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The Sweetest Wine Towns in the United States

By Ashlea Halpern

09.23.19

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The transporting seaside wine town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, can be easily explored from the nearby 500-acre vineyard resort Carmel Valley Ranch.

Courtesy of Carmel Valley Ranch

The transporting seaside wine town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, can be easily explored from the nearby 500-acre vineyard resort Carmel Valley Ranch.

These 10 small yet enchanting U.S. wine towns will surprise and delight you with their farm-to-table restaurants, shops and galleries, and cozy boutique inns—and probably have you shipping bottles home by the case, too.

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California may claim the most wineries (and largest production yield) in the country, but it’s hardly America’s only destination for oenophiles. States like Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, winery-packed Washginton and more are chipping away at the Golden State’s mantle, working hard to woo wine lovers to their grape-growing terroir. Even Idaho and Arizona are elbowing their way in on the wine connoisseur’s map, offering finely crafted pours in tasting rooms far removed from the bustle of the best-established wine regions. With these flourishing viticultural areas often come small wine town hubs that are begging to be explored, glass in hand—here are 10 of the very best of them.

Taste your way through Oregon’s North Willamette Valley while based in the small farming town of Carlton. Book a stylish stay at Abbey Road Farm, a B&B that sleeps guests in reimagined grain silos.

Carlton, Oregon

Nowhere in the county are there more tasting rooms per capita than in this North Willamette Valley farming town of 1,000 people. (Two dozen and counting!) Learn firsthand why so many visitors flip over the Roads End Pinot Noir at Carlton Cellars and how Chris James Cellars racked up two consecutive Best of Show awards for its 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve at First Taste Oregon. If time permits, drop by some other local favorites: Laurel Ridge Winery, Dominio IV, K&M Wines, Soter Vineyards, or Lemelson Vineyards. Taste a different kind of crushed fruit at Carlton’s sweet Republic of Jam store, order a wine-and-cheese pairing (with a side of live music) at the Horse Radish, or go the full-on white tablecloth route at upscale French restaurant Cuvée, whose kitchen is helmed by an Alsatian chef.

Where to Stay: Come nightfall, pass out in one of three converted grain silos at the Abbey Road Farm, a bed-and-breakfast on an 82-acre working farm with its own tasting room.

In Monterey County, the small town of Carmel-by-the-Sea spills over with 18 tasting rooms; base a stay at the nearby Carmel Valley Ranch for unparalleled views and service.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California


Surely you’ve heard of Napa and Sonoma, but the state of California is loaded with other destination-worthy wine regions begging for attention, too, from the Central Coast’s Paso Robles to Southern California’s Temecula Valley. Upscale Carmel-by-the-Sea (population: 3,897) in Monterey County is one such locale, a fairy-tale seaside town whose claims to fame include electing Clint Eastwood as mayor in the 1980s and being founded by the same family that now runs one of its premier vineyards (Galante). Here, 18 tasting rooms and some additional bottle shops are squeezed into one delightfully walkable square mile. Don’t miss Galante’s cabernet sauvignon or the award-winning chardonnay and pinot noir from the family-run Manzoni Cellars.

Where to Stay: To sleep, there is the historic L’Auberge Carmel, a 20-room, Euro-inspired hotel dating to 1929, or nearby Carmel Valley Ranch, a 500-acre vineyard resort.

Fredericksburg, Texas


Texas is the fifth largest viticultural area in the United States. While the greater Lubbock area grows 90 percent of the state’s grapes, the Hill Country American Viticultural Area (AVA) remains a favorite weekend getaway for folks in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Base a Hill Country stay in Fredericksburg (population: 11,369) for easy access to the steak- and seafood-heavy Cabernet Grill, named one of America’s top wine restaurants by Wine Enthusiast for its Texas-exclusive wine list prioritizing small producers and single varietals. Or swing by the tasting room of Messina Hof, the most awarded winery in Texas; head to Signor Vineyards for samples of its juicy 2015 tempranillo and buttery 2016 chardonnay; or go for a full-bodied Argentinean-style red at the boutique-y Santamaria Cellars. If you’re pressed for time, visit the three-in-one tasting room at 4.0 Cellars in nearby Stonewall, a 20-minute drive east, where you can enjoy pours from three farther-flung wineries (Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, and Brennan Vineyards in Comanche) under one roof.

