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There’s nothing that can bring you deeper into the pages of a romantic fairy tale than gazing across an expansive field, jagged roots twisting along grape vines, the sun dangling over the horizon, as you savor and swirl a red, white or rose hue casting its shade through a clear wine glass. It’s the time we put on our floppy hats, the time we finally wear the flowy dresses saved for special occasions. Whether we go with a group of girlfriends or with our sometimes-better half, it’s the time to be a little dreamy and a good wine helps with that fun game of make-believe.
I recently had a chance to savor a few days in Temecula, California, a patchwork quilt of farms surrounding an old west downtown called Old Town, where many good deals could be found among these lesser known wineries dotting the landscape. The big discovery for us was that these modest vineyards were every bit as good, if not better, than those we had visited in other parts of the country.
We stayed at the South Coast Winery Resort and Spa which was like living in a European villa with our own private vineyard dropping precipitously into a gorge just outside our French doors. The GrapeSeed Spa, with a heated pool just outside, allowed us to let the lazy spring sunshine melt across our skin. Walks through the jigsaw puzzle of growing grapes gave pause for ideas, normally too harried to be thought, to filter into our minds. A superb winery with a legion of knowledgable sommeliers was the perfect place to discover unique wines. After sampling a flight, we bought three bottles which made our tasting free. The winery manager, Heinz Hoffman said, “Dollar for dollar you’ll get much more here than in Napa.” We bought some of the best tasting reds I’d ever had for under $40.
We didn’t have to go anywhere, there were a couple other wineries within walking distance, but one night we did. After eating at the resort restaurant, the Vineyard Rose, which had the best charcuterie platter I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve had a few as they’re one of my favs), we ventured into Old Town — what they call their downtown — to listen to live music.
We found a casual bar called the Old Town Blues Club where we jiggled and swayed to an 80s cover band. Down the street, we found a bar called Crush and Brew that was like three bars in one. Up front, we shared some late night noshy bites, a bit further in was a band playing some great tunes, some original, but the super cool part was the speakeasy in the basement called Thompson and Twain. The two hour wait to get in was worth the old world western frontier town experience of this small tavern. Set behind two curtains and a walk through a faux bank vault, the small establishment featured bartenders dressed in period garb who definitely played the part, producing cocktails that included burnt herbs. This is a not to miss experience! A short walk down the street, we were able to get our funk on at Black Bird, a western restaurant that turns into a nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights. The DJs stepped out of the western town theme and played the best dance music you’d never expect to hear in a little, land-locked farm town.
We asked top travel writers where they love to play pretend and get some great wine experiences in the process.
When most people think of wine country in California, their minds will undoubtedly jump to Napa and Sonoma in the north of the state and fail to realise that there are some fantastic wine producing areas in sunny Southern California as well! And one of the best places to go wine tasting in Southern CA is lovely Santa Barbara!
Known for its laid back nature and year-round good weather, Santa Barbara is a popular stop on an LA to San Francisco road trip or as a weekend getaway from Los Angeles.
Though there are many things to do in Santa Barbara, one of the best ways to spend time in the city is to embark on its Urban Wine Trails — which consists of 28 wineries located in different neighbourhoods of the city. With most of the wineries being in the trendy Funk Zone, it is very easy to walk between them without having to get behind the wheel. The wines come mostly from grapes grown in the nearby Santa Ynez valley, which produces popular varieties like grenache, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris and chardonnay.
Though there are many wineries to choose from in Santa Barbara, some of my favourites include Deep Sea Winery and Area 5.1. The former has an excellent location on the iconic Stearns Wharf and makes an excellent stop to sip wine and watch the sunset. Area 5.1 has a quirky decor and theme and their blended wines are really something special. However, no matter where it is you choose to go wine tasting, you really can’t go wrong in Santa Barbara.
-Maggie Turansky — The World Was Here First
When people think of US based wine, they usually think of the West Coast. However, Virginia seems to have been made for wine lovers. Charlottesville, VA is home to over 20 wineries of varying sizes and wine profiles. Winery hopping in Charlottesville is always a great experience because of the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, delicious food and activities such as watching Polo Games.
To best enjoy wineries in the Charlottesville area, I recommend either renting a party bus (for large groups) or using Charlottesville Hop on Tours for groups under 6. The hop on tours have different routes within the Charlottesville area, so you can spend one day on one route and the next on another. Ubers are also a good option if you don’t mind waiting for a car to come.
Since there are abundant wineries in the area, these are some personal favorites:
Best selection of wine: Wisdom Oak or Glasshouse Winery (the winery has a hothouse that grows tropical plants!)
Best views: Pippin Hill or King Family Winery
Most interesting selection: Flying Fox Vineyard (they also have vermouth which is delicious)
All of these wineries are big enough for a lady’s trip or bachelorette party, but cozy enough to enjoy with a partner.
Michaela Banks — Well Balanced Adventures
The best part is that it’s very easy to visit the wineries in Fredericksburg. If you have a designated driver, the distances are short and easy to drive yourself. If your entire party wants to participate, take the 290 Wine Shuttle. For only $30 spend the entire day hopping from winery to winery. This is particularly fun if you’re visiting Fredericksburg with a group of friends (Fredericksburg is a great bachelorette destination). Whether I’m partying with friends or coming for a romantic weekend with my husband, I always love spending a day or two at the wineries in Fredericksburg.
-Erin Mushaway — Sol Salute
When people think of great wine tasting destinations, Virginia doesn’t usually come to mind. But not only is the state the birthplace of the American wine industry, but it’s also the 5th-largest wine producing state in the nation! It’s a must-visit for all winos, despite being off-the-radar. And though Virginia has a number of towns to choose from, Purcellville is the one to check out for the best Virginia wine experience.
Purcellville is nicknamed the “Gateway to DC’s wine country.” The tiny town is located just 50 miles west of the nation’s capital but is surrounded by green rolling hillsides, horse farms, and almost 60 different wineries. As a resident, I have the advantage of getting to check out a new winery every weekend. Some of my favorites are Doukenie Winery and Hillsborough Vineyard, which has one of the best views in Loudoun County. For out-of-towners who would rather be chauffeured around, there are several great tours that let you get a taste of what Virginia has to offer. DiVine Wine Tours offers customized tours to wineries and lets guests spend time with the winemakers at each destination. Cork and Keg Tours combines winery visits with a sampling of the areas many breweries.
When you’re done for the day, Purcellville has a number of excellent farm-to-table restaurants that serve local wines, such as West End Wine Bar and Magnolia’s. It’s the perfect capstone to a day spent exploring Virginia’s beautiful wine country.
For more on Virginia’s wine country, visit https://pinkcaddytravelogue.com/category/virginia/
-Maggie McKneely — Pink Caddy Travelogue