Tooltip TextFew things compare to exploring wine regions while on vacation. It’s a magical experience that allows you to pair some of the greatest wine varietals in the world with stunning backdrops and unique cultural experiences. New wine destinations pop up every year, but there are timeless regions that have set the standard for wine tasting. From vineyard tours to dark cellars and aging rooms, wine routes give you the opportunity to explore the history of a region and meet the winemakers, who have passed down their family legacy.
When planning your visit to Wine Country, you should consider several things: level of wine knowledge, preference, available time, location and season. You may also want to plan your route around the harvest season. These are peak times, filled with festivals and events that revolve around wine culture. Drinking, grape pressing, and music are always common themes, but celebrations vary by region.
Use our guide that explores wine routes from different corners around the world to help you plan your next road trip adventure.
La Route des Vins d’Alsace can be found in the very eastern side of France in a valley along the Rhine River, which separates France and Germany. The region is broken up into two parts: Bas-Rhin (to the North) and Haut-Rhin (to the South).
This 105-mile-long route is home to more than 70 wine villages. Stay in the 15th-century medieval town of Colmar, which was largely spared from destruction during WWII, stock up on Gewürztraminer at the Cave Vinicole de Turckheim or go tasting on an estate established by Capuchin monks in 1612.
Travel tip: Alsace marks the end of the grape harvest with a host of festivals in October, making it the perfect time to visit the vineyards and villages along France’s famous wine route. If you visit in late August to late October, it’s possible to become a “Grape-picker for a day” thanks to the tourist harvest where you can spend half a day picking grapes and experience the local traditions.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Hugel & Fils in Riquewihr, Trimbach Estate in Ribeauvillé, and Cave Vinicole in Turckheim.
2. Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley was placed on the map in 1979 when the French wine and food magazine, Gault Millau, organized a wine Olympics that brought together a total of 330 wines from 33 countries, and a Willamette Valley pinot noir was placed in the top 10 of their category. With more than 250 wineries over 5,200 square miles, this wine route covers some large territory, so you’ll need to rent a car to get around. Its mild climate yields beautiful wine varieties with New World flair.
Travel tip: The busiest time to visit is during the month of August when tourism is high, so lodging and other accommodations may cost more than usual. Stop by in July to visit the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in Willamette Valley.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Argyle Winery, Elk Cove Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Adelsheim Vineyards, or Chehalem Wines.
3. Cape Winelands
Several regions make up Cape Winelands, also known as the Boland Basin. Many visitors who come to Cape Town on vacation find themselves exploring at least one of Cape Winelands sub-regions, which are home to some of the most prestigious wineries in the world. It would be nearly impossible to explore all there is to offer in this wine region of South Africa, but you could start with the beautiful Cape Dutch village of Stellenbosch, which at over 300-years old, is the oldest town in the country.
Travel tip: There’s no shortage of festivals in Cape Winelands. With several regions to visit, you can try your hand at grape picking and stomping during the Robertson Hands-on Harvest Festival, ride tractors in the vineyards at the Grande Provence Harvest Festival or experience the country’s oldest and most prestigious wine and lifestyle festival in Stellenbosch.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Nederburg Wines, Boekenhoutskloof Winery, Jordan Wine Estate, or Hidden Valley Wines
Barossa Valley, just northeast of Adelaide, delivers some of the most flavorful wines not just in Australia, but worldwide. Shiraz, in particular, is a local specialty and notorious for its jammy flavor. However, Barossa is not just known for its wine. The area was settled by Silesian immigrants who left the German-Polish border in the 1840s to escape religious persecution. Note the bluestone architecture, Lutheran churches, and British influence that give this wine region a specific charm you can’t find anywhere else in Australia. You can explore more than 150 wineries and 80 cellar doors, eat your way through gourmet food and find both quaint and luxury accommodation.