Where to Stay: Lock in a sweetly rustic 19th-century cabin or spankin’-new cottage at Cotton Gin Village in Fredericksburg, a B&B-style property that’s kitted out with koi ponds, waterfalls, and fire pits.

Tiny Palisade, Colorado, offers more than 25 wineries, many of which are clustered along the scenic Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway.

Palisade, Colorado


Four hours west of Denver and only 20 minutes from Grand Junction Regional Airport, Palisade is home to just 2,686 people but more than 25 wineries (19 of which have tasting rooms). Drive or pedal the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway, stopping for snacks and selfies at orchards, lavender farms, and, of course, wineries. Of special note are the full-bodied bordeaux and rhône varietals aged in oak barrels at DeBeque Canyon Winery; charcuterie boards and wine-pairing dinners at Maison La Belle Vie Winery; and the vintage Benzes (owed to the proprietors’ passion for “restoration”) scattered around the 10-acre property of vino newcomer Restoration Vineyards, which opened last September.

Where to Stay: If you book a room at Spoke and Vine Motel, a very cool rehab of a 1950s motor court, they’ll hand you a free sample of local wine at check-in and lend you a cruiser bike for exploring nearby vineyards

Arizona may not scream wine country, but at the state’s southern fringes, near the town of Sonoita, wineries like Flying Leap are indeed turning out notable bottles.

Sonoita, Arizona


Hot as hot can be, Arizona still manages to eke out three notable wine regions: Verde Valley, Willcox, and Sonoita. It’s that last one, 50 minutes south of Tucson with about 15,000 residents, that has been throwing back vino for 400 years (thank the Spanish missionaries). Sonoita and the neighboring town of Elgin (less than 15 minutes away) are home to more than a dozen tasting rooms, including winery/distillery Flying Leap, Dos Cabezas, and AZ Hops and Vines. Deep Sky Vineyard, for one, makes a mean Argentinean-style malbec, as well as viognier, grenache, mouvedre, and counoise. Got a half day to spare? Explore the protected grasslands of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (about 10 miles away) on foot, by bike, or on the back of a horse—and don’t forget the wine for the picnic lunch.

Where to Stay: Stay at the ranch resort Hacienda del Sol in Tucson for its exquisite mountain views and an 800-label wine list handpicked by sommelier John Kulikowski.

Mount Airy, North Carolina


The 10,232-resident town of Mount Airy is best known as the real-life model for Mayberry, fictional setting of the 1960s-era The Andy Griffith Show (the historic downtown pays tribute with sites like the Andy Griffith Museum and Andy Griffith Playhouse). Nostalgic TV aside, the town is also known for its dry wines, originating from native and European varietals (from cabernet franc to petit verdot to sauvignon blanc) grown throughout the broader Yadkin Valley, North Carolina’s first AVA. Mount Airy, with its sweet shops, restaurants, and galleries, is an ideal location for exploring the Surry County Wine Trail. Of the 16 wineries, Shelton Vineyards and Herrera Vineyards in Dobson and JOLO Winery & Vineyards in Pilot Mountain are not to be missed. Back in Mount Airy, stop by Un’Corked to sample some of Yadkin’s finest bottles.

Where to Stay: Heart & Soul, a 118-year-old Victorian B&B, makes a lovely base camp for winery-hopping, not to mention it’s walking distance to Mount Airy’s attractions. (If you’d rather be chauffeured from vineyard to vineyard, the inn also offers wine country tours via its white 1939 Cadillac Fleetwood Imperial.)

Virginia’s wine scene is leading the East Coast charge, with buzzy wineries like Early Mountain Winery (owned by AOL’s Steve Case), set just over an hour outside of the wine hub of Middleburg.

