Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Known for Wineries

Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia

Thomas Jefferson deemed wine a “necessary of life.” He tried seven times, unsuccessfully, to grow European grapevines at Monticello, his plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia. But others have succeeded where he did not, and the area’s region today boasts about 30 wineries within a 30-mile radius. The vintners and vineyards formed the Monticello Wine Trail, named after Jefferson’s historic estate.

“It’s truly admirable what these folks are doing out there,” said Brigitte Bélanger-Warner, director of sales and marketing for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’re a strong community. They stand together and cooperate and learn from each other.”

Albemarle County’s wine industry got its start in the late ’70s and early ’80s with Barboursville Vineyards, Montdomaine and Oakencroft leading the way, and the wineries began opening tasting rooms in the late 1980s. Oakencroft now makes grape juice instead of wine.

“It was somewhat of a slow start, but in the last six to eight years, there’s really been a big expansion,” Bélanger-Warner said. The county’s first organic winery recently opened, she said.

Many of the wineries are small, family-owned operations, and the tasting rooms can be jam-packed during the fall and spring seasons. Larger groups may fare better in July and August, or in winter, when they could also arrange a meet-and-greet with a winemaker.

Several wineries can easily accommodate groups; King Family Vineyards has polo matches on summer weekends, and Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards serves lunch with a side of stunning views. Donald Trump’s Trump Winery has group space, and musician Dave Matthews and his family own Blenheim Vineyards, where the glass-floored upstairs tasting room gives guests a view of the winemaking below.


Walla Walla, Washington

It took only 10 years from planting the first grapevines in Walla Walla to being designated one of the Pacific Northwest’s first official wine regions.

Gary Figgins first planted grapevines on his family’s land in 1974, and he opened Leonetti Cellar in 1977. Woodward Canyon Winery followed in 1982, and L’Ecole No. 41 became the valley’s third commercial winery in 1983. The federal government designated the Walla Walla Valley an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1984.

Today, 40 years after the industry took root, Walla Walla boasts more than 120 registered wineries and more than 90 tasting rooms.

“In the past 12 years, there’s been this explosive growth,” said Ron Peck, executive director of Tourism Walla Walla. “A number of things have fallen in place; not only do we have this reputation as a place to make and enjoy wine, there’s a vibrancy here.”

Besides the area’s reputation for wine, Peck said the growth is due in part to the area’s community feel and distinctive character. In downtown, visitors will find more than 20 tasting rooms. At the Walla Walla Regional Airport, visitors will find another cluster of 15 or so wineries housed in World War II Army barracks.

The Walla Walla Valley is known for its merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon varietals, but the local industry is now trying its hand with malbec, cabernet franc and pinots, Peck said.

Because the AVA has such a variety of elevations, soil types and climates — annual rainfall ranges from seven inches on one end of the valley to 22 inches on the other — the region’s wines have seemingly endless manifestations.

“Even within the valley, you can have a pretty diverse grape type, and the same type of grape will come out differently” Peck said.


Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley is America’s most renowned wine region, but it could easily have become an offshoot of Silicon Valley, dotted with condos rather than lined with vines, said Clay Gregory, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. In 1968, it became America’s first agricultural preserve, a designation that voters renewed in 2008 to protect the valley’s vineyards through 2048.

People are often surprised to find out that Napa Valley, despite its big reputation, produces only a small amount of the state’s wine: less than 4 percent of California wine, Gregory said. That’s because the valley itself isn’t very big; it’s only about 35 miles long and three to five miles wide. But the people who go there have big goals, he said.

“It’s the kind of people who have been attracted here,” he said. “It’s people who want to do great things. We continue to attract those people, both on the wine side and on the culinary side.”

Visit Napa Valley launched a group sales effort about three years ago that has made many of the area wineries more interested in group business.

Two places that are good for groups represent both the very old and the very new. Cairdean Estates is a new wine-and-food village that features a winery and a tasting room, a mercantile, a restaurant, a bakery/deli, a terrace, an outdoor area with picnic tables and caves that go back into the mountain.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is housed in a castlelike stone manor that was built in the late 1880s. The school’s Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies is open to groups for workshops, such as chocolate and wine pairings, and the school will customize other programs, including wine and cooking classes.