Drink in the stunning settings and award-winning wines in these unexpected wine regions.
By Jodi Helmer
When it comes to wine, France and Spain tend to get most of the attention – with nods to Napa and Sonoma for wines with local terroir. But you can find wine regions right here in the US that are lesser-known (at least for now) and worth visiting.
Here are five of our favorite under-the-radar wine regions where vines dot the landscape, first-rate wines are poured in tasting rooms and no passports are required.
The Grand Valley, Colorado: At an altitude of 4,700 feet, the vineyards in this Western winemaking region are the highest in North America. Grand Valley, which stretches between the towns of Fruita and Palisade, boasts sunny, dry days and cool nights, making it the ideal microclimate for producing wine.
The Valley is home to more than two-thirds of the state’s vineyards, many of which were formerly fruit orchards, earning it the moniker, “The Peach and Wine Capital of Colorado.”
Try following the Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway, a mapped trail of vineyards and wineries.
You can rent a bike and pedal between the 15 wineries clustered around Palisade, including Grande River Vineyards, the largest winery in Colorado; Talon Winery, named one of the top 10 best wine destinations in the nation; and Meadery of the Rockies to try honey wines. Or, hop in the car to explore vineyards and wineries that are further afield. Regardless of their locations, wineries in The Grand Valley are surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.
Newport County, Rhode Island: Although it’s the smallest state in the union, the wine region in Newport County is anything but diminutive.
Newport County’s wineries produce vinifera varieties, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as fruit wines, all within 45 minutes of Newport. The region boasts a long, cool growing season with a harvest that extends into November, mimicking storied French wine regions.
The scenery is second to none. Greenvale Vineyards, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, overlooks the Sakonnet River, offering the perfect place for a bottle of wine and a picnic; with 60 acres in production, Newport Vineyards is the largest grower of wine grapes in New England, producing red, white, sparkling and dessert wines. Pop the cork and enjoy the views of Rhode Island Sound.
Combining its heritage with wine tourism, Newport, home to more 18th-century historic buildings than any other city in the nation, hosts the annual Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival. It’s a rare chance to sip wine and tour the area’s historic homes.
Rocky Top Wine Trail, Tennessee: Thanks to fertile soil and rolling hills, the Volunteer State boasts 150 vineyards and 40 wineries across the state – all connected via five distinct wine trails.
One of the prettiest wine regions sits in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. The Rocky Top Wine Trail includes the towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, where five wineries – Sugarland Cellars, Mountain Valley Winery, Apple Barn Winery, Eagle Springs Winery and Hillside Winery – are located within 12 miles of each other.
In true Southern style, there is also a moonshine distillery on the trail: Doc Collier Moonshine near Gatlinburg serves up samples of the once-bootlegged beverage. At every stop along the trail, drink in the scenery between glasses of Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Barbera, fruit, muscadine and honey wines.
Verde Valley, Arizona: Growing grapes in harsh desert climates is not for the faint of heart. Winemakers in this Northern Arizona wine region, which includes Sedona, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Jerome and Camp Verde, were up for the challenge. The result: fewer but more flavorful grapes that produce wines such as Mourvedre, Merlot, Viognier and Chenin Blanc. In the decade since the Verde Valley Wine Region was established, local wineries have produced several award-winning wines.
Explore the region by following the Verde Valley Wine Trail. The route—marked by painted wine barrels—connects seven wineries and eight tasting rooms, all located along a route dotted with desert landscapes and red rock canyons.
In addition to traditional tasting rooms like those at Alcantara Vineyards and Chateau Tumbleweed, saddle up for a unique experience at D.A. Ranch, a 100-year-old working ranch and winery where estate wines are poured in a red barn overlooking the pasture. Or, spend an afternoon at Page Springs Cellars where massages can be scheduled among the vines.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania: Just north of the City of Brotherly Love is a small wine region oenophiles prize, both for its wines and the stunning scenery along the Delaware River. Vineyards in Greater Philadelphia are among the top 10 producers of wines in the country; the surrounding region includes more than 150 wineries and nine of the best are in Bucks County.
The wineries mimic the history of the region. Crossing Vineyards and Winery is located on a 200-year-old estate; the tasting room at New Hope Winery is inside an 18th-century barn; and Rose Bank Winery is on a tract of land that was once deeded to William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. A historic home dating back to 1719 is still located on the grounds. While winemakers embrace the historic setting and traditional grape-growing and winemaking practices, wines like Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir reflect modern tastes and bring awards to Bucks County.
Take a detour and follow the roads less traveled to these once-undiscovered wine regions, where gorgeous backdrops and award-winning wines are worthy of a toast.