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Forget California! 14 U.S. States That Also Make Surprisingly Good Wine

Some of the most exciting up-and-coming wine regions are in unexpected states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

In the American wine-making world, it’s no secret that California gets all the glory and attention. Yet, unbeknownst to many, there is a plethora of other up-and-coming wine regions where travelers can tour, taste, and traverse vineyards with fewer crowds at a lower cost. Whether it’s Colorado proving it’s not just for craft beer or Tennessee showing it’s home to more than whiskey, these 14 states— including Utah, Georgia, New Jersey, and Texas—are hidden gem wine spots to have on your radar.  

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There are more than 140 wineries across Michigan, encompassing four certified American Viticulture Areas and a vast collection of wine trails for exploration. In Northwest Michigan, the adventurous should visit Left Foot Charley, an urban winery housed in a repurposed asylum. In Southwest Michigan, visit Lemon Creek and Domaine Berrien, which are across the street from each other. Lemon Creek features some of the oldest vines in the state, an enormous vineyard, award-winning wines, and fun tours (book their “wagon tour” of the vines), while Domaine is one of the only Rhone Rangers in the Midwest. In Southeast Michigan, check out Detroit Vineyards, located in the old Stroh’s Beer factory in downtown Detroit. This boutique-style winery boasts a cool and industrial atmosphere.

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New Mexico

New Mexico has been making wine for over 400 years, and today, there are more than 50 wineries to explore across the state. The three main areas of concentration have three separate AVAs—Middle Rio Grande Valley, Mimbres Valley, and Mesilla Valley. Mesilla Valley is situated along a stretch of agricultural Highway 28, making for a scenic day of tasting and exploration. Along this stretch of land, three standout destinations for a wine tasting bucket list include Rio Grande Vineyards & Winery, Sombra Antigua Vineyard and Winery, and La Viña Winery. Up in Albuquerque (a.k.a. the state’s “central” wine region), check out Noisy Water Winery in the Old Town neighborhood or the beautiful Casa Rondeña Winery just 15 minutes North of Albuquerque’s town center. Corrales Winery also incorporates Native American and Northern New Mexico Spanish-style architecture overlooking the vineyards and the majestic Sandia Mountains.

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Arizona is an up-and-coming player in the modern wine scene and a must-visit destination for oenophiles. In Arizona’s high desert region, three major grape-growing regions have emerged and grown to earn international acclaim since the 1970s—Sonoita, Willcox, and Verde Valley. Those who want to create their own self-guided tour can download the Arizona Wine Trail Passport and interactive map, which showcases the 120-plus wineries and tasting rooms across Arizona for picking and planning. After a day of sipping wine, retire to Tucson, where the brand new Citizen Hotel has just been unveiled as Tucson’s first-ever wine-centric hotel. This boutique, 10-room property partnered with local wine producer, Sand-Reckoner Vineyards, which hosts regular tastings, wine barreling onsite, and offers excursions to nearby wine country.

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Typically when people think of Wisconsin, they think of cheese and beer, but Wisconsin has an impressive wine scene. More than 800 acres of grapes are grown across the state and used to create varietals at 100-plus wineries. The five distinct growing regions include Driftless Region, Fox Valley, Door County, Glacial Hills, and Northwoods. One particularly standout spot to plan a Wisconsin wine trip in winter would be LedgeStone Vineyards, which offers a classic ski trail open for cross country skiers and snowshoers. The vineyard’s three fire pits, mulled wine, crafted wines, and beer selection is the perfect après snow adventure experience.

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Idaho and its wine regions are growing under-the-radar hidden gems with more than 60 wineries and 1,300 acres of vineyards to experience. Idaho wine country offers a mecca of tasting opportunities. In the Northern wine region, visitors will find the Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticulture Area, home to 16 vineyards growing nearly 100 acres of grapes producing 20 unique varietals. The Southwestern Wine Region hosts a four-season climate with ancient volcanic soil and a plentiful water supply. Check out the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, part of The Snake River Valley AVA, encompassing 8,000 square miles with 1,125 acres currently planted. There’s also the Southwestern Urban Wine Region, which is concentrated in the capital city of Boise, hosting wineries and tasting rooms to sip and savor locally grown flavors without leaving the city.

