If this is not your time to tour the scenic wine regions of Italy or France, why not head for a winery in one of the dozens of wine regions in the United States? Domestic vineyards from New England to California produce globally award-winning wines.
Vineyards offer tastes of not only savory grapes but also their environments. Whether on the lush banks of the Potomac River in Virginia or amidst Midwestern charm in Iowa, wineries proudly call their tours “educainment,” offering guests regional lore and bringing their surroundings to the tasting table.
With a sweeping view of the northern Georgia foothills, the 100-acre Chateau Elan winery and resort includes a 300-room hotel, a spa, a golf course and seven restaurants.
“We offer tastings and tours that showcase our history, the aging of grapes and the winemaking process, and even an explanation of different kinds of wines. Groups can also arrange to be guided by a winemaker on weekends,” said Paul Deboer, marketing coordinator.
Although chardonnay, merlot, cabernet and Riesling are favorites, the winery also specializes in four wines made from the regional muscadine grape. “It’s a sweeter grape and produces a sweeter wine,” said Deboer.
Groups can learn about and get a taste of the resort’s culinary expertise at a Saturday cooking demonstration presented by one of its professional chefs in its culinary studio.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Center
In California’s Sonoma County, the 100-acre Kendall-Jackson Wine Center is often the first stop for wine connoisseurs not only because of its widely acclaimed wines but because of its convenient location for motorcoaches near Highway 101, according to Nancy Woods, tasting room manager.
Kendall-Jackson draws on the grapes from the estate’s 14,000 acres, including properties on mountains and ridges in California’s cool coastal regions. Award-winners include the floral Alisos Hills Viognier and two styles of chardonnay.
The center’s tasting room has recently been redecorated, and the Culinary Gardens offer a range of produce, herbs, fruits and flowers that inspire food and wine pairings.
“Our philosophy is, just as great wine comes from great vineyards, great food comes from great gardens. We offer a 20-minute tour of this constantly changing sensual delight,” said Woods.
Groups will want to take advantage of the center’s Wine and Food Pairing, an experience that pairs the winery’s reserve wines with seasonal recipes created by its executive chef. In this seated experience, participants enjoy a plate of delectable, original recipes developed specifically to pair with the day’s featured wines.
Stone Hill Winery
Stone Hill Winery is located in a 150-year-old, three-story, Federal-style building. “We’re called Stone Hill for a reason; it is so picturesque,” said Lucinda Huskey, public relations manager for the winery. “Our cellars, also 150 years old, took 22 years to be carved by hand out of the side of a mountain. There are none like them in the U.S.”
Many of the wines are award-winning, from robust to dry to sweet. “Our pink Catawba is one of our best-selling wines,” said Huskey.
More bestsellers are the winery’s dry red Norton wines, made from the official state grape of Missouri. Groups can also enjoy a German beer with some German cuisine at the winery’s restaurant or choose to have a picnic in its glass-enclosed conservatory.
Huskey highly recommends arranging a tour with the winery’s group coordinator. “We do customized tours, and we show off all the sights in Hermann, including an old church and school, and a new art studio,” she said. “We have wonderful performers, who will also participate at lunch or on the motorcoach.”
Pleasant Valley Wine Company
Hammondsport, New York
Bank groups will get a history lesson at the Pleasant Valley Wine Co., also known as the Great Western Winery. Established in 1860, not only is it the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes region, but it displays the designation “U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1.”
While touring the eight stone buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and caves carved deep into the valley’s hillside, groups see historic artifacts covering 140 years of winemaking and grape growing, and delight at the working model of the Bath and Hammondsport Railroad, the Champagne Trail, detailed with 168 feet of track and 28 switches.
And there is the wine. Choose from white, red, blush, dessert and ice wines. Many group members, however, will want to take home that famous beverage that greeted them at weddings, childbirths and many happy occasions: the award-winning Great Western champagne.
o the Potomac River with a view of Sugar Loaf Mountain, Tarara Winery is often a calm respite for those in nearby Washington, D.C.
“We are a destination winery with a 10-acre lake. We also have a summer concert series on Saturday nights,” said Heather Akers, director of sales.
Groups can choose to have their wine tasting in the main building or in an outdoor pavilion. “There are lots of venues to choose from, and our experts will go anywhere you want,” Akers said.
Tours are available every day of the week, and they include a stroll through the 6,000-square-foot Winemakers Cave, where the cool temperatures and high humidity guarantee “happy wines.”
“Our flagship red wine is Meritage, a Bordeaux blend, and our flagship white wine is Viognier, named for the grape. We do not focus on sweet wines here,” said Akers.
Wine connoisseurs know that in recent times, some of the best wines are bottled without a cork. Akers explained, “This growing trend is for a variety of reasons, including the fact that cork bits tend to contaminate the wine once the bottle is opened. At Tarara Winery, we have gone to 100 percent screw caps.”
Twenty varieties of wine and even beer are produced on the 125 acres of vineyards at Debonne, the largest estate winery in Ohio.
“As well as a winery, we are an entertainment facility,” said Tony Debevc, owner. “Groups like to come on Friday evenings, Saturday or Sundays when we have classical music or jazz performers in our amphitheater.”
Enjoy a personal tour and tasting at the winery and microbrewery, and if time allows, arrange for a tour of the vineyards. “This is a full-production facility, from harvesting to the end result. We have 20 different varieties,” said Debevc.
While enjoying the entertainment at the chaletlike property, visitors can nibble on grilled brats, artichoke dips and light snacks.
Little Compton, Rhode Island
The 120-acre Sakonnet Vineyard and farm is the oldest wine vineyard in New England.
“Our harvest is in October, later than some, because of our cooler temperatures. Our microclimate and soil conditions closely resemble some of the great wine regions of the world, including northern France,” said owner Susan Samson.
Samson described the estate as very New England. “When groups take a tour of our vineyard, they experience not only a tour of the vines but sights that are classic, like the rolling hills and stone walls.
“In addition, our tours are very educational,” she said. “From the harvest to bottling, this is a working winery, and we like the public to know why our wine is so special.”
Four wines are made from the vineyard’s signature Vidal grape. Samson added that many awards are also won from the Gewürztraminer grape.
Group members may want to take home a bottle of Sakonnet’s Cock of the Walk Red, a blend of three of the winery’s best handcrafted varieties that carries the picture of the state bird, the Rhode Island Rooster, on its bottle.