Middleburg, Virginia

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Virginia is already neck-and-neck with New York when it comes to reigning East Coast wineries, but the state’s gotten an extra bump thanks to celebrity vintners like musician Dave Matthews (Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville) and AOL’s Steve Case (Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison). An hour west of Washington, D.C., the wee town of Middleburg (population: 851) is at the heart of horse and wine country. Bordeaux-style reds are big, with Boxwood Winery leading the pack. There are at least 40 others to explore, including the family-run Cana Vineyards, or former FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s favorite, Greenhill Winery & Vineyards. Leave time to check out downtown Middleburg, too, which is home to more than 100 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, some of which line the Rockwell-idyllic main street.

Where to Stay: Get yourself a suite at the palatial Salamander Resort & Spa and an appointment for the 80-minute “Crushed Cabernet” body treatment, first developed at the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa in Bordeaux.

Moscow, Idaho


Although wine is one of Idaho’s fastest growing agricultural industries, it has gone largely unnoticed by vine-seeking travelers. The state is home to three distinct AVAs; its nutrient-rich volcanic soil and high temps make it a great producer of riesling, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and syrah. The 479-square-mile Lewis-Clark Valley, Idaho’s most recently minted AVA with 100 planted acres, encompasses big swaths of northern Idaho and eastern Washington, with its hub in Moscow, a town of 25,146. When you’re not sipping and swirling in Moscow's buzzy tasting room at Colter’s Creek or sampling wine flights at upscale American restaurant Nectar, take a tour of the historic McConnell Mansion or get lost amid the greenery of the University of Idaho’s Arboretum & Botanical Garden.

Where to Stay: Moscow’s crisp, clean, cheerful Monarch Motel blends mid-mod minimalism with millennial luxuries like white noise machines and fast Wi-Fi.

In California’s Santa Ynez Valley, hip little Los Alamos offers a prime base for tastings: Bunk down at the impossibly cool Skyview Los Alamos while in town.

Los Alamos, California


The Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara, is heaven for wine geeks with its Mediterranean climate, four distinct AVAs, 120-plus wineries producing everything from syrah to viognier, and half a dozen heartstring-tugging hamlets to explore. The hip little frontier town of Los Alamos (population: 1,890) is home to beloved wineries owned by women, including Casa Dumetz and Martian Ranch and Vineyard (both known for their rhône varietals). Other area attractions include a 1920s petrol station turned boulangerie (Bob’s Well Bread Bakery) and a sprawling antiques store with a pub in the center (Los Alamos Depot Mall). Venture 15 minutes south to Buellton and you’ll find yourself in the filming location of the comedic 2004 wine flick Sideways, on the doorstep of even more top-shelf producers (Alma Rosa, Hitching Post, Margerum), while at a 20-minute drive west, Santa Ynez beckons with its Provençal-esque Sunstone Winery and a new winery from Brave and Maiden, serving estate-grown syrah, grenache, and sauvignon blanc.

Where to Stay: Skyview Los Alamos is a 1950s motel that was impressively gut-rehabbed in 2018; its midcentury bones are still intact, but now they’re gussied up with cowhide rugs and outdoor showers.

Waconia, Minnesota


Minnesota has vineyards? You betcha! Six hundred of ’em, in fact, growing cold-hardy grapes like la crescent, marquette, and frontenac gris. In the wine hub of Waconia (population: 12,232), 45 minutes west of Minneapolis, there are three standout vineyards to add to your map: the 50-acre Sovereign Estate Vineyard & Winery on Lake Waconia; multiple gold medalist Parley Lake Winery near the trail-rich Carver Park Reserve; and Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery, a two-in-one perched on Reitz Lake and the first winery/brewery duo in the state. With any free time between pours, you can hug a llama at Carlson’s Lovable Llamas, or pick up essential birding gear at All Seasons Wild Bird Store and be on the lookout for bald eagles, egrets, pelicans, and more.

Where to Stay: While it’s mostly nondescript chain hotels in Waconia, you can cozy up with a bottle of wine on a hammock outside this darling farmhouse apartment, bookable through Airbnb.

>> Next: The Next Great Wine Regions Are Not Where You’d Expect

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