5 wine tours a lot closer to home than Napa

Updated Aug 30, 2018
  • By Rose Kennedy
  • For the AJC.com

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.

»RELATED: Georgia wine country just got a big boost with a new designation

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:

Rocky Top Wine Trail

Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Free

All hail Appalachian winemakers. Five Tennessee wineries  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 Vineyards and Mill Bridge Winery in Pigeon Forge 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 won the  2017 Governor's Cup at Wines of the South.

Frogtown Vineyards Photo: Contributed by Frogtown Vineyards

Dahlonega Wine Trail

Dahlonega, Georgia

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 terroir and higher altitudes 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.

Texas Hill Country Christmas Wine Affair

Austin to Fredericksburg and Lampasas to New Braunfels and other points in between

Nov. 30-Dec. 16, 2018

Tickets and winery details available October 18

Who says you have to be in California for a lavish wine country experience? The Texas Hill Country's wine trail celebrates the season 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). Wine grapes have been grown in what is now Texas for 400 years and check out some of these names: Lost Draw Cellars, Messina Hof Hill Country, Narrow Path Winery and Old Man Scary Cellars.

The Driftwood Estate winery in Texas Hill Country is just one of dozens in the area with phenomenal scenery. Photo: Contributed by wayoutwestaustin.com/For the AJC.com

Texas Hill Country wine trail day trip

(Choose “Suggested Day Trips”)

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.

2019 Wine Highway Week

Northeast Georgia

Starting at noon Friday, March 22 through 5 p.m. Sunday, March 31, 2019.

$50

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 and receive a “Passport” 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 "collector’s glasses" that commemorate each year's event. The 2019 participants haven’t been announced yet but two dozen vineyards celebrated in 2018 ranging from Cartecay Vineyards in Ellijay apple country to Fainting Goat Vineyards in Jasper.