Where to eat and drink in Australia’s wine regions: Tips from Singapore’s top sommeliers

Because the Yarra Valley’s sub-regions have enough climatic differences, certain grape varieties work better in particular areas: What works on the valley floor may not necessarily translate well in the Upper Yarra. A French influence can be seen in primary varieties across the Yarra – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon dominate – and these have led to the majority of “icon” wines from the cool climate region.

Apart from wine, there’s gin! Four Pillars Gin has been a global success story of late for the Yarra. I should also tip my cap to the Melbourne Gin Company for making some delicious tipples.    

As for the Mornington Peninsula wine region, located south of Melbourne, it has certainly found its flag bearers in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, despite its initial trials with Bordeaux-style (Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot) blends.

I’d recommend you look at wineries like Ten Minutes by Tractor, Yabby Lake, Main Ridge, Crittenden Estate, Garagiste, and Nazaaray – they would make a great tour from the northern end to the southern tip of the region; you can taste examples from “up the hill” and “down the hill” from some of the top flights of the Peninsula’s wine offerings.

If you plan to visit a particular winery, always make sure to call ahead as even big cellar doors can get incredibly busy and have to limit visitors.

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How to Keep an Open Bottle of Wine Fresh, According to the Experts

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Meet the award-winning culinary experts changing the way you wine and dine with American Airlines – Breaking Travel News

Meet the award-winning culinary experts changing the way you wine and dine with American Airlines  Breaking Travel News

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Share a tip on a UK castle for the chance to wine a £200 holiday prize | Travel

With moats to peer into, turrets to climb and battlements from which to see off imaginary baddies, the UK’s generous sprinkling of castles make great family days out. This week we’re asking for your favourite, be it the organised fun of somewhere like Warwick Castle or a brooding ruin frequented only by cawing crows.

Please include prices and websites if relevant, and if you have a photo of the fortress in question, do send it in – but it’s your words that will be judged for the competition.

Keep your tip to about 100 words

The best tip of the week, chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet, will win a £200 voucher to stay at a Sawday’s property – the company has more than 3,000 in the UK and Europe. The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website, and maybe in the paper, too.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.

We’re sorry, but for legal reasons you must be a UK resident to enter this competition.

The competition closes on 12 April at 9am BST

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

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7 Tips For Navigating Bordeaux’s Wine Region

I can distinctly remember the first time I visited a vineyard as a travel writer. I was touring Canada’s Niagara Escarpment wine region and I asked a group of winemakers about the philosophy behind their work. They told me they were anti-Bordeaux. Their disdain was such that when they went to the aforementioned French wine region for research, they actually took photos of themselves flipping the bird at the famous Châteaux. Message received. Bordeaux was snobby, inaccessible, too big for its britches.

I kept this story to myself when I was touring Bordeaux’s wine region this autumn as part of a press trip. However, late one night and surrounded by many bottles, something in me decided to share the tale. (I think we can all agree that the “something” in question was wine!) To my utter delight, the young winemakers at my table roared in laughter. And, to my surprise, they agreed with those Niagara producers. Bordeaux was too uptight, they said, and they were committed to making it more accessible. Suddenly, things in Bordeaux didn’t seem that snobby at all. Turns out, you don’t need to be much of a wine expert to have an amazing time in Bordeaux. You just need a little guidance!

1. Know A Bit About The Name

Researching a trip to Bordeaux gets a bit confusing at times, thanks in part to the many meanings of the word itself. Bordeaux is the name of a city, the ninth largest in France. It can also refer to the municipal region around the city. And, of course, Bordeaux refers to a wine region. And what a wine region it is!

The Bordeaux wine region is the largest in France and one of the biggest in the world. And it’s fans would make a passionate case that it is the best. In his book Wine Simple, sommelier Aldo Sohm writes, “When you ask critics for their lifetime top ten, I promise you that there will be at least two Bordeaux in there.”

