, a gourmet deli and grocery, is six miles northeast of Anne Amie, in McMinnville. Boxed lunches include half a sandwich, a salad, and a cookie. Larger groups can order fruit-and-cheese plates or antipasto platters with Italian meats and cheeses, roasted peppers, eggplant, and sun-dried tomatoes. 503/472-5740, harvestfresh.com.
Spa Time: McMinnville’s Urbanbliss Salon & Spa offers its customers free wine tastings and, on Double-Date Thursdays, buy-one-get-a-second-half-off treatments. 503/472-3097, urbanblissspa.com, 30-minute massages from $47.
Fancy Dinner: Oregonians take as much pride in their wild mushrooms as they do in their grapes, so it’s no surprise that the fungi figure into the menu at The Joel Palmer House in Dayton. Owners Jack and Heidi Czarnecki hunt for the mushrooms themselves and transform them into dishes like the “faux gras,” made not with duck liver but with truffles and chanterelles. Although there’s a wine list featuring nearly 200 local pinots, customers can bring their own wine for a $20 corkage fee. 503/864-2995, joelpalmerhouse.com, entrées from $20.
Where to Stay: The four-story brick building in McMinnville that’s now the Hotel Oregon has been through many changes in its 102-year history: It has been home to a banquet hall, a bus station, and a beauty parlor. Today, the 42 rooms–some with connecting doors and shared baths, good for groups– are named after and decorated with the mementos of the quirky characters who once lived or worked in the building. 888/472-8427, mcmenamins.com, from $60.
SANTA BARBARA, CALIF.
Thanks to Sideways, Santa Barbara’s wine country is more popular than ever. And with its incredible mountain views, sunny valleys, and fields of wildflowers, it definitely deserves the hype (tourism info: sbcountywines.com).
Favorite Vineyard: Sunstone Vineyards and Winery in Santa Ynez is one of the largest organic growers in the area. Surrounded by oaks, the winery looks like a 19th-century Provençal farmhouse. Exposed wood beams and textured walls help give the tasting room a cozy feel, as does the smell of lavender and rosemary wafting in from the garden. For a $10 tasting fee, you can sample six wines, including Eros, Sunstone’s signature Bordeaux-style blend. 800/313-9463, sunstonewinery.com.
Picnic Supplies: You might not expect to find a Cordon Bleu–trained chef at a country store, but at Los Olivos Grocery, nine miles north of Sunstone, Mark Tekbas whips up homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches that attract people from miles around. 805/688-5115, losolivosgrocery.com.
Fresh Air: Women can channel their inner Gidget with a surfing lesson from the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. Four-hour sessions include an instructor, wet suit, surfboard rental, and lunch. 888/773-3239, sbadventureco.com, $105.
Spa Time: The De-Stress Cafe in Solvang offers a variety of services from massages to exfoliation. The staff will send a car to pick you up at your hotel. 805/693-8776, destresscafe.com, 30-minute massage from $38.
Fancy Dinner: Brothers’ Restaurant is inside Los Olivos’s landmark Mattei’s Tavern, which was built in 1886 as a stagecoach stop for dusty travelers looking for a meal. The menu and wine list cater to a more upscale crowd now. The filet mignon in port wine sauce with a caramelized onion-potato gratin is particularly good. 805/688-4820, matteistavern.com, entrées from $17.
Where to Stay: The town of Solvang was settled by Danish immigrants in 1911, not that you could miss that fact. The grounds of the Wine Valley Inn were modeled on the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Even the cluster of Tudor-style buildings is reminiscent of an old-world village, complete with a clock tower imported from France. The hotel has 57 rooms, and six cottages that sleep up to four. Each cottage has a living room and fireplace, and most have a private patio. 800/824-6444, winevalleyinn.com, from $89.
NAPA VALLEY AND BEYOND
The Napa and Sonoma Valleys, north of San Francisco, need no introduction. Wineries run the gamut from grand estates owned by big corporations to mom-and-pop operations that produce only a couple thousand cases each year (tourism info: napavalley.com and sonoma.com).
Favorite Vineyard: Sycamores line the driveway at Peju Province Winery in Rutherford, and the focal point of the tasting room is a stained-glass window depicting the Three Graces. The gardens are dotted with fountains and statues of mythological figures. Peju is known for its cabernet sauvignons, which you can taste for a $10 fee (800/446-7358, peju.com). There’s a different feel entirely at Kaz Vineyard and Winery, a small Sonoma Valley operation that’s as unconventional as they come. Owner Richard “Kaz” Kasmier–with help from his wife, son, and daughter–runs a tasting room in his barn. You can sample six wines for $3, including Kaz’s specialty, port (877/833-2536, kazwinery.com).
Picnic Supplies: The Oakville Grocery has been in operation in the Napa Valley town of Oakville since 1881. Locals voted the store’s sandwiches the best in the upper valley last year (707/944-8802, oakvillegrocery.com). In downtown Sonoma, The Cheesemaker’s Daughter sells more than 50 kinds of artisanal cheese, including several that are made locally (707/996-4060, cheesemakersdaughter.com).
Fresh Air: Burke’s Canoe Trips runs a 10-mile self-guided tour down the Russian River from Forestville to a beach in Guerneville. The trip takes four to five hours with stops for sunbathing and swimming. 707/887-1222, burkescanoetrips.com, $58 per canoe, which seats three adults.
Fancy Dinner: Founded in 2001 by legendary winemaker Robert Mondavi, Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts organizes educational tastings, lectures, concerts, and films. The on-site restaurant, Julia’s Kitchen, is named for Julia Child, who was a Copia advisor. Its menu is appropriately French-flavored but not fussy, with entrées like duck confit cassoulet and roasted quail (707/265-5700, juliaskitchen.org, entrées from $18, corkage fee $15). The hottest restaurant in Healdsburg is Cyrus, inside the new Les Mars Hotel, where rooms start at $475 a night. Customers choose from European- and Asian-inspired dishes including truffled red-wine risotto and a Thai-marinated lobster with avocado, mango, and hearts of palm (707/433-3311, cyrusrestaurant.com, from $68 for three courses, corkage fee $35).
Where to Stay: The Yountville Inn is not far from Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry restaurant in Yountville. All of the 51 earth-toned guest rooms, some of which can sleep up to four, have wood-beamed ceilings and fieldstone fireplaces. Breakfast includes Starbucks coffee and pastries from Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. On Friday nights, the inn offers free wine tastings (888/366-8166, yountvilleinn.com, from $175). While the Yountville Inn has country charm, the El Dorado Hotel in downtown Sonoma is all about contemporary chic. Guest rooms have tiled floors, abstract artwork by local artists, and brushed-stainless-steel bed frames. Upstairs rooms boast balconies that overlook Sonoma Plaza or the hotel courtyard; the larger bungalow rooms on the ground floor have private patios (800/289-3031, hoteleldorado.com, from $175).