Grape escapes: six lesser-known wine destinations worth visiting

By Businessweek , September 18 2017
Grape escapes: six lesser-known wine destinations worth visiting

Wine tourism isn’t just expanding – it’s getting more creative in every corner of the globe, with more vine estates than ever wooing oenophiles with luxurious digs and experiences to indulge their grape-driven passions.

As always, superb wines and great estates are my first criteria for picking a region to escape to. But I try to look beyond wine cellar tastings and a chance to picnic in the vines; extra-special highlights include stunning and unusual landscapes to explore, delicious, creative, local cuisine to savor, and soothing rooms to sleep in when my taste buds need a break.

My crop of six destinations for 2018 delivers all of that – and more.

Jackalope Hotel, Mornington Peninsula, Australia

World famous pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards alternate with white sand beaches, natural hot springs, towering gum trees (and three of the country’s top 10 golf courses) in this easy-to-get-to wine region only an hour from Melbourne.

The new draw is the curated-cool Jackalope Hotel at Willow Creek Vineyard (; from US$500), which opened earlier this year and has already won awards for its sumptuous design.

The bar at the Jackalope Hotel
The bar at the Jackalope Hotel

Picture a smart, urban vibe with eerie neon hallways, an electric blue billiard table, black infinity pool, and deep-soak stone Japanese baths—as well as delicious wines. Those wanting to be ahead of the pack take note: Many superb local wineries are little known outside Australia now, but their wines will arrive internationally soon.

Other wineries to visit: Moorooduc Estate, Paringa Estate, experimental Quealy Winemakers, and especially Two Minutes by Tractor, which also has an award-winning wine list in its restaurant.

Central Otago, New Zealand

Apparently everyone in the U.S. wants to travel to whistle-clean nature haven New Zealand – tourism visits in 2017 are up 24 percent over last year.

But what visitors may not know is that there’s more to the country’s wines than sauvignon blanc, and there are so many gorgeous wine regions it’s tough to single out one.

Vines at Rippon Vineyard on Lake Wanaka, Wanaka, Otago
Vines at Rippon Vineyard on Lake Wanaka, Wanaka, Otago

For sheer grandeur of scenery - stunning mountains, pristine blue lakes – and proximity to such extreme sports as bungee jumping or ziplining, it’s hard to beat pinot noir-centric Central Otago. Near Queenstown, it’s also the gateway to the famous Milford Track, rated the finest walk in the world.

This is the kind of place where a tiny winery, Mount Michael, offers private heli-tastings on a mountaintop instead of in a tasting room; last year the winery opened the region’s only luxury boutique B&B among the vines.

The ultimate luxury place to stay, though, is Azur Lodge, which has nine chic private villas with superb lake and mountain views. [From US$850;]

Squeeze in visits to these wineries: Peregrine, Rippon, Burn Cottage, Mt. Difficulty, Two Paddocks, Quartz Reef, and Felton Road.

Bodega Colomé, Salta, Argentina

Civilized Mendoza is the Napa Valley of Argentina, but adventure lurks in Salta Province, the high-altitude wine region tucked into the rugged northwest corner of the country– near Bolivia and Chile. It’s the epicenter for fragrant white torrontes, savory, concentrated malbecs, and a spectacular landscape of giant cacti, rust-colored rock formations, and the snow-topped Andes.

Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé

Remote Bodega Colomé, a 19th century winery purchased by Swiss multimillionaire and art collector Donald Hess in 2001 (he also owns Hess Collection in Napa), is the ultimate vine escape-from-it-all.

A four-and-a-half hour drive from the city of Salta on teeth-rattling dirt roads, it’s a unique Shangri-La of wine, art, and 160,000 acres for hiking, biking, and oohing and aahing.

Besides producing a top malbec from a vineyard at an elevation of 10,207 feet, Hess has created a stunning museum devoted to the light installations of American artist James Turrell.

Starting Nov. 1, the winery is reopening Casa del Fundador, its 9-room luxury hotel (; from US$250) in a typical tile-roofed estancia building. The large, airy rooms in earth tones open on a courtyard with a Zen-like fountain, and yes, there’s a fine restaurant.

Mt Etna, Sicily, Italy

A romantic, smoking volcano to climb, unusual grapes, Greek temple ruins, pristine beaches, and some of today’s hottest great wines combine to make this vino destination packed with drama and history.

Researchers have just discovered that wine has probably been made for 6,000 years in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean just off the toe of Italy’s boot. Until recently, though, its reds, whites, and rosés got little respect.

A room at Mt Etna's Monaci delle Terre Nere
A room at Mt Etna's Monaci delle Terre Nere

Now, despite the looming possibility of periodic eruptions, the Mt. Etna region has become the symbol of Sicily’s wine resurgence. The unique lava and ash terrain has drawn dozens of top winemakers from Italy and around the world. Key wineries to visit include Benanti, Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Vino di Anna, Planeta Sciara Nuova.

My pick for a place to stay is Monaci delle Terre Nere (; US$250 to US$750), a romantic former monastery that’s now a chic, 40-acre eco-bio retreat on Mt. Etna’s slopes that offers yoga overlooking the vines, rooms with lava stone walls, and views of both Mt. Etna and the sea.

Single Thread Farm in Sonoma, California

Sonoma’s laid-back vibe is often overshadowed by Napa’s glitz and glamor. But Sonoma definitely tops its twin when it comes to diversity of wines, with superb chardonnays, pinot noirs, syrahs, and a dozen other varietals. Dozens of gourmet farms, craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries make it a paradise for good foodie living.

The reason to visit now is much buzzed-about Single Thread Farms, a combo restaurant, inn, farm, and tiny winery that opened last December in Healdsburg. It takes Sonoma’s relaxed wine luxury to a new level.

The dining room at Single Thread
The dining room at Single Thread

Set in a former post office building off Healdsburg’s charming central plaza, the restaurant and inn are also the perfect spot to explore nearby wineries in Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander valleys, and new sophisticated tasting “lounges” around the square.

The crown jewel of Single Thread is its restaurant, where chef Kyle Connaughton’s 11-course Japan-meets-California menu uses ingredients sourced from the Single Thread farm.

The five rooms (; from US$900; dinner US$295) reflect a Japanese ryokan-inspired aesthetic, and include a Teforia Leaf tea infuser in your room.

Best nearby wineries to visit: Ridge Lytton Springs, J Vineyards, Ramey Wine Cellars, Jordan, Copain.

Chateau La Coste, Provence, France

If you think Provence and its rosés are ho-hum clichés, think again. The region is as movie-set beautiful as ever, and art and wine estate Château La Coste near Aix-en-Provence offers a new reason to go: sophisticated Villa La Coste, a 28-suite hotel with views of its organic vineyards that was finally finished this year (; from US$800).

The grounds of Chateau La Coste
The grounds of Chateau La Coste

When Irish developer and art collector Patrick McKillen bought the 600-acre estate 15 years ago, he began inviting A-list sculptors and architects to create works for sites in the woods and alongside the vines. Big names include Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Ai Weiwei, Renzo Piano, Damien Hirst, Jean Nouvel, Tracey Emin, and many more.

The hotel’s elegant minimalist rooms open onto spacious private terraces with expansive views of the vines. Live-fire cooking maestro Francis Mallmann opened a restaurant there this summer, while a three-star French chef cooks up French classics for a more formal dining room.

You could visit other local wineries, but with a “visionary” spa, art walks, private plunge pools, library bar, winetasting courses, films screened in the vineyard, and cutting-edge cuisine, face it: There’s really no reason to leave.

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