And that leads to yet another meaning of the word Bordeaux. It can be shorthand for a great bottle of wine, usually red, that comes from this region. But the one thing it is not is a grape. The region is synonymous with cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes but there’s no ‘Bordeaux’ grape”.

2. Get A Grasp On Geography

Bordeaux’s wine region is a little bit like New York City. The city is divided into boroughs subdivided into further neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has their own price point and value proposition and it doesn’t really matter if it’s tiny or huge but everyone agrees that being close to the river is always a big deal. Everyone’s making pizza and you’ve got distinct local styles and individual producers who stake their reputations on small details like the nuance in the ingredients and preparation process.

That’s Bordeaux for you. It has several large regions and, within each, there are smaller regions known as appellations. “Appellation” comes from the French word “appel”, meaning “to call.” Just like you can only call yourself a true Brooklynite if you live in Brooklyn and cheer for the Nets, in Bordeaux a wine is only part of an appellation if it grew up there — and follows certain standards. In this case, it’s not what sports team you cheer for but the way grapes are used and how. Instead of pizza parlors, there are wine-producing estates known as châteaux. In some of the smallest appellations, there might be a few half a dozen châteaux producing their namesake wine.

Aerial view of rivers running through the Bordeaux wine region.
SpiritProd33 / Shutterstock.com

3. Appreciate The Role Of The River

These regions and appellations are highly influenced by their proximity to water. Bordeaux is shaped quite literally by the Gironde Estuary (the point where the Dordogne River and the Garonne River meet and then head out to sea). The Gironde splits the region in two, creating a left bank and a right bank — as well as a pocket of land in the space between the Dordogne and Garonne known as Entre-Deux-Mers or “between two seas.” As a very loose rule, the left bank tends to produce more expensive wines and grows a lot of cabernet sauvignon, while the right is a touch more affordable and often produces merlot grapes. However, the truth is that you can find bargains and splurges and different grapes just about anywhere.

In case you’re suddenly feeling a bit bamboozled by the idea of remembering river banks and appellations, it’s helpful to know that Bordeaux, like all wine regions, is really all about agriculture. Water and landscape and soil quality and growing conditions affect wine like any other crop. And in Bordeaux, you’ve got some amazing farmers that bring it all together!

4. You Don’t Need To Be An Expert, Really!

If you’re thinking to yourself that the idea of visiting dozens of appellations, each containing a multitude of châteaux (i.e. winery estates) is overwhelming, you’re absolutely right. And therein lies the freedom of Bordeaux. No one could possibly know every wine, from every year, from every winery, in every appellation. You could spend your entire life just getting to know the wines of one tiny appellation, the differences in the soil at each château, the effects of aging in different barrels. As such, can anyone really call themselves a Bordeaux expert? It’s impossible! Which means that this is a region for everyone. 

Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, France.
Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, France (Photo Credit: Elena Pominova / Shutterstock.com)

5. You Can Stick With The City

There’s no right or wrong place to start a Bordeaux wine tour. However, it’s worth mentioning that, if you can’t leave the city, you can still enjoy a wonderful wine experience. Bordeaux is home to an excellent wine museum, Cité du Vin. A glass of wine at the rooftop bar is included with admission and there is also a superb restaurant on site. 

Bordeaux is filled with wine shops but the best of the best is L’Intendant. Located in the heart of the city, just a few short steps from the Opera House, this multi-story wine shop is built around a giant circular staircase and is a dream for photographers as well as oenophiles. You’ll find inexpensive bottles on the ground floor, along with helpful staff who can arrange international shipping. 

Vineyards in Saint-Emilion, France.
Vineyards in Saint-Emilion, France (Photo Credit: Robert Mullan / Shutterstock.com)

6. Explore Guided Day Trips To Wine Country

There are dozens of guided tour options in Bordeaux wine country and the tourism office has a well organized page listing many of them. The less expensive excursions, starting at just a few euros, are designed for people with their own transportation. Look beyond the prosaic vineyard tour and tasting combos for more inspiring activities, like this combination of a wine and chocolate tasting

Higher priced items include transportation from Bordeaux city center and often run a full day. You can expect to pay up to 150 euros (around $170) for a small group tour that includes lunch, a village tour, and a visit to two vineyards. I like this day-long visit to St-Emilion which includes a bike ride, a walking tour, and vineyard lunch.