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North Carolina

North Carolina is the seventh-highest state in wine production, boasting numerous wine tasting experiences across all regions— from the mountains to Piedmont to the coast. There are 200-plus wineries in North Carolina, with roughly 50 of them located in the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, covering 1,924 square miles (that’s larger than Rhode Island!). But there’s no shortage of fabulous wine destinations to explore across the entire state, each with its own personality. Grassy Creek Vineyards & Winery in Elkin of the Yadkin Valley is known for its diverse selection and a newly-dedicated forest-bathing trail. Elkin Creek Vineyard is home to great wine, cozy creekside cabins, a historic grist mill, and a tasty wood-fired kitchen. At Divine Llama Vineyards in East Bend, guests can book a unique, 2-mile wine tasting and llama trek. There’s also Old North State Winery in Mount Airy, which is said to be haunted.

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Southern Utah’s growing wine trail offers an intimate wine experience and features a collection of five wineries, all of which are within driving distance of one another. After filling out the wine passport card, there’s even the chance to win a prize for visiting each one! Start with a visit to Water Canyon Resort & Vineyards in the Greater Zion region, which owns 1.5 acres of vineyards and 900 vines onsite, producing three varietals: Sangiovese, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery is known for only producing “natural wines.” Next, visit Zion Vineyards, which proudly produces a collection of award-winning creations, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignon, Grenache Blanc, Grenache, Petite Syrah, and Syrah. To finish off the trail, visit Bold & Delaney Winery, Chanela Vineyards, and I/G Winery and complete the Southern Utah wine tasting experience.

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For a well-rounded Georgia wine tasting experience, visiting Dahlonega (a.k.a. Georgia Wine County) is a great place to start because it hosts the highest concentration of wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms of the entire state. Montaluce Winery offers wine hikes, which is truly the best way to “pair” the scenery of North Georgia with its robust wine culture. Outside of Dahlonega, take a trek on the Unicoi Wine Trail, which comprises six wineries, several of which are family-owned. The trail has its own free app, which includes detailed information on the destinations and events throughout the year. Also, be sure to visit Yonah Mountain Vineyards. This winery is home to the only known “wine cave” in Georgia, which visitors can tour on weekends. There are also nearby Serenity Cellars, known for combining old and new world wine-making techniques, spirited live music, and brick oven pizza parties on the weekends.

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New Jersey

New Jersey’s wine experiences have evolved from a small collection of vineyard operations into four entirely designated AVAs with 50-plus wineries and vineyards. South Jersey, in particular, has widely expanded to produce some of the East Coast’s best-known wines. Award-winning Autumn Lake Winery of Williamstown and William Heritage Winery of Mullica Hill are two must-visits. Also, check out the Outer Coastal Plain’s regional wine trails, including the nine-stop Two Bridges Wine Trail, the eight-stop Pinelands Reserve Wine Trail, and the six-stop Cape May Wine Trail. A few individual fan-favorite wineries include Sharrott Winery on the Pinelands Trail, which is a six-acre family-owned vineyard in the heart of Hammonton’s pine forests, known for producing over four thousand cases per year. There’s also the Cape May Wine Trail’s Cape May Winery—home to some of the oldest roots in the county—which opened in conjunction with Rutgers Agricultural Co-op more than 30 years ago.

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Virginia winemakers blend the subtlety of the Old World wine-making techniques with the boldness of new trends. The state is home to 312 wineries across ten wine regions with seven American Viticultural areas. Most Virginia wineries are small and family-owned, which means the local wines aren’t mass-produced but rather boutique-style wineries, each telling their own story. Attempts to produce wine in Virginia go way back to the first American settlers, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s when the wine industry began to “take root” in the state. Nowadays, more than 4,000 acres of grapes of 28 types span across Virginia. There are numerous wine trails to explore, including the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, which includes seven premiere wineries, rich history (think “George Washington’s Birthplace”), and a collection of scenic waterways. There’s also Loudoun’s DC Wine Country for those who are near the Nation’s Capital, known as the “Napa Valley of the Mid-Atlantic.”

