We might give up before we start, but for now, we'll have a lot of reserved. Touring the wine country is a personal adventure. Everybody has their own impressions as to what they like and how they like to do it. Initially we provided WWW links to various tourist sites, but with the explosion of the WWW, there is no keeping up. Instead, check the Internet Resources section for hints on where to start in finding your particular interests.
You may wish to tour the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula in southern Ontario. After visiting the famous Falls, the Wine Route can provide an interesting summer afternoon drive. One end is on the Niagara Parkway, between Queenston Heights and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and it wanders through the vineyards and orchards to the Niagara Bench area and the town of Grimsby. It passes near about 25 wineries. The route, not counting stops, takes 2-3 hours to drive. Coach tours are available.
Most of the wineries provide free tastings. However, if you want to try Ontario's famous Eiswein (icewine) you will probably have to pay a little - it's too expensive to give away.
Located west of the Canadian Rockies in the southeastern part of British Columbia, the Okanagan Similkameen area contains a number of wineries. The Okanagan Valley, similar in latitude to German wine growing regions has produced grapes since the 1800's, however in the 1970's a series of major replantings with the hopes of transforming the area into a world-class wine growing area, with over 25 wineries currently in operation. Fruit stands are frequent along the highways which pass by scenic lakes. Some wineries co-exist with new homes. The Similkameen high desert valley runs along the Similkameen River in the Cascade Mountains and is a much more recent addition the list of wine producing areas. A large number of wine related events take place throughout the year. A tourism guide is available from the Okanagan Similkameen Tourism Association of British Columbia, which you can also probably get from the British Columbia Tourism people by phone (check your local listings).
Okay. We've never been to France. There are enough books and tourist guides to fill a library. But if anybody has anything specific they would like to add, let us know. So far we've heard:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Centered more or less between Solvang/Buellton and Santa Maria, the Central Coast has, in recent times, begun to produce a great deal of extremely good wine. Given that the Mondavi family of Napa has recently come in and bought up a lot of the best acreage, it is clear that what is coming from the area is not without some very large potential!
Many people like to stay in either Santa Barbara (and drive the 45 minutes or so to the southern wine areas), or in and around Solvang, a town that tries to look a bit like (so I'm told) a small Danish town, down to a windmill on top of the most famous Danish pastry shop in town.
Because there are a number of very small producers without tasting rooms, there are several wine tasting rooms which, for a small fee, will let you sample a large number of the area's wines that you could not otherwise taste. One such room is the Los Olivos Tasting Room in the center of the small town of Los Olivos (about 10 minutes north of Solvang). Another (run by a local wine writer), is the Los Olivos Wine and Spirits Emporium, located about a mile west of the center of Los Olivos (web site: http://www.sbwines.com). (Netizens may like the "wine glass stained" mouse pads offered there; we're using one "as we speak.")
When most people first think of where the wine country in California is, they probaby first think of Napa. About an hour's drive (when you are lucky) north of San Francisco, the wine boom of the last 30 or so years has transformed the area's farms and farmers. World class fine wines are produced here by family farmers, wine barons and multi-national corporations, just to name a few. Wines to fit every taste and every pocketbook can be found at almost every turn.
So far as touring the area, the first thing many people think of is "expensive." While a vacation in a wine area might not be as costly as some resort packages, the Napa area has experienced such a huge tourist influx that the cost of lodging and food (both of which can be extremely good) have risen rapidly. Our travels have shown us that a higher percentage of wineries charge for tasting in Napa than in any other area we have visited.
In any event, you can be treated to some of the finest dining anywhere in establishments that, as often as not, provide reasonably priced wines from local producers. Many wineries have beautiful areas in which to picnic, and you can get food from some of the wineries (and, of course, if you want, wine), or provide your own from markets, bakeries and deli's in the area, especially along or just off of Highway 29.
For those who are interested, there are also balloon rides, sail planes, resorts, mud baths, a wine "train" and even a gondola ride to get you to a winery (at a price).
Of course another cost of all these tourist attractions is that there are a lot of tourists. The crowds can be a bit overwhelming at times. It is best to plan for off-peak periods and mid-week visits if you want to avoid some of the herds.
North of San Francisco and west over the hills from Napa lies Sonoma County. Where Napa is glitz and glamor, Sonoma seems to be more "down home." Perhaps this is an illusion as big companies take over more and more acreage, but there are still lots of smaller wineries making world class wine in an agricultural setting. The area is bigger than Napa and since it is more spread out, it isn't quite the tourist attraction, nor does it have quite the "trendiness." There aren't as many "upscale" restaurants (but there are some; we've tried and liked, for example, Mixx in Santa Rosa, John Ash & Co. just north of Santa Rosa and the Willowside Cafe somewhat west of Santa Rosa. There is wine that is just as good and the crowds are smaller. If you want a bit more of the tourist feeling, stay in and around the city of Sonoma, otherwise, the city of Santa Rosa is a good base. You can even cross over the hills and spend some time in Napa. If you think we're putting Sonoma down, don't. We don't want to let a good thing out of the bag. We spend much more time in Sonoma when we're up that way.