A guided tour is a nice way to see things further afield without having to worry about driving, navigating, and hiring a car. However, you are limited by a tight schedule and set itinerary. A much more flexible and economical option is to design your own excursions.

7. You Can Plan A DIY Bordeaux Wine Tour

It is absolutely possible to explore on your own. In fact, you might not even need a car! You can use public transportation to visit many châteaux just outside the city of Bordeaux. If you’re willing to add on a bike rental, your options increase even more. The tourism board has an excellent page outlining the different options. I’ve followed their instructions for traveling between the city center and Podensac and had an excellent experience.

If you do explore the region on your own by car, plan on appointing a designated driver with a fully charged phone and GPS capability for navigation. With your own wheels, the world is your oyster (an apt cliche, as some of the world’s best shellfish comes from the Bordeaux coast!) You can explore by interest or appellation. The Bordeaux Wine Trip blog (part of Pulpe Magazine), has lists of vineyards according to theme — like artsy vineyards, eco-properties, historical vineyards, and so on. If you’re overwhelmed on where to start, consider embracing a theme to guide your journey. 

Alternatively, choose an appellation and start exploring. I’d go with a tiny one. It’s much easier to get a sense of what Pomerol-produced wine is like than Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, just because you’ll be spending far less time driving around. Rest assured that every appellation produces excellent red and white wines and wineries are eager to help you find a blend that you love. You can expect warm welcomes that might even make those Niagara producers change their minds!

Pro Tip: Background Reading

There’s a great section on Bordeaux in Elizabeth Schneider’s fun and easy-to-read book, Wine For Normal People.

For more information on Bordeaux and the delectable wine enjoyed worldwide: 

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‘We’re going to drink wine on a gondola’: Readers’ favourite romantic trips | Romantic trips

Winning tip: Valentine’s in Venice – I mean Aveiro

I told my fiancée we were going somewhere where we would drink wine on a gondola so she was a bit surprised when we got on a plane to Portugal and not Italy. I had to explain that I meant the Venice south of Porto – the pretty canal town of Aveiro. The stay there, I informed her, would be half the cost of the real Venice and just as nice – both of which turned out to be true. Aveiro also has pretty, colourful waterfront houses and loads of cafes and seafood restaurants hugging its extensive network of calm, peaceful canals. I risked being dubbed a cheapskate but we both loved it – a great romantic choice for a Valentine break on a budget.

Mimosas and seductive beaches, Côte d’Azur

Reverllers at the Mimosa Festival, Mandelieu-La Napoule.
Revellers at the Mimosa festival, Mandelieu-La Napoule. Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy

Forget red roses, picture instead hills swathed in fragrant yellow mimosa. Mandelieu-la-Napoule is overlooked by the Massif du Tanneron, said to be the largest mimosa forest in Europe. More intimate than nearby Cannes, this Côte d’Azur gem nestled under the pine-swathed, extinct volcano San Peyre, also boasts the fairytale, medieval Château Napoule, which stands alongside one of several seductive golden beaches. Mandelieu was our base for a Valentine’s mini-break one February. It coincided with the town’s annual 10-day mimosa festival, a feast both visual and olfactory. Spectacular sunsets over the blush-red rocks of the Esterel massif added to the romantic vibe.


