Wine Regions You Can Visit Every Month of the Year
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A visit to a wine region is a chance to explore beautiful countries, sample delicious cuisine and just generally enjoy an epicurean escape. While the time around harvest and crush tends to be the most popular season to visit wine regions, many of them actually host festivals and other fun-filled events at other times of year. That means there’s no bad time to take a trip to wine country. You just need to have a plan to make the most of your trip. Here are suggestions for a wine region to visit each month of the year, and what you might want to do while you’re there.
January: Champagne, France
Keep those Champagne flutes handy after toasting the New Year, because January is actually a great time to visit France’s Champagne region. Sure, the vineyards turn brown and the skies turn gray, but there’s still plenty of color to be found during the annual feast of St. Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of winemakers.
The event takes place on Jan. 22 and is usually held in the town of Epernay, though it does sometimes change locations to nearby cities such as Reims and Troyes. People dress in traditional costumes from the region, join in a grand parade and induct new members into the Archiconfrérie Saint-Vincent des Vignerons de Champagne society. There’s music, food and, of course, bubbly. And because it’s winter, you can get to the area and stay there at low-season prices.
Travel Tips: Both Reims and Epernay are less than an hour-long train ride from Paris, so getting here is a breeze. If you stick to one town or both, you won’t need a rental car. But if you want to reach smaller producers in the countryside, you’ll need your own transportation. Spend a few extra days exploring the ancient caves of revered wine houses like Perrier-Jouët, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger, and the massive cathedral in Reims where France’s kings were crowned.
February: Marlborough, New Zealand
Though the vines go dormant and activity moves inside to the cellar during February in the Northern Hemisphere, in one of the world’s southernmost wine regions, February is the time for a midsummer celebration.
The Marlborough Food and Wine Festival, in the country’s best-known region for crisp Sauvignon Blancs, is New Zealand’s longest-running wine festival. The 2019 event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9, in the landmark Brancott Vineyard. It’s a chance to taste wines from the area’s most respected producers, sample local produce and cuisine and enjoy live music and entertainment. While you’re there, spend a couple extra days visiting some of the wineries that put Marlborough on the map, like Brancott Estate, Allan Scott and Cloudy Bay. But also make time for smaller producers like Greywacke and Dog Point Vineyard.
Travel Tips: Marlborough is located near the northern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The easiest way to get here is to fly to Blenheim (BHE) via Auckland (AKL) or Wellington (WLG) on Air New Zealand, depending on your other travel plans. Among the accommodation options are the luxurious Marlborough Lodge, the Lake Timara Lodge (though it’s currently undergoing a renovation) and plenty of cute Airbnbs.
March: Mendoza, Argentina
While vines start to sprout fresh shoots and leaves up north, the Southern Hemisphere fast approaches harvest time. In honor of all that hard work, the winemakers of Argentina’s Mendoza region have been coming together for more than 80 years to celebrate the National Grape Harvest Festival.
The festivities actually begin the last Sunday in February with the Blessing of the Fruit ceremony, presided over by the Archbishop of Mendoza. The following Friday, there’s a parade in the city of Mendoza led by “Harvest Queens” selected by the 18 departments around the region. The following day, there’s a parade featuring gauchos, or Argentine cowboys, and that evening there’s a huge live performance at Mendoza’s Greek Theater showcasing important events and themes from Mendoza’s history. Oh yeah, and there are fireworks. The weekend is a celebration of the best of Argentina’s wine tradition and an opportunity to try a few of the area’s marvelous Malbecs for yourself.
Travel Tips: Though you never really need a reason to plan a trip to Argentina, this might just be the impetus you need to finally get down there. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to use miles to fly to South America in business class. We’ve also seen great flash award sales on Delta, specifically. Once in Buenos Aires, you can hop on cheap flights to Mendoza (MDZ) on Aerolíneas Argentinas, LATAM and even Norwegian. Plus, in the city of Mendoza itself, there are three great hotel options where you can use points: the Park Hyatt Mendoza, the Sheraton Mendoza and the InterContinental Mendoza.
April: Bordeaux, France
Feeling guilty about all that drinking? Why not combine your interest in wine with… a marathon? The fifth-annual Marathon de Bordeaux Métropole will take place April 27. What makes this so special is that it’s actually a night marathon. The race kicks off at sunset at the Palais de la Bourse, and winds through the historic city streets. You can bet there will be plenty of wine waiting for you at the finish line. After the race, spend a few days exploring the city, including the interactive Cité du Vin wine museum, then head either east to the UNESCO-listed town of Saint-Émilion, or south to the gently-sloped vineyards of Médoc to taste wines at some of the most famous châteaux in the world.
