7 Top Wine Regions to Watch

Photo Courtesy of Wente Vineyards
Nearly everywhere we turn we find another great area to tour, taste, and stay! Here are our seven top regions to watch — and visit — in the summer and fall of 2011.

1. California’s El Dorado Wine Country
Beautiful El Dorado County has been producing excellent wines since the Gold Rush era. Today, it’s home to two appellations and the quaint gold mining towns of El Dorado, Fair Play, Coloma, and Placerville which all retain their historical charm. Placerville (formerly called Hangtown) is a great place to hang your hat. Spend a night in the historic Cary House Hotel on Main Street and stroll a narrow street lined with antique shops, galleries, and the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. The country roads surrounding Placerville are peppered with wineries. To the southeast, Miraflores Winery has magnificent gardens. To the north, there’s Apple Hill, planted to apples, grapes, Christmas trees, and more than two dozen wineries.

2. California’s Northern Sierra Wine Country
Just north of El Dorado County is Nevada County, a lesser known part of the Sierra Foothills, but not for long. Nevada City and Grass Valley are both towns well worth visiting. Grass Valley has a number of restored buildings including the famed Holbrooke Hotel, along with an impressive variety of shops and a few tasting rooms. You can sam-ple Lucchesi Vineyards & Winery at their tasting room in town, but we suggest you drive up the road to the winery. Lucchesi’s “View Forever” Vineyard is a sight you’ll remember forever. While you’re near Grass Valley, check out Empire Mine State Park where you can tour the cottage grounds, mine yard, and gardens.

3. Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula
There’s nothing quite like the rustic charm of Northern Michigan. Uniquely situated at the 45th parallel north between east and west Grand Traverse Bay, Old Mission Peninsula is an idyllic spot for touring and tasting. There are romantic bed and breakfasts, antique shops, local restaurants who source seasonal, locally grown foods like cherries, blueberries, pumpkins and fresh-caught fish. Pyatt Lake Nature area provides a hiking trail and two observation platforms overlooking the wetlands. Five wineries are waiting to be discovered here, including Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, which enjoys international acclaim. Old Mission Point Lighthouse is located, as its name suggests, at the northernmost tip of the Old Mission Peninsula. Be sure to take this wine trail all the way to the lighthouse. It’s one of Michigan’s most beautiful drives.

4. California’s San Francisco Bay
You don’t have to be surrounded by vineyards to enjoy wonderful wines. The city of San Francisco is home to oodles of boutique urban wineries, wine lounges, and wine tasting events. On the Nob Hill side of Union Square, Executive Hotel Vintage Court hosts a wine tasting for its guests from five to six each evening. Cellar 360, located in the old Woolen Mill Building, offers wine tastings, and wine and food seminars. Within less than a block from Moscone Convention Center, Press Club Wine Bar and Lounge offers a menu of small seasonal plates paired with local wines. In May, Press Club started featuring a select group of wines from visiting vintners each month. Meet the vintners themselves on Thursday evenings.

5. California’s Contra Costa County
Named for its location on the “opposite coast” from San Francisco and Marin County, Contra Costa County has grown and produced magnificent wines for more than 100 years. Just last year, Contra Costa wineries won 20 medals at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Many wineries here offer wine tasting by appointment only, so be sure to call or check websites before you go. For picnic grounds, your best bets are Viano Vineyards in Martinez, and Hannah Nicole Vineyards & Winery in Brentwood. While you’re at Hannah Nicole, ask about the winery’s Sounds of Summer Concert Series that runs from May through September. Mount Diablo, which provides riveting scenery at Hannah Nicole, has a great state park for hiking and exploring by bike.

6. California’s Livermore Valley
Located less than an hour east of downtown San Francisco, Livermore Valley is a picturesque wine trail and, with nearly 50 wineries in a very concentrated area, it’s a fuel-conscious wine tourer’s dream! In one day, you can easily visit a small, family-owned winery, followed by a leading pioneer, like Wente Vineyards. The centuryold stone winery building at Murrieta’s Well has aged magnificently. Wander around inside and get a feeling for the area’s history. When you want to take a nature break, spend some time at Lake Del Valle State Park. Also, be sure to spend some time in the charming town of Livermore, which has recently undergone a renovation to honor its historic past.

7. California’s Malibu
Nestled in the hidden canyons, grassy meadows, and hillsides of Malibu lie the prolific vineyards of Malibu wine country. This often comes as a surprise to those who have never strayed beyond the beach, unless they’ve found their way into the tasting room of Rosenthal-The Malibu Estate, located right on Pacific Coast Highway. But when you drive along Kanan Road and see the rolling hills lined with vines gently caressed by coastal fog, you’ll realize you’re on to something good. Visit Cornell, the laid-back hollow graced with old sycamores, The Old Place Restaurant, and Cornell Winery’s tasting room. Buy a bottle of your favorite find-of-the-day and open it at a spot on a hill, or the beach at sunset, to toast this great wine trail discovery.

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