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Guardian Travel readers’ tips

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Romance in Rutland

Rutland Water
Photograph: Sharon Pinner

If a stroll by a picturesque lake watching wildfowl against the backdrop of a deep orange sunset is your idea of romantic, a stay in Rutland, England’s smallest historic county, could fit the bill. To celebrate our wedding anniversary just after Valentine’s Day, we stayed near Rutland Water at the Rutland Hall Hotel (doubles from £109 B&B). As well as Rutland Water, we enjoyed exploring the small market town of Oakham nearby. Particularly impressive is the Norman Great Hall of Oakham Castle, included on the town’s heritage trail. Admission is free; it is also available for wedding hire.
Sharon Pinner

Frozen lakes, hot cabin, Sweden

cottage, Lulea
Photograph: Joana Kruse/Alamy

My perfect romantic trip is a Swedish adventure starting in Stockholm. In the day I’ll meander through the city window-shopping, visit the national museum and be inspired by Rembrandt, Renoir and Degas, making sure to stop for cosy fika (coffee and cake) breaks. Then at night I’ll watch the city come alive in moonlight with a romantic stroll in the snow after a candlelit dinner. The next evening I’ll catch the night train up to Luleå close to the Arctic Circle, spending time with my partner in our cabin and getting ready to explore the giant frozen lake on ice skates.
Imogen Cappelow

Candles and couples, Kotor, Montenegro

Perast, Montenegro.
Perast, Montenegro. Photograph: Ken Welsh/Alamy

Perast, Montenegro, is historic, peaceful and relentlessly romantic. The Unesco-protected, car-free town climbs the hillside from the Bay of Kotor. Opposite, limestone mountains stretch down to the bay. Some Venetian palaces have been transformed into boutique hotels; others linger as crumbling memorials. Jetties radiate giving access, in summer, to sunbathing, swimming and boating. In the late afternoon, day trippers from Kotor depart and calm descends. Candle-topped tables line the waterfront, inviting couples to feast on fresh fish or sip a glass of local Varna wine. Eyes constantly savour the reflecting bay, towering mountains and two small isles, capped with charming chapels.
Debbie Rolls

A roof terrace and a rising moon, La Gomera, Canary Islands

Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera.
Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera. Photograph: Peter Schickert/Alamy

We had a wonderful holiday on La Gomera in the Canary Islands one year, getting there by ferry from Tenerife. The lack of direct flights from mainland Europe means the island retains its simplicity and charm. We spent easy days on the beach, swimming and eating fresh rolls filled with local avocados. One memorably romantic night, we dined at La Orquidea in the town of Valle Gran Rey. Sitting on the roof terrace overlooking the sea, we ate lenguado (sole) with the Gomeran speciality mojo sauce, and watched the reddest of sunsets followed by the rising of the full moon over the sea. Utterly unforgettable.
Gill White

The lovely bones and Michelangelo, Rome

Sistine Chapel
Photograph: Juergen Ritterbach/Alamy

I could have stared into the eyes of Saint Valentine for ever … well, where the eyes would have been, at least. What’s claimed to be his skull is in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin. A short walk along the river later, we were in the stunning Sistine Chapel. In the afternoon, we tried our hands at boating on the lake at beautiful Villa Borghese, and then took in the breathtaking views over the ancient city from the nearby Casina Valadier roof bar: a perfect spot for an evening cocktail. Before returning to our hotel, we had a relaxing night-time visit to the luxury De La Ville spa. Così romantico!
Shelly Asquith

Cosy up with a cream tea, Dorset

Scones with Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream
Photograph: Dave Denby/Alamy

I love walking with my partner along the beaches of Lyme Bay. On a good day you’ll see the stunning cliffs of the Jurassic coast, deep-blue sea and matching sky. On a wintry one, everything’s shrouded in atmospheric stormy grey. Keep walking from the visitors’ centre – it’s blissfully quiet this time of year. We love fossil-seeking and rockpooling, finding starfish and tiny, translucent shrimps. If you don’t have any luck with dinosaurs, you can alway take home a heart-shaped sea stone! To round off a glorious Valentine’s Day, warm up with a cosy cream tea in a Lyme Regis cafe or wander around the Town Mill craft workshops.