Travel Tips: First, look into booking a business class award flight to Europe, then plan to spend points staying in the city at the InterContinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hôtel, which is indeed a grand, historic property right in the heart of the city. If April doesn’t suit your schedule, consider coming back in September for the notoriously fun (and boozy) Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc, where runners wear fanciful costumes and stop for glasses of wine along the way.
May: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Though Memorial Day Weekend means big events in wine regions across the US, plan to spend yours up in Oregon’s picturesque Willamette Valley. Over 150 wineries and tasting rooms are participating in festivities that include special tastings, vineyard picnics, concerts, food pairings, chef-led lunches and dinners, art shows and more. The 2019 event listings are yet to be released, but you can get a good idea of what might be in store by looking at last year’s guide.
Travel Tips: The Willamette Valley is just an hour outside Portland, so you could even get out there on a long layover. Instead, consider spending a few nights at the area’s nicest hotel, The Allison Inn & Spa. If you do stay in the city, though, there are excellent points options including The Nines, which is part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, and the Hilton Portland Downtown.
June: Rioja, Spain
There’s just something about Spain and food fights. You might know about La Tomatina tomato war that unfolds every year in Buñol, but far more sybaritic (and with less chance of injury) is the Batalla del Vino, or wine battle. This marvelous melee takes place June 29 each year, which is the patron day of San Pedro, in the town of Haro. The fun begins the night before with a huge concert and party in the town’s Plaza de la Paz. Most attendees simply stay up all night celebrating. At dawn, dressed all in white, the droves drive or hike up to a meadow in the hills above town. They tote along everything from water balloons and squirt guns to buckets and pitchers, all filled with (hopefully cheap) red wine. At sunrise, the battle begins. People spray, pelt, douse and deluge others with vessels of vino. It’s all in good fun and relatively laid back.
If you have some extra days and an interest in architecture, it’s worth paying visits to the Santiago Calatrava-designed Bodegas Ysios winery and the López de Heredia Viña Tondonia’s new tasting room, which was designed by the late Zaha Hadid.
Travel Tips: The closest (semi) major airport to Haro is in Bilbao (BIO), from which it takes 90 minutes to drive. Otherwise, you can fly into Madrid (MAD) and drive about three hours. This could be a good use of Iberia Avios. In terms of points hotels, the options are slim pickings (or is it cuttings in wine country?). However, there is one standout option: the Frank Gehry-designed Marqués de Riscal winery and hotel. The property is a member of Marriott’s Luxury Collection. Though room rates tend to start rather high, around €500 ($575) you can use your points to book a room here for 60,000 per night.
July: Finger Lakes, New York
Not as well known as some of the other US wine regions, New York’s Finger Lakes has nonetheless garnered a devoted following thanks to some truly fantastic white wines. The setting is pretty spectacular, too. Winters here are harsh, but summer is a beautiful time to enjoy the lakes and woods. Especially if you come over the second weekend in July, during the Finger Lakes Wine Festival. The 2019 festival will take place from July 12 to 14, and will include live concerts, wine-tasting seminars (both free and paid), a costume parade, an enormous four-course banquet and more.
Travel Tips: The nearest major airports are Rochester International Airport (ROC) and Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR). Both are about 90 minutes away by car. You can also just drive up from Buffalo in two hours, or New York City in about five hours. There aren’t too many major hotel choices in the area, but there is a cute Best Western if you just can’t go without earning or redeeming points for your trip.
August: Sicily, Italy
Or really, anywhere in Italy in August. That’s because wineries and entire towns up and down Italy, from Sicily in the south to the Alpine regions up north, celebrate Calici di Stelle, or the “Night of the Shooting Stars.” The whimsically titled evening takes place Aug. 10 and is a joint venture by Italy’s wine tourism office and the Città del Vino, an association of Italian winemaking cities. The night is specifically meant to draw visitors and locals alike to wineries and towns specializing in wine production.
Events include dinners, live performances, design and art shows and more, and are too numerous to list. Needless to say, though, if you are planning a trip to Italy in August, it would be a shame to miss this event. Luckily, wineries and towns plan special happenings for about a week before as well, so if you’re not there on the exact night, you should still find a number of ways to experience Italy’s great winemaking traditions.
