As industry experts advised in our “Wine Country Tips” travel piece earlier this year, it’s not smart to plan a wine tasting tour where each day is packed with back-to-back tastings. It wears out the palate…or worse. Three wineries per day is a good maximum number for the amateur wine aficionado. And what should you do with the rest of the time? More than dining and napping, if you choose.
From film festivals to art museums and architectural districts, the wine regions in this story are on the map as cultural hot spots as well. Belly up to the tasting bar, certainly…but then, hit a theater, an art walk or an open-air festival. Many will even let you go glass-in-hand.
By Lena Katz
Photo Credit: Gerard Bertrand/Chateau L’Hospitalet
Domaine Cigalus, Sud de France
Possibly the least intimidating wine region in France, the Languedoc-Roussillon is sunny, easygoing, and just a short drive away from the French Riviera. People in the local wine industry refer to it as “the New World of France” because the rules of winemaking are much more progressive than in Bordeaux or Burgundy, and the winemakers more adventurous and affordable.
Photo Credit: Gerard Bertrand USA
Earth Wind & Fire at Jazz Festival at L’Hospitalet
The quasi-official spokesperson for the region is one Gerard Bertrand—former rugby captain, legendary host, and champion of “Art de Vivre.” In addition to producing 1.2 million cases of wine this year (from his own seven estates plus the fruit of local co-ops), he acts as something of a cultural minister—or the coolest neighbor in the world, depending on your proximity. Annual events such as the summertime Jazz Festival at L’Hospitalet and spring art festival draw thousands of attendees including almost the entire population of nearby towns, who mingle comfortably with Parisian intellectuals and curious travelers from North America and Australia.
Photo Credit: Alain Machelidon
Art de Vivre in the Languedoc
Bertrand’s flagship estate Chateau L’Hospitalet houses numerous small, colorful artisan’s workshops clustered around the hotel outbuildings—with vineyards surrounding it all, providing hotel guests and resident artists alike with a wine country embrace. Art events like the outdoor exhibit pictured take full advantage of the region’s perfect climate.
Photo Credit: Gerard Bertrand/Chateau L’Hospitalet
Dancers at Festival del Sole
Most of the available information on Napa makes it seem as though the region is entirely covered in high-priced vines, pricey lodgings and glossy restaurants. But because Crush season only comes once a year—and also because the locals need something besides Cabernet to occupy their minds—Napa has an ever-more-robust arts and culture calendar. Annual events include the Napa Valley Open Studios (in session the weekend of Sept 29, 2012), 10-day Festival del Sole in July, Napa Valley Arts in April, and the upcoming Napa Valley Film Festival.
Photo Credit: Festival del Sole
Napa Valley Film Festival Screening at Opera House
Though at only two years old it’s a relative upstart, the NVFF was mentioned in the September 28, 2012 edition of Entertainment Weekly, causing triumphant shouts to ring out around the Valley. It’s impossible to count the wineries that offer their own individual culture programs. The Long Meadow Ranch Summer Concert Series, proprietor-led art tours at HALL, and art shows at Markham Vineyards are among the top 1% of regularly occurring events.
Photo Credit: Napa Valley Film Festival
Welcome to Beacon Community Association
If New York City is a frenetic hub of creativity and commerce, the nearby Hudson Valley is a bucolic haven for creative souls who prefer dinner parties to nightclub openings, and art walks to red carpet premieres. Home to Woodstock Byrdcliffe Arts Colony (the oldest continuing artists’ colony in the United States), the Hudson Valley also encompasses the burgeoning arts communities of Peekskill and Orange County, as well as Beacon Artist Association of Dutchess County. There are 10 communities in all, and many art collectives and performance groups come together under the umbrella group Art Along the Hudson. On the wine side, there are more than 25 wineries in the region, including 11 on the Shawangunk Wine Trail that runs through Woodstock Byrdcliffe.
Photo Credit: BACA
Balloon Ascent at Highland Hudson Fest
Most of the communities host “open studio” weekends in September and October. Columbus Day Weekend this year sees Celebration of the Arts in New Paltz, with 100+ participating artists, and the highly innovative O+ Festival in Kingston. The latter is a barter-based art festival where medical, dental or other wellness services professionals can offer their services in exchange for artworks. Wine Festival at Bethel Woods and Highland Hudson Fest run the same weekend. In total, more than 60 culinary events are scheduled during the 2012 harvest season (September 8-November 18).
Photo Credit: Highland Hudson Fest
Porto, Cultural Hub of the Douro Valley
The golden-green valleys and steep mountain vistas of Portugal slip by quietly, glimpsed through a bus window, if you’re taking a typical wine tour. The roads are twisty, the wineries can be remote, and the villages often difficult to reach in a larger vehicle. In lesser-known regions, even towns don’t offer much to do beyond sipping a beverage and contemplating some romantically crumbling Medieval ruin in the distance. But in the famous port-producing Douro Valley region, the bustling hub city of Porto isn’t just a great “base camp” for wine tourists, but also an up-and-coming cultural destination.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Felipe Avila de Costa
Midnight in Douro at Douro Film Harvest
Annual Porto cultural events include Fantasporto—the Porto International Film Festival, held in February-March; and Serralves em Festa, a massive 3-day contemporary art festival held in June. Further afield, the Alto Douro region now has its own Douro Film Harvest that runs in September to coincide with the grape harvest.
Photo Credit: Douro Film Harvest