All romantic roads lead to Rhodes

Saint Paul’s Bay, Lindos.
Saint Paul’s Bay, Lindos. Photograph: Esra Kelham

Saint Paul’s Bay in Lindos, Rhodes, is beautiful. I went there with my husband-to-be when we were dating – it was our first holiday together. I’ll never forget swimming close to the mouth of the bay with him and watching a gigantic shoal of fish glide past. It was magical. We go back to Rhodes now as a married couple and always visit Saint Paul’s Bay to relive that wonderful first holiday.
Esra Kelham

A tandem cycle between the marvels of Berlin

Sanssouci Palace.
Sanssouci Palace. Photograph: Mariusz Burcz/Alamy

The Unesco city of Potsdam is an easy train ride from Berlin. It’s ideal to explore by bike – in true romantic style, we took a tandem. Cycling through Sanssouci Park there are many fabulous buildings to marvel at, including Sanssouci Palace and the Chinese House. Equally thrilling was Glienicke Bridge, or the Bridge of Spies, as it was known during the cold war era. Prefer warmth? There’s plenty to do inside, including a film museum, the Barberini museum and cosy venues for kaffee und kuchen.

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For wine, consider the Okanagan instead of Napa Valley

Although it’s about 155 miles long, the Okanagan is surprisingly diverse, climate-wise. Travelers typically fly into Kelowna, in the Lake Country subregion, where the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyards, was established in 1932. Wineries here are known for such varietals as riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir. At one of the best, Quails’ Gate, you can visit the lakeside tasting room, have a wine-paired meal at Old Vines Restaurant and sleep it all off at the adjoining guesthouse.

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My 7 Favorite Experiences In Oregon Wine Country

Since the 1980s, when Oregon’s pinot noir wines began earning accolades on the international stage, wine lovers have been flocking to the Willamette Valley’s vineyards and wineries. Back then, they found less than 50 wineries in the newly formed Willamette Valley AVA. Today more than 700 wineries dot the landscape — and Oregon wine country has become a vacation destination.

Like the Burgundy region of France, the green and rolling coast range foothills are perfect for producing quality wine grapes. Protected by the mountains from the cold and wet air of the Pacific Ocean, the region’s volcanic soils and climate are especially well-suited to grow pinot noir. Of the more than 27,000 acres planted in vineyards, 19,000 acres are growing pinot noir grapes. Pinot gris and chardonnay are the second-most extensive plantings, with varieties such as syrah, riesling, and other varietals a distant third. 

The highest concentration of wineries is about an hour’s drive southwest of Portland. Several companies offer tours from Portland or Salem, or you can make the 30-minute drive yourself. More than 120 of Oregon’s boutique wineries are within a 10-mile radius of Newberg, making it easy to visit multiple tasting rooms on a day trip or weekend getaway. 

But there’s more to wine country than just tasting rooms. In addition to award-winning wines, wine lovers will find five-star luxury hotels, indulgent spas, and farm-to-table fine dining. Wine shows up in everything, from facials at the spa to cocktails. Travelers can also choose from a host of outdoor activities that add adventure to a wine-tasting weekend. 

Here are seven of my favorite experiences in Oregon wine country.

Note: Thank you to Taste Newberg for hosting me on a press trip to this beautiful area. All opinions are my own.

Wine tasting at Arlyn Vineyard.
June Russell-Chamberlin

1. Wine Tasting 

With so many wineries close together, it’s easy to be your own guide. For planning information, visit the Willamette Valley Wine website to discover a boutique winery you’ve never heard of (many only sell to its wine club members and at the tasting room), or track down award-winning wines at their source. The site also includes lists of tasting rooms that are kid- or dog-friendly. A touring guide and special events calendar are available on the Oregon Wine website.

Wineries are as unique as the wines they produce. A few to try: woman-owned Arlyn vineyard, winery, and farm, which releases just 900 cases of wine a year; Domaine Divio, for its Burgundy-style wines and scenic views; Eminent Domaine, which crafts bold wines amid Ribbon Ridge’s grand vistas; and Rex Hill, for its outstanding wines, B Corp status, and LIVE-certified sustainable practices.  