Travel tip: The Barossa Valley has an emergent foodie scene known for its true farm to table restaurants and award-winning chefs, cafes and cheese factories. An event well worth catching is the biennial Barossa Vintage Festival, a week-long event held beginning on Easter Monday.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Yalumba Winery on the route from Nuriootpa to Eden Valley and Seppeltsfield Winery.
5. La Rioja
Rioja reds have been a Spanish signature for centuries. This region, in northern Spain, is known for its local wine industry, sleepy villages and a wide variety of full-bodied wines making it an intriguing destination for wine lovers. Here, local wineries are referred to as bodegas and range from small, traditional cellars to major producers. Expect to taste a wide range of Tempranillos, immerse yourself in the local culture, explore medieval villages and eat your way through tapas bars and Basque restaurants.
Travel tip: September is also time for the San Sebastián Film Festival, a glittering event with the stars and all the latest cinematic hits.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Lopez de Heredia and Bodegas Baigorri
Mendoza, South America’s largest wine growing country, is most commonly known for Malbec, but its diverse geography and microclimates allow the region to produce champion Cabernet Sauvignon, Torrontes and even and simple vino patero (foot-pressed wine). Mendoza’s vast landscape means there’s room for everyone. Visitors can experience everything from luxury accommodation to local wineries, B&Bs, scenic vineyards and even garagistas—garage winemakers. Like any wine region, some of the best times to visit are during planting to harvest, but those who wish to experience the Andean winter can chase the snow at nearby ski resorts.
Travel tip: Experience The Grape Harvest, also known as the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, the most popular festival in Mendoza and the country. This celebration of wine culture dates back to the 17th century and attracts tourist from all around the world. The harvest celebration occurs annually on the first weekend in March.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Familia Zuccardi in Maipú, Bodega Carmelo Patti in Lujian de Cuyo, Bodegas Lopez in Maipu, or Bodegas Salentein.
7. Sonoma County
About an hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma County neighbors the infamous Napa Valley, and is home to more than 400 wineries. The region’s diverse soils give both wine connoisseurs and beginners the option to taste several varieties while sitting at a picnic table near the winemaker’s home, explore the cellars of an aging cave or experience a private tasting. Sonoma County isn’t only known for its wine, it’s also home to more than 50 nature parks with miles of hiking and biking trails. It boasts a wide variety of organic produce and sustainable farming, festivals, charming towns and friendly people.
Travel tip: Californians love their festivals, and there’s certainly no shortage in Sonoma County. Plan your visit around the Sonoma Harvest and Music Festival at the end of September, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, BBQ competitions or Independence Day celebrations.
Wine-worth tasting stops: Buena Vista Winery, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Benzinger Family Winery or the Kunde Family Winery.
Situated in the northwest part of Italy, Piedmont shares borders with France and Switzerland and is considered one of the top wine regions in the country where travelers can spend time honing their Italian wine skills. The region boasts success in cultivating its own indigenous wine varieties in addition to international grapes. If the world-class Barolos and Barbarescos produced in Piedmont weren’t reason enough to tour its routes, you might also consider the high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, luxurious hotels, sweeping vistas of the Alps and, of course, its old-world charm.
Travel tip: Connoisseurs of fine food and wine might consider visiting in the fall when white truffles make their coveted appearance in local markets and restaurants. Grape harvests, beginning in September, can be an ideal time to visit winemakers, who have more time than usual to let visitors taste their vintages.
Wine-worthy tasting stops: Winemaker, Paolo Manzone who is known for his outstanding Barolo wines and runs the small B&B, Cascina Meriame, Fratelli Barale, Cantina del Glicine or Produttori del Barbaresco.
Since peak season or harvest time offers some of the best wine celebrations out there, summer is a choice time to sit down and plan a road trip through wine country. Note that many wineries and vineyards require reservations ahead of time and tasting stops are often spread out, so planning ahead is essential to a successful experience. It’s best to choose no more than two to four wineries to visit per day and always keep in mind a designated driver!
Ready to hit the wine country?
Click now and find the perfect car for your next road trip from San Francisco!