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The Texas Hill Country boasts more than 50 wineries that thrive in the region’s unique microclimate. The largest grape stomp and wine festival in the Southwest United States, GrapeFest, takes place in Grapevine (a fitting name). Travelers can either opt-in year-round for an organized tour of the Texas Wine Trail or adventure on their own. Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, and Marble Falls are the main towns for setting as a home base to explore these wineries. First, offering a broad selection of wineries and tasting rooms, Lubbock is a hidden Texas gem that serves top-quality wines. Next, sample wine from some of the oldest vines in Texas at Pheasant Ridge Winery. Then, try the award-winning blends in at a historic Coca-Cola bottling plant, McPherson Cellars, or enjoy the intimate atmosphere at La Diosa Cellars. Finally, be sure to check out Stonewall’s Pedernales Cellars, with world-class wine and breathtaking views of the Pedernales River Valley below.

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Colorado is typically famed for its craft beer scene, but the state’s Grand Junction area is undoubtedly one of the country’s best under-the-radar wine regions. Visit Two Rivers Winery and Chateau, perfectly perched on a breathtaking vineyard alongside a large chateau where guests can see the vibrant colors of the Colorado National Monument out their windows. Colorado’s Grand Valley is home to about 30 wineries and vineyards that host tastings, tours, and even the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest every September. The region’s unique climate is created by the heat coming off the nearby towering Book Cliffs, contrasting with cool nights and plentiful water from the Colorado River, combining to create an ideal environment for growing grapes rich in flavor. Some of the key players producing quality wines in the region are Restoration Vineyards, Mesa Park Vineyards, Maison la Belle Vie, and Red Fox. Also, be sure to have Sauvage Spectrum on the tasting schedule since it’s one of the first wineries in the region producing sparkling wines.

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It turns out Tennessee isn’t just for whiskey! Over 60 wineries across the state mean a robust collection of picturesque destinations to sip and savor an impressive selection of varietals. Plan a trip to the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail, offering beautiful scenery of waterfalls, rivers, and a diverse selection of wine. Begin your day at Cellar 53, a family farm located in Brush Creek that offers everything from sweet to dry and seasonal wines. Next, check out the picturesque Highland Manor Winery, the state’s oldest licensed winery dating back to pre-prohibition. There’s also the Natchez Trace Wine Trail just an hour outside of Nashville, with four iconic wineries to explore. Keg Springs Winery offers a complimentary buffet and signature “wine slushies,” while Amber Falls Winery is a breath of fresh air with its spacious and relaxing outdoor patio. Finally, Natchez Hills Vineyard offers prize-worthy wines and a one-of-a-kind “Naughty Tea” for those who want to try something new.

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Maine’s wine scene is quaint and picturesque but powerful—just like its natural scenery. Visit Cellardoor Winery, a 5.5-acre estate planted with cold-hardy hybrids developed to persist in the rugged terrain and harsher temperatures of Maine’s climate. Next, check out Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery, which produces wine from 10 varieties of hybrid grapes grown on the vineyard and blueberry wine with blueberries sourced from local fields. There is also Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery,  a family-run business with various wines and spirits and a sunny veranda overlooking their expansive grounds. This winery is open through New Year’s Eve, making it a standout place to get warm throughout the Northeast’s colder winter months. Finally, Winterport Winery offers a variety of award-winning fruit wines —from blueberry to pear—and an iconic outdoor porch overlooking the scenic Penobscot River.

melissah4303 November 27, 2021

I'm also surprised New York State isn't included.  There are at least as many wineries as Michigan, including many award winning ones.

RedMtDave November 24, 2021

So... no mention of Washington and Oregon.  Really?