Most wineries offer outdoor seating in the garden or on the patio, as well as space indoors to enjoy the wine on rainy days. Some tasting rooms offer a cheese or charcuterie plate, but for heartier fare, you’ll want to pack a picnic. Wherever your wine-touring takes you, be sure to call ahead for hours and reservations. 

Pro Tip: If you’d rather let someone else do the driving, you can choose from a variety of tour companies. The Taste Newberg website lists more than 30 tour companies under the “Explore” tab. 

Kayaking the Willamette Water Trail.
Photo Credit: Taste Newberg

2. The Willamette Water Trail

For 187 miles, the Willamette Water Trail runs through the Willamette Valley and Oregon wine country. This makes it a prime spot for kayakers, standup paddle boarders, canoers, and others who want to spend a lazy afternoon on the wide, clear green Willamette River. Watch for great blue herons and other wildlife along the tree-lined river, or pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the riverside parks. Several companies, such as Alder Creek, rent kayaks, SUPs, or canoes during the summer months for the day or the afternoon. 

One of the best places to launch is Rogers Landing, just a few miles from downtown Newberg. The park has an extensive dock, a boat ramp, picnic tables, and restrooms. Plan to spend 2 to 4 hours on a leisurely paddle with little current. A small launch fee is required.

Treatments at the Allison Inn & Spa.
Photo Credit: Allison Inn & Spa

3. The Allison Spa

The award-winning Allison Spa offers manicures, pedicures, and such luxurious treatments as an hour-long massage with champagne oil, a divine wine facial, and skin-enhancing light therapy. Though COVID has forced suspension of hydrotherapy services and use of the sauna and steam room, the spa still offers massages and other wellness treatments in 12 private rooms. Enjoy a private yoga session or relax with Himalayan salt therapy, one of the spa’s newest features. The 15,000-square-foot space provides areas for relaxation, including the reservable Sky Lounge for groups. Reservations should be made 6 to 8 weeks in advance.

Pro Tip: The Allison Spa is located in the Allison Inn, which is surrounded by extensive gardens and walking paths. Take a stroll around the grounds, where art lines the paved walks and blown glass sprouts from the flowerbeds. Most of the art is for sale, so the sculpture garden is always featuring new art.  

Wine de Roads.
June Russell-Chamberlin

4. Wine De Roads

Touring wine country by bicycle allows you to slow down, savor the beauty of the rolling hills, and immerse yourself in the scents and sounds of the countryside. Breath in the fresh air, the aroma of woodsmoke, or grapes ripening on the vines. You might pedal past vineyards, wineries, grazing horses, lavender fields, or farm stands. The routes selected by bicycle tour company Wine de Roads vary, but they all lead guests on a leisurely ride in the Chehalem Valley with stops for tastings at three boutique wineries. 

The fee includes everything you’ll need to ride, including a Raleigh hybrid bike, water bottle, helmet, and safety vest (you can bring your own helmet if you prefer). It does not include tasting fees. Routes are chosen for their lack of traffic and the wineries along the way. Although the tour lasts 6 hours, only 1 to 2 hours is actually spent riding. This allows for an unhurried experience in the tasting rooms. If you cannot ride the whole way, the support van can pick you up (it also carries any wine you purchase).   

Hike and wine tasting at Rex Hill.
June Russell-Chamberlin

5. Hike The Rex Hill Vineyard 

If you’ve ever wanted to tour a vineyard with an expert in grape growing and have your questions answered, here’s your chance. Rex Hill winery offers guided seasonal walks through the estate’s pinot noir vineyard on the hill beside its tasting room (with expansive views of the valley from the top). 

Guests will learn about the soils of the Willamette Valley, the grapevine’s lifecycle, and how both affect the wine. They’ll also learn about the winery’s biodynamic, LIVE-certified, and sustainable approach to growing grapes. Then they get to taste the fruits of the vineyard — Rex Hill’s pinot noir wines. The tour includes a flight of five wines, some during the hike and some afterward in the light-filled tasting room. 

