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Think “wine-country getaway” and Napa Valley may auto-populate in your vacation-planning imagination. But, the wine world is a big one, full of vineyards beyond Napa and humble tasting rooms hiding out in lesser-known, more-affordable destinations.
Santa Rosa, California
Also in Northern California, Napa’s next-door neighbor Sonoma County is home to 425 wineries, a majority of which are family-owned. Average nightly rates at hotels in Sonoma County are under $200, compared to $400 in Napa County. Tasting rooms are less expensive, too, with some wineries even offering free tastings.
For a special treat in Santa Rosa, head to the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Garden. The estate offers a decadent alternative to wine and cheese: The wine and chocolate pairing ($25 per person) features five dessert wines. There’s also a five-course food and wine pairing ($55 per person).
New to wine tasting? Arm yourself with a wine-tasting aroma wheel and sharpen your senses even further with a visit to Kendall-Jackson’s sensory gardens, which are designed to help you grow your wine vocabulary and distinguish between aromas. The pinot noir garden, for example, is bursting with raspberries, blueberries, cherries and violets. How does a second career as a sommelier sound?
Located in the northern part of Sonoma County, Healdsburg is a relaxed wine destination that’s known for its zinfandels, pinot noirs and chardonnays. The city’s roots as a farming community have given way to a remarkable yet unpretentious culinary scene. While there, the Jordan Vineyard and Winery is a must-visit and has a calendar full of special events including hikes in the vineyards, picnics and interactive farm-to-table lunches.
Fredericksburg, which is in the heart of Texas hill country, has small-town charm with a German twist. For an adorable lodging experience, book a stay in one of Fredericksburg’s “Sunday homes” for around $145 a night. The small, restored cottages were constructed by German settlers in the mid-1800s who were working farms but needed a place to stay when they came into town for church. Wineries here run the gamut from saloon-style to swanky castles.
Paso Robles, California
Paso Robles boasts more than 200 wineries and is located in San Luis Obispo — or “SLO Cal” as locals lovingly call it as a nod to the slow, laid-back lifestyle here. Five dozen grape varietals grow in this central California coastal region, so you can appease your crowd of wine-drinking friends even if it runs the gamut from cabernet sauvignon lovers to zinfandel zealots. Nearby beaches and hiking trails are a low-cost way to round out a weekend getaway.
Yakima Valley, Washington
You may think of Washington state as wet, lush and green. But, the east side of the state is more dry and arid — and spoiled with 300 days of sunshine a year, making it an ideal location to grow hops for beer and grapes for wine. Plus, Yakima Valley is on the same latitude as some of the great French wine-growing regions. In all, the valley is home to more than 120 wineries. If you fall in love with a particular wine, Alaska Airlines will let you take a box of wine home at no charge via their Taste and Tote perk.
Lake Chelan Wine Valley, Washington
Tucked in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, the Lake Chelan Wine Valley is another stellar affordable wine destination in the Pacific Northwest. Choose this region to host your wine getaway, and you can enjoy a unique wine-tasting excursion that includes electric bikes, seaplanes or paddleboarding. Summer is the high season here, but if you plan a trip in the fall, winter or spring, you can find shoulder-season rates at hotels under $200, according to the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce. Plus, there are off-season festivals for wine lovers, including Fall Barrel Tasting in November, Winterfest in January and Red Wine and Chocolate in February.
Combine viticulture and history on a wine trip to the Monticello Wine Trail. Thirty-five wineries, all within close proximity of Charlottesville, Virginia, are inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s vision of grape growing and winemaking. Some standouts on the trail include Blenheim, which is owned by musician Dave Matthews, and Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards, which offers panoramic vineyard views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tasting fees at many of the wineries are under $10 and room rates at The Clifton, a beautifully restored boutique hotel with clawfoot soaking tubs and an Instagram-ready pool, start at just $150 a night.
Santa Ynez Valley, California
Two hours north of Los Angeles, the vineyard-studded hills of Santa Ynez boast 120 wineries with varietals that include chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and more. A half dozen communities make up this wine valley, each with their own distinct personalities, from arty Los Olivos to the vintage western town of Los Alamos that dials up Wild West vibes. The Skyview Los Alamos (rates start at $179), which is perched atop a hill overlooking downtown Los Alamos, is a 1950s-era hotel that got a fab makeover. It now boasts a retro pool that hosts rosé pool parties with wine sourced from the hotel’s own vineyard.
Fairfield County, Ohio
The wineries in Fairfield County, which is just outside of Columbus, range from downtown to rural to lakeside. At 1201 Wine, owner Andy Rahe is a full-time artist and art teacher helping to level up the paint-and-sip experiences. Overlooking a lake, Hidden Lakes Winery allows for waterfront tastings. And at Rockside Winery and Vineyards, you can taste local wines as well as Ohio beers and whiskey. Wine tasters here can find hotel rooms and bed-and-breakfast lodges for around $100 a night.
Now, who is ready to be whisked away for an unforgettable wine vacation?