Envision the ultimate wine vacation and you probably think of Burgundy’s chateaus, Tuscany’s rolling hills, or perhaps Bordeaux’s new La Cité du Vin. Closer to home, there are the big name wineries in Napa and Sonoma along with plenty of smaller boutique favorites to discover.
However, great wine is now being produced in so many more places, including right in our backyard, so here are four North American wine destinations that should be on your radar as you plan your next boozy vacation.
Not only is Niagara the top wine region in Ontario, but it’s also the closest and most accessible for Chicagoans. Take a short flight to Toronto and then it’s just an hour drive to wine country. There are more than 100 wineries here, plus a robust live theater scene. The Shaw Festival runs each year at charming Niagara-on-the-Lake from April to October, with an eclectic lineup ranging from silly British musicals to somber plays by Chekhov.
Four-time Canadian winery of the year Tawse is a must-visit, known for its excellent “spark” Champagne-method sparkling wines, along with chardonnay and pinot noir. Stop by newer sister winery Redstone afterward for a bite to eat overlooking the vineyard. Two Sisters Vineyards and Peller Estates also have excellent winery restaurants and a diverse and delicious selection of wines to match. Red wine drinkers will be blown away by the Bordeaux-style reds at Megalomaniac.
You certainly can’t come to Niagara without reveling in the wonder of Niagara Falls. MistRider Zipline is a fun and not at all scary way to take in the view. The top floors at Hilton Niagara Falls/Fallsview offer panoramas of both American and Canadian falls and the presidential suite has a balcony overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. Splurge on a chartered flight with Niagara Helicopters and you’ll enjoy a private tour of the falls before landing in wine country for touring and tasting.
Kelowna is the heart of the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia’s premier wine-growing region. Riesling and pinot noir are the most popular grapes planted among the 40 wineries here, although you’ll also find obscure local varieties like Ehrenfelser, an easy-drinking white varietal that CedarCreek Estate Winery does well.
Flying to Kelowna is an easy connection through Vancouver, and Current Taxi will pick you up in an eco-friendly Tesla for the same price as a yellow cab. Stay at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort for Okanagan Lake views, a boutique spa, and inventive, flavorful food at new restaurant Oak + Cru. They have the largest collection of Okanagan Valley wines in the world and offer daily wine tastings in the cellar.
Start your day with breakfast on the terrace at Summerhill Pyramid Winery‘s bistro and sip organic, biodynamic wines, including an excellent Champagne-method sparkling wine made predominantly from riesling grapes. Meander through nearby Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm before crossing the bridge to West Kelowna. Here you’ll find Mission Hill Winery, the Okanagan’s largest and most well-known winery. The dramatic architecture and vineyard views are stunning. Discover a collection of ancient wine vessels in the Bordeaux-style cellar before tasting their renowned Perpetua Chardonnay and Oculus Bordeaux blend. If you visit in summer, attend a concert in their picturesque amphitheater. Several wineries, including Mission Hill and CedarCreek, have restaurants on-site too. Otherwise head back downtown to Waterfront Wines for a sophisticated taste of the Okanagan’s culinary prowess.
California’s Central Coast has such diversity and many under-the-radar wine gems. Monterey and Carmel are a great place to start exploring, with the trio of fine wine, world-class golf courses and a luxurious spa all at Pebble Beach Resorts. Make The Inn at Spanish Bay your home for the best views of the iconic Scottish bagpipers at twilight. Play a round at Spyglass Hill before relaxing at the expansive spa and enjoying dinner at Peppoli, which boasts the largest selection of Antinori wines outside of Italy.
You can blend your own wine at The Wine Experience, and for a convenient taste of all the region has to offer, pick up a Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea passport, which allows for wine flights at your choice of more than a dozen participating tasting rooms, all within a square mile in downtown Carmel. Highlights include the sexy tasting room and sparkling wines at Caraccioli Cellars and pinot noir at Blair Estate.
After a few tastings, you’ll want to enjoy a full glass with food. The Sardine Factory has been Monterey’s best restaurant for 50 years now; seafood fans will love the local specialties: abalone and sand dabs. Sicilian touches like cannoli and tutti frutti spumoni gelato end the evening on a sweet note.
Hermann Wine Country
Few people, even sommeliers and wine connoisseurs, have heard of Hermann, but this small town just 90 minutes west of St. Louis has an important place in America’s wine history. Before Prohibition, Missouri was the nation’s second-largest wine producer. Today, Hermann is home to a dozen small wineries including Hermannhof Winery, where you can try wines made with hybrid grapes like vignoles, seyval blanc and vidal blanc. Hermannhof founder George Husmann was a German immigrant and in the 1870s he and other Missouri grape growers saved the French wine industry, sending millions of American grape cuttings to Europe to resurrect vineyards that had been infected with phylloxera. Tour the Hermann Farm, a living history museum that just opened last summer, and stay at a charming B&B like Stone Haus or the cottage suites at Hermann Hill after a day exploring wineries along the Hermann Wine Trail.
Calling all oenophiles!
Are you as passionate about making a difference as you are about wine? Then you need to put this annual fundraiser on your calendar: Auction Napa Valley brings incredible winemakers, connoisseurs, collectors and philanthropists together in one place for an memorable weekend of incredible wine and spectacular impact.
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Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.