Dressing in layers and wearing comfortable, water-resistant walking shoes is recommended. Tours are held Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Reservations can be made online at Tock (preferred) or by phone at (503) 538-0666.

Pro Tip: Look for the old drying tunnels in the tasting room building; the facility was formerly used for drying fruits and hazelnuts. 

Dessert at SubTerra.
SubTerra dessert (Photo Credit: Taste Newberg)

6. Farm-To-Table Dining

The Willamette Valley grows a great deal more than quality wine grapes, and much of it will land on your plate at the local farm-to-table restaurants. JORY, the in-house restaurant at the Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg, even has a chef’s garden to ensure the freshest ingredients for its gourmet meals. SubTerra, another fine dining restaurant, sources ingredients from nearby farms and artisan producers, such as Alchemist’s Jam. The Painted Lady restaurant offers an eight-course tasting menu made from fresh, local ingredients. The menus at each of these restaurants change with the seasons. Reservations are recommended. 

Vista Balloon Adventures.
Photo Credit: Vista Balloon Adventures

7. Vista Balloon Adventures 

Imagine floating on a misty summer morning in a hot air balloon over the patchwork of orchards, vineyards, and fields of Oregon wine country. Far below, the sunlight glints off the Willamette River, a dark ribbon that winds through the verdant hills and valleys. For nearly 30 years, Vista Balloon Adventures has been delighting guests with an elevated perspective on Oregon wine country, flying gently over the valley in the quiet early morning hours.

The adventure begins at dawn with the inflation of the 100-foot-tall balloons. The family-owned company flies up to six balloons at a time, in small baskets that hold two people (plus the pilot) or larger baskets that can accommodate up to 10 guests. The balloons fly for an hour before landing in a field; the location depends on where the wind takes them. A chase van returns guests to the company base in Newberg after the balloons are deflated and packed up. 

The entire experience takes about 2 to 3 hours. The balloons fly from April through October, weather permitting. Reservations should be made well in advance. 

Pro Tip: Dress in layers. Mornings are cool, but once you’re airborne, you won’t feel the wind and the propane burners warm up the basket.

Wine country experiences in Oregon:

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American Wine Vacations to Take This Season

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Women + Wine: Exploring the Heart of Georgia Wine Country

Three wine lovers visit Yonah Mountain Vineyards in part one of a series

From left, Billie Harris, Sarah Pierre, and Katie Rice at Yonah Mountain Vineyards.

The Dahlonega / Lumpkin County area of Georgia is known as the “heart of Georgia wine country” and in 2018 became the AVA Dahlonega Plateau (an AVA, or American Viticultural Area, is a label given by the Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau to a specific area of land that is designated by a unique climate and geographic area).

The history of Georgia wine dates to colonial times and in 1880 the state was the sixth largest producer of wine with nearly 1 million gallons per year. The original vintners took indigenous varietals like Muscadine and Scuppernong and made sweet wines, while the newcomers experimented with traditional grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay and unique ones like Seyval Blanc and Tannat.   

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that some of the first commercial wineries were established in North Georgia, like Habersham Winery in Helen and Chateau Elan in Braselton. Three Sisters Vineyards was the first within the Dahlonaga AVA. Now, there are 101 wine making permits in Georgia. 

We joined Billie Harris of The Vino Van on a recent Friday to travel north and visit three unique wineries that help tell the tale of Georgia wine. Our adventure began in front of VinoTeca where we met Billie, driver JT and her Mercedes Sprinter.  The Vino Van was established in 2017 as a way for Billie to bring her “friends in wine” safely to North Georgia wine country and share her love for wine.  Growing up in Mississippi, Billie’s grandmother owned a small grocery that, in May 2016, her family worked to have added to the National Historic Registry.  It was her family values that made her build a business immersed with something she loved.  Billie studied wine at Vino Venue in Atlanta, Emory University, and Subvino in Nashville. She currently holds a WSET (Wine Spirit and Education Trust) Level 2 certification. Making unforgettable memories with friends and family over wine is the heart of The Vino Van.

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