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Food + Drink

Alt Wine Regions

Americans last year overtook the French as the biggest winos on the planet, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. And wine tourism has become equally popular, meaning serious crowding at vineyards from Napa to Burgundy. In salute to harvest season, Elaine Glusac surveys alternative wine districts where actual winemakers still work the tasting rooms, farm vehicles dominate back road traffic and bagging one bestows bragging rights.

See recent posts by Elaine Glusac

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California Sips: Fort Ross Seaview, Sonoma County, California

Established in 2012, one of the newest American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California lies in rural western Sonoma in Fort Ross-Seaview. Compared to the crowded spots in nearby Napa, Fort Ross Seaview offers room to roam, with 18 wineries on 506 acres. Vineyards elevated between 900 and 1,800 feet create “coastal cool” conditions for predominantly pinot noir and chardonnay plantings. Fort Ross Vineyard sits less than a mile from shore and is a must see. Then wine your way through tasting at Flowers, Hirsch, Wild Hog, Marcassin, Failla, Pahlmeyer, Martinelli, Del Dotto and Peter Michael.

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Old World Vintage: Lavaux, Switzerland

There’s no shortage of ancient families and impressive chateaux in Bordeaux, but you’ll stump your snobbiest friends by hitting the Swiss Riviera and the UNESCO-protected Lavaux wine district instead. Occupying only about 2,000 acres in Medieval terraces built above the shores of Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Montreaux, the tiny Lavaux champions the Swiss chasselas grape, a light, crisp white so popular the Swiss nearly drink it all before the next vintage is released. In fitting Swiss style, the vineyards offer great hiking trails to small wine towns like Cully, Epesses and St. Saphorin. Lavaux Vinorama centralizes the tasting experience with choices from most of the district’s 200 wineries.

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Pinot Pick: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Santa Ynez gets the “Sideways” crowds (still) and Burgundy the Old World aficionados, but for pinots – gris and noir – without attitude, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is your ideal pairing. Pinot noir accounts for 11,000 of the 17,000 acres in the 100-mile-long valley beginning just south of Portland. Pay homage to one of the originals here, Sokol Blosser, which last year opened a modernist new tasting room, then skip on to tiny Carlton, home to the small-producer-focused coop Carlton Winemakers Studio. Book a table at a destination restaurant like the farm-to-table Thistle in McMinnville.

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Aussie Upstart: Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

Sydney’s Hunter Valley gets more visitors and Melbourne’s Yarra Valley more renown, but the Mornington Peninsula, just an hour’s drive south of Melbourne combines two of Australia’s greatest lures: scenery and gastronomy. The boot-shaped peninsula draws beachcombers, paddle-boarders and swimmers, but the inland highlands benefit from the cool ocean breezes to grow cool-climate varietals including pinot noirs and chardonnays. Some 75 vineyards, restaurants and artisanal food producers make up its new Wine Food Farmgate trail. Don’t miss Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove, home to a celebrated restaurant and an annual sculpture competition with installations throughout the vineyards and meadows for picnickers to explore.

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Northern Beauty: Michigan

When it comes to northern districts, rugged Michigan combines some of the best Midwestern landscapes – dune-fringed Lake Michigan, rolling fruit orchards, seasonally-swelling small towns – with a new and growing grape tradition. In northern Michigan, Traverse City serves as the capital of quaff at the nexus of two grape-growing regions: the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula. Rent wheels from Suttons Bay Bikes to tour to some of Leelanau’s 25 wineries, including the bayfront Leelanau Cellars, near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Just eight wineries occupy the smaller Old Mission including its oldest and largest, the Riesling specialist Chateau Grand Traverse.

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Western Reds: Walla Walla Valley, Washington/Oregon

The Yakima Valley is bigger and Woodinvale wineries are on Seattle's backdoor, but our pick for Western Reds would be the more remote Walla Walla in eastern Washington and Oregon. Four different soil types checkerboard the 2,000-acre region of 100-plus wineries, growing rich reds. College town Walla Walla makes a friendly base for winery visits and walks to dozens of downtown tasting rooms. More incentive: the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance cut a deal with Alaska Airlines to create the Taste and Tote program, allowing visitors to check their first case of wine free when leaving regional airports.

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South-of-the-Border Surprise: Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Two hours south of San Diego by car, Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe cuts northeast from the Pacific, funneling the same ocean breezes that benefit California’s vines from Santa Barbara up to Sonoma. Wine has been cultivated here since the earliest Jesuits came to convert the locals, but has boomed with the opening of new and upgraded wineries in the past decade. Sharing the laid-back valley with ranches and villages, some 50 wineries, including newcomers Vena Cava and Paralelo, specialize in rich reds like cabernet sauvignon. Try a bottle at culinary leaders Corazon de Tierra and Laja, both prix-fixe locavore spots.

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