You can take some of the most lavish, expensive wine tours in the world in the Napa Valley, where wines are all about heritage, taste and sophistication.
These days, though, even the snootiest oenophile can find a worthy wine tasting in places far from California. And the same goes for the Napa-style custom of wine tours. Travelers in the South or Southeast have lots of pleasurable wine tours to choose from, including self-guided forays, touristy excursions and exclusive itineraries presided over by the wine elite.
Georgia, Tennessee and Texas are just a few of the markets that have come into their own in recent decades and have the wine trails to prove it. While you won't be inundated with award-winners on a few of these tours, you can still find numerous high-ranked wines and others that are fun to sample. The vintners are typically small, but accessible, and it's exciting to see newer wineries just starting to make their mark.
For a taste of fine wine tours nowhere near Napa, consider these five:
Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee
All hail Appalachian winemakers. Five Tennessee wineries (and a distillery!) along 12 miles near the Great Smoky Mountains have banded together to present a free, self-guided tour. Each of the wineries is open all week for free tastings. They include Hillside Winery and Apple Barn Winery in Sevierville, Mountain Valley Winery and Mill Bridge Winery in Pigeon Forge and Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery and Sugarland Cellars in Gatlinburg. Plus, there's no law against catching Dollywood as part of your visit. And don't miss the Muscadine Spumante from Hillside Winery in Sevierville, which recently won the Governor's Cup at Wines of the South.
Free or nominal charge tastings
A scenic drive through the Dahlonega mountains sets the tone for sampling wines from "the Heart of Georgia Wine Country." It's the grapes that make the difference: The growing conditions and mountain elevations are ideal for European, French hybrid and American wine grapes. The trail makes a great day trip from Atlanta, with a driving time of a little over an hour and plenty of chances to meet winemakers and sample their labors of love. Stops include Cavender Creek Vineyards & Winery, Frogtown Cellars, Montaluce Winery & Estates, Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery and Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery.
Starting at noon Friday, March 16 through 5 p.m. Sunday, March 25, 2018 - 5 p.m.
This annual shebang is a great way to visit lots of wineries and sample a few wine and food pairings, enjoy live music or other mini-wine tasting events. The Winegrowers Association of Georgia sponsors and Northeast Georgia plays host. Travelers pay at the first winery visited and then can enjoy any or all of the other participating winery offerings: Each place does its own format, along with filling up those "passport glasses" that commemorate each year's event. Participants range from Cartecay Vineyards in Ellijay apple country to Fainting Goat Vineyards in Jasper, with dozens of other options around and about Northeast Georgia, all listed on the event website.
Austin to Fredericksburg and Lampasas to New Braunfels and other points in between
April 6-22, 2018
Individuals $45, couples $75
Who says you have to be in California for a lavish wine country experience? The Texas Hill Country's annual wine trail celebrates the blooming wildflowers along with a full 17 days of sipping award-winning wines. Each ticket includes a tasting passport for each featured winery (limit four per day). A small sampling of participating wineries includes Lost Draw Cellars, Messina Hof Hill Country, Narrow Path Winery and Old Man Scary Cellars.
Johnson City, Hye and Stonewall Texas
Tasting fees vary
An hour-long sashay that runs about 44 miles, this is a lovely way to enjoy part of Texas Hill wine country. Each place has its own personality and style of winemaking, even though the vintners are all neighbors. Enjoy escorting yourselves to Texas Hills Vineyard, Lewis Wines, Narrow Path Winery and seven others.