California isn’t America’s only warm-weather wine destination. There’s the laid-back, picnic-friendly Texas Hill Country that’s dotted with exciting wineries. Arizona, which gains more respect from the wine world every year, boasts a truly great road trip that takes you from Tucson’s art district to quiet grasslands and tiny, quirky artsy mining towns. New Mexico’s Gruet has quietly been producing world-class sparkling wine and pours it in two destination-worthy tasting rooms in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Then there’s the palatial Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, one of the country’s premier food and wine destinations.
To warm your winter-weary bones, check out these terrific, lesser-known wine destinations.
Maynard James Keenan, winemaker and lead singer for rock band Tool, has a thing for old Arizona towns with personality. The tasting room for his Caduceus brand is in Jerome, Arizona, a historic copper mining town that’s found new life as an artist colony. About a year ago, Keenan opened a second site, Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria, that features wine from his more affordable line alongside housemade pastas. Merkin uses its own red wine to flavor and color the macaroni in its mac and cheese, and prepares Italian-inspired fare with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. You can find it in Old Town Cottonwood, which has recently become an Arizona wine destination, with tasting rooms for wineries like Arizona Stronghold, Burning Tree and Fire Mountain.
Rob & Sarah Hammelman run one of Arizona’s most promising new wineries. Rob learned to make wine in Australia and France, while Sarah harvested grapes in Carneros, California, before training to become a sommelier. They opened Sand-Reckoner, a gorgeous, bleached-wood tasting room in Tucson in early 2017. It offers lovely cheese plates and, of course, tastes of its highly regarded rosé, Syrah, Tempranillo and other wines. The tasting room also hosts an art gallery featuring rotating exhibitions curated by Conrad Wilde Gallery in the Warehouse Arts District.
One of Arizona’s most highly sought bottles of wine isn’t found in a bottle at all. Dos Cabezas Wineworks makes a slightly fizzy, traditional method rosé that’s cheekily named #MethodeCanpenoise. It comes in a 1-liter tallboy can and is notorious for its limited quantities and the speed that it sells out. Sample it along with the 23-year-old winery’s lovely white blends and big, flavorful reds at its tasting room in Sonoita, a town in the Arizona grasslands 45 minutes south of Tucson. For those who don’t want to drive back to the city, the winery also rents two small, stylish houses for guests looking to spend some additional time with their wine.
Since 1989, Gruet has produced some of the country’s best regarded sparkling wine, ones that consistently win awards for quality and price. New Mexico might seem an odd location to make wine, but in the 1980s, French winemaker Gilbert Gruet fell in love with the region’s sandy soils, high elevations and day-to-night temperature swings. Tasting rooms in downtown Albuquerque and Santa Fe have a variety of bubbles to sample—brut, rosé, blanc de blancs and blanc de Noirs.
Also being poured are the newer, delicious Sauvage and Sauvage Rosé labels, made of 100% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, respectively. There’s also local beers available and cocktails that use New Mexican lavender and honey. Snacks (pistachios, pecans, cheeses) are also sourced locally. Winemaker Laurent Gruet, Gilbert’s son, is often in the tasting room, and he’s always happy to show off his sabering skills.
Situated in Texas’s idyllic Hill Country, Pedernales has a beautiful onsite tasting room that offers a robust experience that includes tours of the winemaking facilities and cellar. There are cheese and charcuterie pairings available and, being Texas, locally made salsas. Pedernales has a chilled-out vibe familiar to anyone who has visited the Austin and Hill Country area. Locals are known to bring their kids, dogs, picnic baskets and blankets, and hang out for most of the day.
This stone-and-stucco winery would look right at home on the hills of Tuscany. Instead, Duchman is found in the perhaps equally beautiful Texas Hill Country, just a half-hour drive from Austin. The tasting room has gigantic windows that overlook the production facility, where both scheduled and impromptu tours happen all the time. Visitors not only taste Duchman’s Italian-inspired wines like Vermentino and Sangiovese, they can watch them being made. On weekends, snacks might include cheeses from Texas producer Antonelli’s, goat cheese and caramelized onion dip, marinated vegetable platters or roasted cauliflower hummus with turmeric. Frequent events here include wine dinners, movie nights and yoga on the lawn.
A new generation of Texas winemakers has been making its mark at Lewis Wines. Co-owner Doug Lewis trained at Pedernales, while winemaker Adrienne Ballou studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis before she ventured to Burgundy and Australia. Vineyard manager Jorge Ruelas met Lewis and fellow co-owner Duncan McNabb while playing soccer. The winemakers lead many tastings themselves, which start at $15, a fee that’s refunded with the purchase of two bottles. The large, stunning tasting room and winery sit on 100 acres of Texas Hill Country near Pedernales, just down the aptly called “Wine Road.” In spring, enjoy an old-fashioned crawfish boil with live Zydeco band flown in from Louisiana, an annual tradition to celebrate the release Lewis’s new rosés.
While not traditionally known as a wine destination, North Carolina can provide escape for East Coasters seeking warmer weather. With more and more wineries continuing to pop up in all 50 states, make no mistake: the wines being poured at the Biltmore, primarily made with grapes brought in from California, are tasty. Housed in the former Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, the Biltmore is a lavish and sprawling 8,000-acre complex that wine lovers should have on their travel radar. The onsite winery hosts tastings and pairs its offerings with chocolate or cheese. While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of Asheville, a terrific culinary destination packed with renowned restaurants and bars where world-class wine lists pair local bottles with those from way, way beyond.