When it comes to wine I will be the first to admit that my knowledge is limited and my palate not as refined as some would hope. I don’t discriminate between the box or the bottle, just the hangover. After having joined the Biltmore Wine Club though I discovered that I am a red kind of gal (but I will never turn down a chilled white one a summer day, especially if it isn’t too sweet!). Lately, I’ve been looking at unique wine destinations in the United States so I can start planning a trip for Tim and me to take for our five-year anniversary later this year. I considered Napa and the PNW but I decided to look into those off the beaten path and was really surprised with how many wine regions there are within the US!
Off Beat U.S Wine Regions
When it comes to North American wines, California’s Napa Valley is king. But over the years, more wine regions are popping up that are giving the Valley a run for its money. It seems that all over the continent, vineyards are popping up. And in those areas where the climate won’t work with grape growers, winemakers have taken to buying grapes from other areas but still making the wine in their home states. Biltmore Estate’s Winery, for example, is a hybrid of the traditional winemaking model and the new chapter of winemaking – the Estate uses grapes grown on the property but also purchases grapes from other growers to sustain its demand.
As I started to look into where we should go for our trip, I realized half my notes were the outline of a blog post. So, here we are. And I’ve narrowed it down to three amazing and unique wine destinations in the U.S.
Mesilla Valley , New Mexico
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to wine, I never considered New Mexico to be a hotspot which is why it is on our list of unique wine destinations. Everything about what comes to mind when I hear the state is the complete opposite of what I know wine regions to be. I don’t think of rolling hills with dew kissed greenery, I think hot, arid heat. Truth is, New Mexico is actually one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the United States!
While Spanish explorers traveled El Camino Real (the Royal Road in Spanish) from Mexico City to San Juan Pueblo, they planted grape seeds in the fertile Mesilla Valley. Though the landscape today looks much different – the historic highway weaves its way through vast pecan orchards and rich farmland peppered among horse country – the area is still growing some fine grapes!
The Las Cruces Wine Trail is a great way to check out the wine scene in the Mesilla Valley! It boasts numerous wineries and tasting rooms where you can try award-winning wines made from the region’s grapes and tour the wineries. Here are a few of the Mesilla Valley Wineries worth visiting.
Mesilla Valley Wineries
Located near the historic Alameda District this winery is locally-owned and family operated.
Fort Seldon Winery
Conveniently located near the historic Fort Selden ruins, the winery has both a vineyard and tasting room.
Heart of the Desert Winery
Located right off the Historic Mesilla Plaza, the winery features wine produced at the Eagle Ranch Winery including a whimsical pistachio wine.
La Vina Winery
This winery is home to New Mexico’s oldest wine festival! Family owned and operated, the winery is also the oldest in New Mexico so it is perfect for wine-loving history buffs.
Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery
A family-owned winery that has an amazing view of the Organ Mountains! They offer a vast selection of wines made and aged on-site too.
Sombra Antigua Winery
Sombra Antigua was built among the vines of New Mexico’s oldest commercial vineyard and is another family-owned winery. It offers a variety of wines and live entertainment.
But don’t think that New Mexico won’t have more for you to explore! The state is home to a number of National Parks, State Parks, and has history and culture that fascinate. There is so much to do in New Mexico, wine tasting is just one of the options!
Yadkin Valley, North Carolina
My first encounter with Carolina wines happened by complete accident. Tim and I decided to spend a whole day exploring the Biltmore Estate and even though I had done a lot of research about the grounds, I didn’t really spend too much time looking into the winery until we got there. We didn’t even step foot in the winery until our next visit! But Biltmore Estate put Caroline wines on the map for me which lead me to start researching the state’s Yadkin Valley. With more than 70 wineries the region has something for everyone and is one of my favorite unique wine destinations. Truth is, North Carolina isn’t really new to the wine scene but many forget about it which is why we’ve included it in our list of unique wine destinations.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just west of Winston-Salem, the Yadkin Valley was a key tobacco-growing region. As tobacco growing in the area declined many farmers turned their attention to winemaking. And even though it is the native grape, muscadine wine isn’t all you’ll find! Though early attempts to grow European wine grapes had mixed success (even Thomas Jefferson tried at Monticello in Virginia) research and dedication over the past two to three decades has helped adapt these grapes to regions climate and soil.
