When you think of a winery, you think of verdant fields of bountiful vines glistening in the afternoon sun like an Emerald City of grape goodness. The earth is dark and warm and summer breezes blow through your hair, bringing the smells of wine to come. You think of visiting a winery as very much a summertime pleasure.
Think again, friends.
We told you a few weeks ago about our annual trip to Grapevine, Texas and the Christmas Wine Train. Wine making is very much a year-round endeavor, and many wineries offer cool things to do during the winter months. After all, isn’t drinking wine something that one should enjoy during every season?
Back in November, we kind of bashed a certain winery in North Carolina. It wasn’t really on purpose, and to be perfectly fair, it is a great place to visit, especially during the holidays. The Biltmore Estate and Winery is in Asheville, North Carolina and is truly a sight to behold. Built in 1895 and still owned by the Vanderbilt family, it rests on over 8,000 acres surrounding a 250 room chateaux. The home features a bowling alley, an amazing greenhouse/atrium, and over four acres of floor space. You know that your house is big when you measure the size in acres instead of square feet. It is, in fact, the largest privately-owned home in the United States, and was featured in over a dozen movies like Patch Adams, Forrest Gump and The Last of the Mohicans.
George Vanderbilt had his first soiree at the Biltmore on Christmas Eve in 1895, and Christmas remains one of the best times to see the home. They do the place up with miles and miles of garland and trees, and the main tree in the banquet hall is over 30 feet tall. Try strapping that to the roof of the family cruiser.
While you’re there, check out the winery. They’ll be cooking also. They’ve created a “village” on the grounds of the estate, and from there you can tour the winery, taste some of the many wines made there, or dine in one of the restaurants. They’ve kind of grown up since we first met them. Last year they harvested over 200 tons of grapes, by hand, and turned them into delicious wines.
On the other side of the country is Torii Mor Winery in Dundee, Oregon. Started by a doctor with a love of French Burgundy in 1993, the name is part Japanese and part Scandinavian. It kind of means “gates of earth.” He started the winery with grapes planted in 1972 and they’re now one of the best producers of Pinot Noir in the United States. When you visit the winery you can enjoy great views of the Williamette Valley and Mt. Hood. Hood is the highest point in Oregon, and one of the highest in the country at over 11,000 feet. Just so you know, it is also a somewhat dormant volcano and is considered one of the most likely to erupt. Before it does, head to Torii Mor and do a tasting. Ten bucks will let you sample six different wines.
If you’re hungering for something a little warmer, head south to Calistoga, California. It’s about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Every year they have a “Winter in the Wineries” tour. You actually buy a “passport” for it and you visit about a dozen local wineries. And they’re serious about it. They’ll kick you out for acting up or for wearing too much cologne. This trip is about enjoying some wine.
One of the places that you’ll visit is Chateau Montelena. It’s kind of like the Biltmore. Built in the same era by a semi-rich entrepreneur, they saw their first harvest and began making wines in 1886. One difference with George Vanderbilt is that Alfred Tubbs, the owner of the estate, built his humble abode with wine-making in mind. Anyway, they do a great job with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandels.
So, sure, visit a winery in the summer and enjoy the warmth and sunshine. But we think the best time to visit one is when you want to try some new wines. Like right now.