Fall harvest season may draw the biggest crowds to U.S. wine country, but spring is when it all really starts. The vines bud and wildflowers dot the vineyards. Hotels and restaurants dust off from winter in preparation for the busy summer and fall months. Spring is the awakening, and it’s when you should visit.
Light crowds and fresh scenery aside, perhaps the biggest perk of visiting a winery in spring is a barrel tasting. This vintner custom is really catching on with consumers, who are able to get a first taste of the winery’s future releases straight from the barrel. Remember, these wines are unfinished, so expect the unexpected.
Grab your glass and head to one of these wine-country spots for a taste of spring.
Sonoma already had its big barrel-tasting weekend, and Healdsburg annual Pigs & Pinot Celebration (yes, please) has already come and gone, but all is not lost. Paso Robles hosts its annual wine festival May 18 through 20, which includes a reserve event for “power white” and Rose wines, a showcase from more than 70 wineries in Downtown City Park (complete with trendy food-truck pairings), and visits to more than 150 wineries offering barrel samplings, live music, and winemaker dinners.
Napa Valley always maintains a bustling social calendar, and spring is no exception. Oyster festivals abound, like the one hosted at Chandon on April 15, where sparkling wines are featured alongside the mollusks. If you’re more of red aficionado, buy tickets to B Cellars’ Reserve Cabernet Bottling Party on April 13 to taste barrel samples, purchase futures, and see the bottling process in action.
Yakima Valley was the state’s first recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA) and is home to the largest concentration of vineyards in Washington. Get acquainted with more than 50 area wineries during the Spring Barrel Tasting event, April 27 through 29. Food pairings, private tours, and library tastings are available with the $40 Wine Yakima Valley Premier Pass.
Lake Chelan Wine Valley is a relative newcomer to the Washington wine scene, earning its AVA status in 2009. Of course, the growers here were producing wines long before this designation was in place. Explore the area during its Spring Barrel Tasting, May 19 and 20.
The Willamette Valley is the largest AVA in the state, with smaller AVAs created within it. A manageable way to tackle this wine region is to start with the North Willamette Wine Trail Weekend, March 31 and April 1. Twenty-four wineries, all situated just outside Portland, are offering barrel tastings, reserve label samples, and culinary pairings. Music and wine classes round out the weekend. After you get acquainted with the wineries of the north, mosey on down to the South Willamette Valley, where the 2012 Barrel Tour runs on the first three Saturdays in June.
North and South unite from May 26 through 28 for the 22nd Annual Memorial Weekend in the Wine Country, when more than 150 Willamette Valley wineries, some of which are rarely open to the public, welcome visitors for barrel tastings, food pairings, and live music.
New York’s Finger Lakes region specializes in aromatic white wines, such as Reisling and Gewurztraminer, and is divided into four wine trails. From April 27 through 29, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail hosts its 20th Annual Wine & Herb Festival. Not only can you sip vino at 16 wineries, you can also pick up a potted herb plant at each location. That’s a good way to jump-start this year’s garden. Keuka Lake Wine Trail holds a similar event called Keuka in Bloom, May 5 and 6.
With food celebs like Morimoto, Michele Bernstein, and Paul Qui (the most recent Top Chef winner) set to make appearances, the Austin Food and Wine Festival, April 27 through 29, is certainly worth shelling out $250 for the weekend pass. But to get the true Texas viticulture experience, head west of Austin to Hill Country, where 33 wineries will participate in the Wine and Wildflower Trail spring event, April 13 through 22. Between tastings, enjoy stunning photo ops among the famous bluebonnet flowers. You’ll leave Texas with plenty of tasty wine on your pallet and a packet of wildflower seeds to plant at home.
What? They Make Wine There?
The five states mentioned above may get most of the boozy tourism love, but wine is produced in all 50 U.S states. And any one of these states, such as Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Oklahoma, have spring events, too. Cheers!
Photo credits: StuSeeger