I would imagine that when you think of the great wine regions of the world, destinations like Oregon and Washington aren’t the first to come to mind–it’s likely far-flung destinations in South America and Europe. These are the wines you’re probably used to seeing on wine lists. However, the west coast of America is making a strong case to rival the world’s top wine destinations. Today I give you an introduction to the west coast’s best wine regions.
Best for foodies – Napa Valley
It’s no surprise that Napa is at the top of this list since Napa has been at the forefront of wine-making in the U.S for the last few decades. With over 400 wineries, Napa is consistently one of the top producers of wine in the U.S. year after year. While wine production dates back to the 1800s, it has really been in the last 60 years that Napa has made its mark in wine production. Notable areas that are worth a stop along the Napa Valley include Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Many wineries are open to the public daily, while others require appointments. Make a list of wineries that you plan on visiting, but don’t be afraid to pull into others that look welcoming and are open to visitors (some are appointment-only).
While Napa is known for the wine, its food scene packs a powerful punch. Some people may already be familiar with chef Thomas Keller, whose Yountville restaurant, the French Laundry, has been recognized as one of the best restaurants in the world. Make sure you have reservations far in advance and prepare yourself for a dining experience, rather than a quick in-and-out meal. To feel like you’re in Europe, there’s Italian restaurant Oenotri in downtown Napa. It uses local ingredients to create Italian-inspired entrees.
Best for the adventurist – Sonoma Valley
While Napa and Sonoma are often mentioned together since they border one another, the experience can often be very different. Napa makes for what feels like a more refined wine tasting experience, and Sonoma is more down-to-earth with many of the wineries being much smaller in scale. On any given day you may even be wine tasting with the winemakers or owners. However, while many of Napa’s wineries are situated along a couple of state highways, it often takes a little more planning when deciding which wineries to visit in Sonoma County.
Outdoor enthusiasts can appreciate the many adventure opportunities in Sonoma County, such as hiking around Lake Sonoma, rafting the Russian River, or walking the beaches along the Pacific Coast. This offers a nice balance to a trip to Sonoma for wining and dining. There are many adventure outfitters that can help arrange wine and adventure single and multi-day trips. Organize your trip during harvest in September and October when the area sees some of its best weather.
Best for water enthusiasts – Columbia Valley, Washington
Not to be overlooked are the wine regions of the Pacific Northwest. While many people may think of microbreweries when it comes to destinations like Portland, Oregon, there are a variety of notable wine regions, including Columbia Valley, which is primarily in Washington, but also crosses into Oregon. The Columbia Valley is the largest wine region in Washington and includes the well-regarded wine valleys of Walla Walla and Yakima Valley. Some of the most widely grown grapes include Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Don’t be fooled by the Columbia Valley not having the same access to the Pacific Ocean as many other west coast wine regions. What the Columbia Valley lacks in a salt water presence it makes up with freshwater with the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. If there’s a water activity you enjoy doing, then you’ll likely find it along the Columbia River, including fly-fishing, kitesurfing, sailboarding, and rafting, not to mention that a drive or hike along the Columbia River offers pristine views.
Best for romance – Willamette Valley, Oregon
The Willamette Valley may be familiar to many in name, since it’s the most populated region of Oregon and has a lot of historical and popular culture significance. As the most populated region of Oregon, it’s a vast area of the Pacific Northwest, stretching for over 150 miles in length and 60 miles in width. While other varietals are grown here, Pinot Noir is the premier grape; it thrives in the area’s cooler climate, which is home to more than 400 wineries.
Once you get south of Portland’s suburbs, a certain tranquility starts to take over as you travel through the Willamette Valley. Whatever romantic backdrop you prefer, whether rolling hills or flowing waters, you’ll find it in the Willamette Valley. And for those who prefer the sea, the Pacific Ocean is due west. Many of Willamette Valley’s wineries offer beautiful outdoor views looking out across the valley and rolling hills. There are a plethora of cozy bed and breakfasts throughout the valley, with some having special packages and tours of local wineries.
Photos courtesy of Spencer Spellman.
- Spencer Spellman