Travel Tips: This will depend on where exactly you want to head, but you can at least check out our guides to Milan and Rome, and keep an eye out for great airfare deals (think: $332 round-trip from the US to Italy).
September: Sonoma, California
Spend Memorial Day in Napa for BottleRock, but head over to Sonoma for Labor Day. Events take place throughout the valley over the holiday weekend. However, the main attraction is Taste of Sonoma, held on Saturday afternoon. There, festival-goers can sample wines from over 100 local wineries, enjoy bites from dozens of local chefs and restaurants and attend talks about the wine topics. What’s more, certain credit cards come with awesome perks, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, among others. You might have access to discounted tickets, early entry to the event, preferred seating and even a special Visa Signature Winemaker’s Bar.
Travel Tips: You have your choice of major airports nearby, including San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC) and even Sacramento (SMF), not to mention little Santa Rosa Airport (STS) right in Sonoma Valley itself. If you want to use points for a hotel stay, the Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa is part of Marriott and is right in the town of Sonoma. The Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country was badly damaged in last year’s fires, but has since been restored and reopened.
October: Rosslyn, Virginia
Last year marked the 43rd annual Virginia Wine Festival, which was held in mid-October and included unlimited tastings of over 200 Virginia wines for just $40, along with live musical entertainment, an “oyster pavilion” serving oysters from the Chesapeake region, several food trucks and gourmet food vendors. Though details about the 2019 event have not been released, keep Virginia in mind this October if you’re looking for a place to celebrate fabulous US grapes. Plus, no matter what your opinion of Virginia wines, the convenience factor alone makes it a great option for travelers.
Travel Tips: Nothing complicated here. Stay in DC, which is filled with points properties, then head across the river for the festival. Travelers should also consider the Lansdowne Resort and Spa, a 45-minute drive from the capital. Here, guests can enjoy wine-inspired spa treatments, elbow up to the LOCO Tasting Room when it opens in 2019 and enjoy views of the Virginia countryside.
November: Margaret River, Australia
Winemakers in North America and Europe hunker down after harvest as the serious cellar work gets underway. But vineyards come back to life again down south once spring has sprung. That (and the phenomenal burst of wildflowers to be found here) make it the ideal time to visit one of the world’s most remote and intriguing wine regions: Western Australia’s Margaret River. It’s a three-hour drive from Perth, which is already considered the most isolated major city on earth. But the trip here is well worth the effort come November, thanks to the annual Gourmet Escape.
This year’s Gourmet Escape will take place from November 16 to 18, and includes celebrity guests like Nigella Lawson, mainstay events like a gourmet beach barbecue, plus over 40 other festivities in gorgeous locations throughout the region. More than 70 of the area’s wineries, which make palate-pleasing Bordeaux-style reds, will be offering tastings, and there will be special lunches and dinners held at tasting rooms and restaurants all over the area.
Travel Tips: Though far from, well, pretty much everywhere, it’s actually easier to get here than you think. We’ve seen flash award sales on flights to Australia for as few as 48,000 miles round-trip, airfare sales to Perth starting at $679 round-trip and plenty of other ways to use miles to get to Australia.
Spend a couple days checking out the scene in Perth, including the Botanical Gardens at King’s Park and the boho-chic streets of Fremantle (or getting a quokka selfie on Rottnest Island). Then rent a car and make the drive down to Margaret River. There are a few inexpensive hotels around Busselton, but if you can splurge, it’s worth doing so on a stay at Cape Lodge.
December: Mosel, Germany
Visiting the Mosel Valley in December is a way to combine the best of Germany’s famous Christmas markets with the chance to try some of the world’s finest white wines. It’s true, the region’s steeply-sloping vineyards are not quite as picturesque at this time of year. However, you’ll have more than enough Instagram fodder in the storybook town of Bernkastel-Kues, where the façade of a huge half-timbered house in the town’s main square is converted into a life-size Advent calendar each December.
You could settle for some spiced Glühwein as you browse the dozens of stalls at the town’s festive Christmas market, but Santa would put you on his naughty list if you skipped out on trying the region’s famous Rieslings. You can make appointments at individual cellars, or get a good overview of the region and its vintages at the town’s Vinothek, where you can sample from a selection of nearly 200 wines after visiting the small museum.
Travel Tips: The Mosel is about a two-hour drive from Frankfurt, whose airport (FRA) is Lufthansa’s main hub. The TPG team’s favorite way of traveling there is in Lufthansa first class, but there are plenty of other ways to use miles, too.
Featured image by Westend61/Getty Images.
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