Wine & Travel

Snooth User: penguinoid

Possible visit to the USA & Canada -- cool climate wine regions

Posted by penguinoid, Mar 10, 2010.

I'm vaugely thinking about a visit to the USA and Canada maybe early next year. I should note that it's still very, very much a vague plan, and nothing is set in stone -- but I do have to decide what I'd like to do first so I can see whether it's all actually workable. Naturally visiting a couple of wine regions in both countries will be part of the agenda.

I will of course try to visit California and visit either Napa or Sonoma, preferably both, but in general I find I'm more interested in cool climate wines. From what I've read New York state has some interesting wineries, and is producing good riesling and chardonnay. Any suggestions as to which ones are worth a visit? And/or any other cool climate regions that are worth a detour?

I'm also hoping to head north of the border to Canada. I'm particularly hoping to visit Montréal and/or Québec. I would admit to knowing almost nothing about Canadian wine, other than Inniskillin (in Ontario?) makes good icewine :-). Any suggestions as to regions and producers worth a visit in Canada would also be much appreciated.


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Reply by GregT, Mar 10, 2010.

New York upstate has some interesting wineries and also on Long Island there are a few decent wineries. 

Nothing like Sonoma/Napa, etc.though.  Cornell U just started a viticulture program in upstate NY, focused on cold climate grape growing, so in years to come, there will be some more development.

Michigan also has some decent cool climate growers these days. And of course, just north of them in Ontario.  The interesting area might be the west coast of Canada, north of Washington State.  People think of it as cold and it is, but the west is much more temperate than it is inland, just like Alaska.  So in the Okonegon Valley, there is some interesting stuff happening in British Columbia.  I went through a tasting of a number of wines a few years ago - pinot blanc and pinot gris seem to be pretty good.

Here's a start:

Reply by dmcker, Mar 10, 2010.

Penguinoid, if this is your first trip, and considering your stated desires, I suggest a trip to Napa and especially Sonoma, followed by a jag up towards Montreal and then Niagara. New York State can wait for another occasion, life being short and all. NYC would come before Long Island, and on this trip the refinements of Montreal (with a stopover in San Francisco on the way) can stand good stead for city entertainment.  :-)

Many particulars can follow down this thread, and it sounds like a trip to be lusted after....


Reply by dmcker, Mar 10, 2010.

And trying to fit in the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies (Okanagan) will seriously cramp the schedule. Sounds like that should wait for the third trip, to me anyway, with inclusion on that occasion of either Vancouver. or even Vegas if you want to get a little creative... ;-)

Reply by Doctor Bob, Mar 10, 2010.

I live in Manhattan. This is just my opinion.

Upstate New York is OK. It's whites are better than it's reds. This is a big drive for a glass of wine.

 Don't spend more than two days. A bit slow on a Saturday night. Stay in Burlington. Be sure to visit the glass museum in Corning.

You can pop into all the sites out on Long Island in an afternoon. Palmer is worth the looking into. Ask GDP for his LI recommendations.

I would concentrate most of your wine adventure out west.

California is in a class of it's own. You must experience Napa. Must visit Monterey. Carmel is enchanting.

The drive down to Santa Barbara. There is allot of exceptional wine comming from there. 

California is THE destination in the USA for a wine lover.

When you come to NYC look me up. NYC has great wine bars and great food.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 10, 2010.

Dr. Bob put it well, though I stand by my recommendation of also including the Canadian side of Niagara together with Montreal based on your stated interests. Trying to include any other areas in one trip would tend to dissipate energy, time and focus. If that is a framework you want to work with, we can start making specific recommendations about places to visit...

Reply by zufrieden, Mar 10, 2010.

One thing to bear in mind is the sheer vastness of Canada and the United States; together these countries encompass just under 20,000,000 square kilometers.  Only the Russian Federation comes close to this.  Yes, I know: we all have atlases and have taken geography in high school, but the dominion of space - especially in Canada cannot be appreciated until one actually travels by a conveyance other than aircraft.

In light of this ponderous fact, I suggest zeroing in on a section of North America you think might be of greatest interest to you.  As a person interested in fine wines, you might consider flying to Los Angeles first.  There, you could take in the usual sights (Hollywood, for example) and even take a short trip to the beaches near San Diego and thence across the Mexican border for something completely different (Baja California).  There is even a small but locally important wine industry just south of the Mexican border.

Once back across the border in California, you could rent a car and drive up the coast to Santa Barbara and visit that region's wineries - known especially for Pinot Noir.  The scenery is also magnificent. Continue on toward San Fransisco and the environs that spawned more than few snoothers; again, take in the many sights and move inland to Napa and Sonoma.

(As you can see, you are not even half-way to Vancouver, British Columbia and there is a lot of country to cover.)

At this point, you can map out the many wine-growing regions in California north and east of Sonoma County and decide what to do next.  The most direct route is north to Oregon along the I-5 (Interstate Highway 5).  This will take you directly to the Willamette Valley and more quality wine.  Continue north to Portland Ore. and the Columbia River and the border with Washington State.  Here you turn inland toward the vast vineyard of the Yakima region from which you can head back to Seattle, Puget Sound and more spectacular scenery.  From here it is a hop, skip and a jump to Vancouver, Canada.  More scenery, more multicultural charm and it then becomes time to head toward the Okanagan Valley (400 km distant) and the wine region of British Columbia Canada - a rather hot, arid region in the summer but beautifully situated alongside a vast inland sea.

This could be the end of your journey, with a return home from Vancouver.  

Or you could go to NYC, see the sights and... but I leave that someone else.  One pithy comment before closing though: the idea of D.'s to go to Montreal is a good one; you get to go to a francophone city of some size with a distinctly European feel; you'd have great fun contrasting this city with NYC.




Reply by GTSOPRANO, Mar 10, 2010.

If you visit Long Island, Raphael and Pellegrini are two of my favorites.  Pindar makes a decent Ice Wine too, albeit not with natural ice and frost.  It would be fun to compare to the fantastic Canadian ones you're likely to try.  

If you have kids with you, Martha Clara is a nice winery to visit in Long Island.  They have all these farm animals and labyrinths and such.  

Reply by dmcker, Mar 11, 2010.

Zuf, you're talking about a trip of months, not just weeks, if any detailed attention is to be paid to the specifics of each locale. I know because I've done all of those, even if usually in segments (thought there was that one Seattle-to-Cabo trip in 2001, with loads of wine and winery visits along the way, but plenty of surf and mountains, too...). You also forgot to mention the jag over to Walla Walla, then a drive straight up to the Okanagan...;-)

For reasons of economy of time, energy and focus, money, etc. I'd suggest flying into San Francisco, spending time in the Bay Area as desired, then heading north to Sonoma and Napa. After that, back to San Fran and a flight to Montreal, with a drive down to Niagara. Those two segments can be extremely wide and deep, and just that portion of California, particularly, quite overwhelming.

But we're pretty much talking theory here. Penuinoid needs to provide a few more indicators of restrictions related to time, priority of focus, etc.

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 11, 2010.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I'm half asleep, so just trying to get my head around some of them. Sorry this is a bit long.

I am aware that the US and Canada are both very big countries in their own right, I've had to come to terms with that living in Australia -- and that's not quite as big as the US. I remember driving from London to Thurso (North Scotland) and that seemed like quite a big deal, being almost from one end of the island to the other. In Australia, when I've driven an equivilent distance it's hardly a scratch on the map. I suggested driving from Sydney to Perth at one point, but had it pointed out that this was an equivilent distance to driving from London to Moscow. Uh. Still, it's a good reminder, and I really will have to keep in check what I plan to do. It's my first visit to America, and there's a lot of places there I've been wanting to visit.

Anyway, the key points are: I'm travelling alone (no kids or any other sort of goats, just me -- an adult penguin) and I'll probably have about a month and a bit but will have to keep spending to a minimum -- so if I do rent cars, it'll only be for a couple of days at a time. I'll probably be flying straight from either Paris or London to Québec and then to New York, then on to the west coast, then on to Australia. The catalyst for this was the realisation that a 'round the world' plane ticket is probably only going to be a few hundred dollars more than a standard return. This means I'll be able to do about ~3-4 stops in North America.

What I'd initially thought of doing -- and I have no idea yet how realistic it is -- is flying to Québec, spending a week and a half to two weeks in Québec or Montréal, with a visit of 4 or 5 days to a wine producing region on the east side of Canada (e.g. Niagara?) whilst I'm there. (Québec is likely to provide less of a culture shock after a few months in France than NYC, I think...).

Then, I'd fly down to New York. I'd hope to spend a week to a week and a half there, again with a trip out to a cool climate region on the east coast (Long Island? or Finger Lakes? -- I do like Riesling, so either could be appealing, if they're as good as they claim). It'd be great to meet up with any snoothers there, and if there was a snooth tasting on whilst I was there I could attend that would be great too.

From what I've seen in pictures, upstate New York has some really beautiful parts, so I'd be interested to visit, and maybe go into New England a little if possible, even if there aren't any wineries worth visiting there. My normal idea of a lively Saturday evening is reading a book, so I don't mind if it's a bit quiet there :-). I have a friend on the east coast, in North Carolina and I'd probably have to try and fly down to visit even if just for a weekend.

Then I'd fly to LA, and stay about a week and half in California. I'm not interested in seeing Hollywood, to be honest. Sadly, if I was given the choice between seeing Hollywood or a really good museum/art gallery, I probably wouldn't answer, I'd already have gone to the museum or art gallery :-).

In California, I hope to see Napa and Sonoma. I'm not sure how realistic it is, but I'd like to visit Bonny Doon Vineyard, though I do realise that this is a bit further to the south. I definitely want to visit Carmel, I've been an admirer of the photographs of both Ansel Adams and Edward Weston for long enough to make this a must-do stop. Monterey I don't really know so much about, and will have to look it up.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 11, 2010.

I'm about to fall asleep here, too, so will answer more tomorrow. But your plan in general is fine. Fly into Montreal, see Niagara while in the area, fly down to New York, then see some other part of the Atlantic Coast. It starts getting a bit unrealistic when you're talking about doing upstate New York AND New England AND Long Island AND North Carolina. You'd do best to cull a bit there.

Considering the personal connection, just think about NYC, Long Island for a day trip, then fly or even drive down to North Carolina. If you drive you could hit some wineries in Virginia on the way. Hey, even see Washington D.C. or Monticello or something else, too. If your friend's in Charlotte or Durham or those general environs there's a bit going on there, too, so it warrants a bit of time for the stay. New England can wait for another time. Upstate New York is a helluva distance (for East Coasters) from NYC--even though they're within the same state it might as well be two or three over. Plus you will've already been to the Canadian side of the same lakes, anyway.

Fly to LA, then rent a car at weekly rates for most of the remainder of the time you'll be in California. Not much public transport there, even these days, and especially to the essentially rural areas you want to visit. LA has a great museum, the Getty, as well as several others spread about. Lots of life and culture around the ocean, which usually draws me much more than Hollywood. If you want recommendations about museums and other things to do , I and I assume others can make several.

Then drive up the coast. First stop Santa Barbara for a couple of days, more about which later. Next stop Paso Robles for maybe a day. Then the Santa Cruz area (including Carmel and Monterey) for however many days you need, then San Francisco then north to Sonoma, then over to Napa then back to San Fran and ultimately Australia. Plenty to do in neighboring cities besides San Francisco itself. I was born and later educated in Berkeley, though raised in between down south. Did a lot of business in Silicon Valley (software related) and Marin (movie production related) but also had a kinda hippy period in San Fran itself. Still have family and friends in the area, so I never have enough time to even scratch the surface of what I want to do when I'm visiting the rather widespread area. Am meandering a bit here, but merely want to say there's a lot of detail that can be filled in by many of us on this forum regarding this very interesting region.

If you do actually follow this itinerary you'll have a very busy and eventful month and a half, and I guarantee there will be many places at which you wish you had spent more time...

Reply by dmcker, Mar 11, 2010.

Oh, and it would be very hard to do any justice at all to that much of California in less than three weeks (three or four days in LA, a week getting up to San Francisco, three or four days in San Francisco and the neighboring towns, and a week in Napa/Sonoma). And even that will likely feel quite rushed.

Reply by Doctor Bob, Mar 11, 2010.

Do Canada first. Quebec. Wind up at Montreal. That is just 300 miles north of NYC. On the way down you can turn East after a couple of hours to visit Boston.

NYC it is known for good food and fine wine. It is a fun place to hang out. You’ll have a great time. It is expensive so I would get out of here as soon as possible.

I suggest JFK to San Francisco. Stay by the Fisherman’s Warf. You can find allot of affordable motels nearby. The Trolley Car will take you straight to downtown for $2.

Napa Valley is just a short ride north from SF. It is a unique community dedicated to wine, food and hospitality. They love us tourists. You will be welcomed and treated very well. Visit Mondavi, Beringer,  Chandon, Flowers, Copolla. They all have great tours and tastings.

When you leave SF head south to Santa Cruz. Known for red wine. Have lunch on the broadwalk.

Monterey is a small fishing town a half hour south of Santa Cruz. It is known for its white wines. Some really good wineries are just a hop and a skip East of the city. Like Napa they have been growing grapes there since the 1800’s. John Steinbeck wrote about this place in the 1930’s (The Grapes of Wrath). Visit Chalone, J Lohr, Arcadian.

Carmel is an enchanting fairy tale town. Little small houses.  Interesting unique architecture. Cute small stores.  There is a small store there that just sells Teddy Bears. There is another store that just sells fountain pens. There is an Art Gallery that just sells paintings of Dogs that are painted all blue. You spend your entire day walking and shopping.  

Take US 1 south to San Luis Obispo. Probably a 2 hour drive. Know for whites. Visit Foxglove, Varner, Edna Valley.

An hour south is Santa Barbara. Know for whites.  Visit Qupe, Zaca Mesa, Tensley.

Couple hours south is La La Land. (LAX). Not many pengines there. Rather known for an extraordinary high concentration of Koo-Koo Birds.

Reply by zufrieden, Mar 11, 2010.

As you can see, the choices are endless.  When I travel, I usually choose a relatively self-contained area and travel about there.  Your idea of going to Montreal and Quebec City is a good one though not much in the way of wine-making here.  So you need to decide what it is (principally) you want to see in a limited time-frame.  

We Canadians (Australians and Americans, too) know about distance and very long automobile trips.  Driving 500 to 1000 kilometers in one day is nothing to me; but of course, you can't experience that much through a windscreen.  Although I realize that all of your scholars out there are aware of the vast size of the countries I mention, I don't think this sets in until you actually see how long it takes to drive it.  I drove to the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska and let me tell you those trips put a whole new spin to the song "On the Road Again."

Anyway, whatever you decide, I know you will thoroughly enjoy your trip.  And since you are coming from Europe, I suggest you try to visit Southern Ontario and Quebec as well as Nova Scotia and then go to New England and New York.  That would be plenty for a start.  On the way back to Australia, you can cross the continent to San Francisco and maybe get a chance to visit Napa-Sonoma.  California, though, is something to experience in depth and might be best left in large part to some future venture.

On a different note, I have also driven to Thurso, Scotland from England.  In Britain, I think that IS a big deal!


Reply by penguinoid, Mar 12, 2010.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll have to look into how much it's all going to cost, and where the plane tickets I'm going to get can or can't fly me to (I think I can only fly to places served by BA or Qantas).

At the moment, starting in Canada visiting Québec and Montréal with a diversion down to Niagra seems a good idea. Then a stay in NYC with a trip out to Long Island and interrupted by a trip down to North Carolina and (maybe?) up to Finger Lakes. Then over to California.

It's going to be a hectic trip, I think, but interesting. I don't begin to imagine that I'll do anything but scratch the surface, in most of these places even staying a few months wouldn't be enough to see and do everything.

My friend does live near Charlotte in NC -- what's happening down there that's wine-related?

Also, I rememebered I had heard of Monteray, but only in terms of their jazz festival :-). What's the wine from there like? Is this a more cool climate region?

Lack of public transport could be an issue in California, though I guess it has to be said that getting out to wineries without private transport is hard in most regions. I'll have to look into the cost of car hire -- any suggestions here? It's pretty expensive in Australia, you could safely assume it's going to set you back not much less than AU$100/day (about US$90, according to Google). Not an expense I can easily fit into the budget for more than a couple of days.

Reply by penguinoid, Mar 12, 2010.

Also, any suggestions of museums to visit would be appreciated. I've heard "The Cloisters"  (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY) is well worth a look, so that's already one on my "must-see" list.

Reply by Doctor Bob, Mar 12, 2010.

The Metroploitan is a gigantic museum on Fifth Avenue and East 82nd Street. In Central Park. They have 22 Rembrants and five Vermer's in their permanent collection.

One wing of the museum has a Egyptian temple. The Temple of Dendor. And you can go into it and pray for happiness just like the guys did before Christ was born.

It would take you a week to see the whole thing. But worth seeing. Entrance is a donation, if you don't have money, they let you in for free.

The Modern Museum of Art is on West 55 Street. The permanet collection has something from everyone.

The Cloisters is a branch of the Met. It is located in a very bad neighborhood, called Inwood. It is in a park on the top of a hill. It commands unbelievable river views. You could just sit there and see the sights. This museum was funded by the Rockefellers. It exhibits art, paintings, tapestries from the Middle Ages.

Reply by Babs67, Mar 12, 2010.

Ohio, too, has some wonderful wineries. There are actually wine trails throughout the state. My favorite two are the Vines and Wines trail, and the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Wine Trail- not to be missed! I dont know if links are allowd to be posted here, but I will give you a couple if you should decide to head south of the Canadian border.

One of my favorites in Ohio is the Old Mill Winery.  It's down to earth, has great food, and the atmosphere makes you not want to leave.  Another one in that area is the Old Firehouse Winery-the ice wine there is to die for!

Hope you decide to head our way-you wont be disappointed.

The links: 



Reply by penguinoid, Mar 12, 2010.

Thanks for the tips on museums, Doctor Bob. The Metropolitan Museum sounds like quite a fascinating place, and almost enough to make the trip to NY worthwhilte by itself!

With regards to the Cloisters, what do you mean by Inwood being "a very bad neighborhood"? Is it bad enough that somebody like myself (i.e., a visitor who knows almost nothing about NYC) should be a bit nervous about visiting there?

Babs67 -- thanks for the suggestions about places to visit in Ohio. Not sure I'll make it there, I think I'll have enough trouble managing all of what I've mentioned so far -- sadly, I'll probably end up cutting things rather than adding more. E.g., the cost of renting a car is something I hadn't really thought about, and I'm going to guess it won't be all that cheap.

Reply by amour, Mar 29, 2010.

Chateau des Charmes is worth a visit....owned/run by a Frenchman who came in 1960's to Canada...from a French wine family...darn good Ice Wine he makes!!!

Reply by amour, Mar 29, 2010.

Winemaster Paul-Michel Bosc has a wonderful wife who conducts the tours.  

Telephone 519. 473. 2273.

Chateau des Charmes is in Niagara-on-the-Lake,

and some have described their tour as the best any oenophile is ever

 likely to take!

They claim to the first in Canada to plant a vineyard exclusively

to vifis vinifera.

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