There are a number of other things to do near the wine trails too so chances are you’ll find more than just great wine! Adorable bed and breakfasts, boutique shops, and warm welcoming towns are peppered along the winding Yadkin River and the valley. As you learn about wine making and each wineries history, you’ll see first hand why this region is gaining a reputation for its award-winning wines.
With a number of special events throughout the year you’ll want to keep an eye out for the Pumpkin Festivals and Moonshine Rallies! There is so much to see too, that there is something for everyone in the family – hang gliding, camping, parachuting, fishing, horseback riding, canoeing, country fairs, and antiquing. And each winery is unique with its own personality. There are large wine producers as well as small family owned operations, from urban storefronts to llama surrounded farms, each one has something different to offer visitors.
Yadkin Valley Wine Trails
The soul of Yadkin Valley Wine Country is Elkin, North Carolina. And while you don’t have to spend all your time there exploring, it is certainly worth a visit. So make sure you set aside some time to pass through town or grab lunch before you enjoy wine tastings, take in spectacular views and behind-the-scenes tours and explore one of the regions four wine trails. To fully enjoy the wine region, set aside a weekend to explore each of the wine trails!
Swan Creek Wine Trail
Made up for six wineries this trail has the closest vineyards in proximity to each other within the state. All are family owned and an easy drive to one another.
- Laurel Gray Vineyards
- Raffaldini Vineyards
- Dobbins Creek Vineyards
- Piccione Vineyards
- Shadow Springs Vineyard
- Windsor Run Cellars
Yadkin River Wine Trail
The five wineries of the Yadkin River Wine Trail are perfect for a day trip. Check their events calendar for fun entertainment options!
- RagApple Lassie Vineyards
- Sanders Ridge Vineyard & Winery
- Cellar 4201 Vineyard
- Divine Llama Vineyards
- Flint Hill Vineyards
Shallow Ford Wine Trail
The vineyards of the Shallow Ford Wine Trail are all in the heart of the Yadkin Valley. They are a short drive from Winston-Salem and only minutes apart making it an excellent day trip option.
- Brandon Hills Vineyard
- Hanover Park Vineyard
- Medaloni Cellars and Vineyards
- Misty Creek Farm & Vineyards
Southern Gateway Wine Trail
The Southern Gateway Wine Trail is just 15 miles or so of driving and features world-class wines and breathtaking wine country scenery. This drive is in the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, or AVA, which was established in 2003!
Finger Lakes Wine Country, New York
The Finger Lakes region of New York is a romantically beautiful part of the country that is truly an unknown gem. It is home to three distinct wine trails and while that is why it is on our radar, it isn’t why it made the list. Finger Lakes Wine Country is on our list of unique wine regions because it is the whole package. Think Gilmore Girls meets a good book and a decadent weekend away, so we’re warning you now – if you go you will fall in love.
Finger Lakes Wine Country features three distinct wine trails that each offer visitors the opportunity to explore wine country and experience exciting wine and food events through out the year. From chocolate to cheese and from harvest to holiday, there is an event so be sure to check to see what is happening when you plan your visit.
There really is something for everyone in this part of New York! For those who appreciate the arts, taking a glassmaking workshop is a great way to spend some time at the Corning Museum of Glass. While you’re in Corning, don’t forget to visit The Rockwell Museum with a collection that is all about the American Experience. If you find yourself in Elmira stop by the Arnot Art Museum to see its Hudson River School paintings and works by contemporary realists.
If the great outdoor are more you’re style, the Finger Lakes National Forest won’t disappoint. Tanglewood Nature Center offers exhibits, education programs, and more than 10 miles of trails can be found just 10 minutes from downtown Elmira. Those looking to chase waterfalls can have their choice of 19 at Watkins Glen State Park so don’t forget the your hiking boots when you’re packing!
And I know the foodies and wine lovers will get their fill on the wine trails but the options don’t just stop there! There are a number of great restaurant options in Finger Lakes Wine Country! In warmer months farmers markets pop up in painting the towns with fresh produce and handmade goods. If you have extra time during your visit the Chocolate Trail with 30-some stops in Corning’s Gaffer District and the 15-creamery Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance are also worth exploring!
So whether you are looking for a weekend getaway with your partner, planning a girls trip, or just looking to get your wine on you are sure to have fun! Each of these unique wine destinations has its own personality and can offer you some great memories. Really, all you’ve got to ask yourself is “wine not?”