Forget Napa! It’s Always Wine O’clock in these 5 Underrated Wine Regions!

While I’m familiar with Napa, the throngs of tourists and the overpriced wines that accompany them have caused me to explore elsewhere

Napa Valley may be synonymous with wine country trips. The well-established region with 400 wineries consistently churns out award-winning labels. But there are many more wine trip destinations that shrug off the pretension and make damn good vino and also offer outdoor recreation to break up your wine tastings. While these regions have managed to quietly “sip” under the radar for years, they boast big flavor without touristy crowds or the tourist prices that typically go with them.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the remarkable pinot noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Shenandoah Valley to Canada’s largely undiscovered wine region in the Okanagan Valley, these authentic spots are ripe for exploration.

Here are five alternatives to Napa for your next wine country escape. Get ready to indulge in these underrated wine regions because it’s always wine o’clock somewhere.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to nearly 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot noirs–producing areas in the world. The Willamette Valley is a huge and varied appellation that includes nine nested appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Laurelwood District, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Tualatin Hills, Van Duzer Corridor, and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east, and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range or among the valleys created by the river’s tributaries.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the flagship Pinot noir grape, wineries also produce Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Melon, Gewürztraminer, sparkling wine, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Gamay among other lesser-known varieties.

While wineries are the centerpiece of a wine tourist’s itinerary, there are also other things to see and do like visiting an art gallery, biking, hiking, or floating above wine country in a hot air balloon.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangioveses. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Friday and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Home to some of the oldest vines in California, the wines produced from the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley are renowned for their intense fruit and deep color. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise, and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as being.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s.

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula and this has a balanced combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it here. Known for its diversity, wineries in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay, and Syrah to Grenache.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. Cottonwood, a quick drive from the red rocks of Sedona, is located in the 200-square-mile Verde Valley. More than 20 vineyards form the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production.

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the “Valley of the Grapes” because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Southwest Wine Center on the campus of Yavapai College in Clarkdale. Not only is it a place for students to learn winemaking and land jobs in the industry but visitors are welcome to visit the 13-acre vineyard and sample wines from the center’s own label.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin