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Planning a Wine Country Road Trip

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All roads lead to wine. Isn't that how the saying goes? No? Well, it should. With the summer maelstrom winding down and autumn approaching, now is a choice time to sit down and plan a road trip through wine country. A wine writer with a street synonym for a last name, Judith Lane is the perfect brain to pick about a grape-centered quest.

The Expert
Judith Lane knows wine and spirits. Her work has appeared in TASTE Magazine, Montecristo, NUVO, Vancouver Sun's The Grapevine blog, and Gayot.com. The Vancouver-based scribe is an avid wine competition judge and world traveler. Her partner owns the travel goods store Wanderlust Travel, so that certainly helps with the latter. Follow her on Twitter @lanestar.

Pre-trip Top 10
  1. Pick a single region. That is, unless you have limitless time and finances.
  2. Research the region - you'll be doing more than just touring wineries and tasting.
  3. If you don't have a country in mind to visit, plan a trip around your favorite wine.
  4. If there is a tasting or wine event in your city, go, make connections and ask about wine touring in their country/region. This will open all sorts of doors.
  5. Decide on self-drive, car hire or tour.
  6. Choose no more than two to four wineries to visit per day.
  7. If self-driving, do spit. It's hard to do if you've found "the" wine of the trip, but have a sip or two and buy a bottle.
  8. Take a paperback guide to the region, and buy a good map if there's no GPS. A map makes a great souvenir. Use a highlighter to mark your route.
  9. Many wineries outside of North America are walled and gated, and some South American ones have armed guards. Regardless, many require advance notice of a visit. Make an appointment ahead of time and you'll be welcomed.
  10. Bring bubble bags (WineSkins) to get your purchases home safely. You can reuse them again and again.

Now read on below for her region-by-region recommendations in North America, South America, Europe and Australasia.

British Columbia
The Okanagan is the heart of the Canadian province’s grape production and boasts 131 licensed wineries. Wine expert Judith Lane’s favorite is Tinhorn Creek, near Oliver, and their Miradoro Restaurant is worth the sit down. If you’re pressed for time, she says, “Penticton Wine Shop seems to pour just about every wine made in the Okanagan.” Resource:HelloBC.comAccommodations:Sparkling Hill Resort and Wellness Hotel in Vernon
Washington
Some superb sipping can be had right in Seattle where Lane recommends a stop-in at Charles Smith Wines Jet City. The unique winery space occupies an old Dr. Pepper bottling plant with a view of Boeing Fields. Just 30 minutes outside of Seattle, the Woodinville region is a gold mine, “So many tastings rooms all in one town,” says Lane. Leavenworth too, a little farther afield, makes it easy with lots in town and within a 15 minute radius. Prosser is another wine town to check out. Resource:Washingtonwine.orgAccommodations:Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Suncadia Resort between Leavenworth and Prosser
Oregon
There are 18 winegrowing regions and more than 600 wineries in Oregon. A great region to start with is the state’s largest, Willamette Valley, running from Portland all the way down to the Calapooya Mountains outside Eugene. The winery Lane loves there is Domaine Drouhin. They take a French approach to making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which comes naturally, since their winemaking roots stem back to Burgundy. Resource:TravelOregon.com, Oregonwine.orgAccommodations:The Allison Inn & Spa
California
Unless you’ve been in living in a fallout shelter since the 1950s, you know that Napa Valley and Sonoma is California’s viticulture star. With close to 400 wineries, the twin valleys are to second only to Disneyland on a list of the state’s most visited landmarks. That popularity brings other charms, such as high-caliber cuisine (The Restaurant at Meadowood for one), so stake out those spots too. Lane loves Gloria Ferrer, which was the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma when it began three decades ago. Resource:DiscoverCaliforniawines.caAccommodations:Meadowood Napa Valley, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Chile
Fly into Santiago and you don’t have to venture far—there are many wineries just outside the city. You can rent a car and self-tour, says Lane, as there are helpful Ruta del Vino signs, but make sure you also bring a good map. Among Lane’s must-dos are Eduardo Chadwick’s Errazuriz close to the city, Viña Casa Marín 90 minutes out close to the coast and Viña Lapostolle further south in the Colchagua Valley. The latter shares the same French owners as Grand Marnier, and offers stunning overnight villas at their Lapostolle Residence. Resource:WinesofChile.orgAccommodations:The Ritz-Carlton Santiago, Lapostolle Residence in Colchagua Valley
Argentina
As with Chile, Lane says those Ruta del Vino signs will help you know you're on the right path. For the most wineries, head to Mendoza. “Bonus, the beautiful Andes Mountains are right there,” she adds. Her recommendations in the area are Familia Zuccardi, and its onsite restaurant, Casa del Visitante, as well as renowned chef Francis Mallman’s 1884 restaurant inside Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón. Resource:WinesofArgentina.orgAccommodations:The Vines Resort & Spa
France
“No trip to France is complete without a visit to Champagne,” says Lane, and Champagne Taittinger in Reims is a good place to start.” That’s an easy train ride from Paris, but if bubbles are your spirit wine linger awhile at Château les Crayères. Speaking of spirits, she says cognac in Cognac is a must-do, as are the Roquefort cheese caves nearby. When it’s back to wine, hit Bordeaux down the road, and if time permits, head south to Domaine Gayda in the Languedoc region. Resource:About-France.comAccommodations:Château les Crayères in Champagne, Grand Hotel de Bordeaux & Spa, Hôtel de la Cité in Languedoc
Italy
The boot-shaped country is Lane’s top wine destination, but you’ll have to work for it. “Italy is, well, Italy. It's like herding kittens, but the payoff is great,” she says. Research is key and, as with most European wineries, make appointments in advance. Giving yourself extra time helps—because it can come down to knocking on doors to find wineries. She also recommends getting in touch with your local Italian Trade Commission or Consulate. In the north, stay on Lake Garda and explore the Veneto wine region, including a stop at the Masi winery in Valpolicella. In the south, do Sicily and put Donnafugata in Marsala on your itinerary. There, make Palermo your base for exploring the west side, which boasts 70 percent of the island’s winemaking prowess. Resource:Winemag.comAccommodations:Lido Palace in Veneto, Grand Hotel Villa Igiea in Palermo
Spain
The local wines make Spain worthy of a road trip, but there’s also the food and architecture posits Lane. Travelers can take care of all three in one stop at Marqués de Riscal, and they can even host you overnight at their Frank Gehry-designed hotel. From there, La Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri, the family winery that celebrated winemaker Telmo Rodriguez has taken over is just a 30-minute drive away. Resource:WinesfromSpainUSA.comAccommodations:Marqués de Riscal
Germany
In contrast to Italy, Germany is highly organized. Head to the small towns, that’s where the bulk of the wineries’ tasting rooms live. Lane says a two-hour river cruise is a whimsical way to see the country. “Most vineyards run down slopes to the river's edge,” she says, “And you'll see dozens of beautiful castles and picturesque villages.” Along the Rhine in the Rheinghau region, Lane recommends the family-owned Balthasar Ress. Make nearby Wiesbaden your home base where the Ress family also runs a wine bar. Resource:GermanwineCanada.comAccommodations:Hotel Nassauer Hof in Wiesbaden
Australia
The Barossa Valley in South Australia is one of the country’s oldest wine regions, dating back to the mid 1800s. There, Lane suggests heading to Yalumba, the oldest family-owned winery with five generations under its belt, along with a picnic. Swing by on your way out of Adelaide, tour the valley and then drive on to stay at Arkaba, a rugged outpost away from it all. In Western Australia, there’s Margaret River. Here, Lane loves Vasse Felix, its wines and its onsite restaurant. She also flags Tasmania as a hot new wine region to watch—there are a number of wineries in and around the capital, Hobart. Resource:Australia.comAccommodations:Arkaba near the Barossa Valley, Injidup Spa Retreat in Margaret River, MONA The Pavilions in Hobart
New Zealand
Make a trek to the Marlborough region to taste those infamous Sauvignon Blancs and see the terrior from whence they came. Kevin Judd, who put them on the map when he was with Cloudy Bay, now has his own winery, Greywacke, which Lane recommends. Cloudy Bay is just around the bend, so you ought to visit his old grape stomping grounds while you’re at it. Resource:Tourism.net.nzAccommodations:Chateau Marlborough