So I decided to consult the experts and asked cookbook authors, travel writers and wine entrepreneurs to share their favorite wine getaways.
Here's what they said:
1. Janet Fletcher, food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying. Now living in Napa Valley, she honed her cooking skills at the legendary farm-to-table restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.
"I am married to a winemaker (Douglas Fletcher of the Terlato Wine Group) so we do often choose to vacation in places where we know we'll drink well. One of my favorite destinations was the sherry region of Spain -- Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlucar de Barrameda -- because it is off the tourist path and the bodega owners were so welcoming. We didn't know much about sherry -- only that we liked it -- so you might say we learned by the immersion method. Even the simplest restaurants are superb there, with lots of just-caught seafood. One fabulous seafood lunch at a shack on the waterfront ended with a dessert I still recall: rum-raisin ice cream drizzled with Pedro Ximenez, a syrupy, raisin-scented sherry."
"After 25 years of writing about food and wine, I don't really take 'wine vacations' any more. But I do quite often wind up vacationing at places where wine is made. Probably my favorite is Mendocino County [in Northern California]. There are a lot of really good, very individual wines coming out of there right now. My favorite part is the Anderson Valley, which lies between Ukiah and the Pacific, along Highway 128. You climb up through the Yorkville Highlands, which is really coming into its own, pass through Boonville, and then hit the wine trail.
Roederer has its American sparkling wine operation here, and if there is a better value around, I have yet to find it. The tasting room sometimes has special bottles for sale, like magnums of L'Ermitage Rosé.
Duckhorn's new Pinot Noir property, Goldeneye, is close by. I particularly like Husch and Handley. But my favorite stop on the whole trip is Navarro Vineyards. I love their white wines and have been buying them and the Methode a L'Ancienne Pinot Noir for years. The tasting room is really friendly and casual and they usually have a good selection of cheeses, salumi and breads so you can make a nice picnic out of it. Add a half-bottle of chilled Pinot Gris and go out and sit at a picnic table and eat lunch looking at the hillsides. When you're done, stop in at the Philo Apple Farm to pick up some old, mostly forgotten apple varieties and take a walk through the redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park, which is just across the road."
3. Sagi Solomon, founder of OpenBottles a San Jose, Calif.-based website that helps visitors learn about wine and discover new wineries through social networking.
"My favorite wine-centric vacation destination is Paso Robles, Calif. This rapidly growing wine region is home to nearly 200 wineries, most of which are small, family-owned businesses. Paso Robles is known for its rich, full-bodied wines -- a result of the region's warm climate and long growing season. It's also known for its rolling vineyards, charming downtown and close-knit community. The city is defined by wine: Nearly everyone you meet in the area is involved in the region's wine industry in some way. Wine is a part of every social event, and the air is constantly filled with chatter about the year's harvest, a new winery or a new wine discovery. I have yet to visit a restaurant that doesn't proudly -- and often exclusively -- feature local wines on its menu.
Fall is my favorite time to visit Paso Robles. The temperature cools down a bit, and the crowds thin out. I like visiting during harvest because the smell of fermenting grapes fills the air. Paso wineries have managed to avoid the over-commercialization that other wine regions have experienced, which is something I applaud. Most tasting rooms are small, and nearly all of them offer free tastings. The winemaker is usually hanging around and is happy to talk about wine all day long -- over a glass of wine, of course.
Paso Robles is a three-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, so it makes for a convenient weekend retreat. It's a destination that I highly recommend, and one that will continue to draw me back."
4. Deana Gunn, co-author of the Cooking with Trader Joe's cookbook series and website. She lives in Leucadia, Calif., with her husband, two kids and two dogs.
"When people think of California's wine country, they think of Napa, Sonoma, or perhaps the Central Coast. Those are treks for Southern Californians, like me. Fortunately, we have our own wine country, which has been growing and emerging into its own over the last few years: the Temecula Valley. An hour drive from San Diego and Los Angeles, Temecula boasts about 40 wineries. I love coming to Temecula during San Diego's "May Gray" or "June Gloom" when the coast is foggy and chilly. Inland in Temecula, the skies are blue, and the air is delightfully warm. The region's hot climate results in intense wines: dry whites, fruity Sangioveses and jammy Zinfandels. Here you'll find Italian varietals that you might not find anywhere else in the U.S.Another nice thing about visiting this region is that the wineries are all located in close proximity to Old Town Temecula. So in addition to tasting interesting and award-winning wines, I love going into town for lunch and a gourmet food tour. Some points of interest include the artisan cheese at The Temecula Valley Cheese Company, incredible olive oils at the Temecula Olive Oil Company (yes, there are olive oil tastings offered there), the vast selection of spices and teas at Spice Merchants, and the Chili Gourmet for a kick of flavor. And of course, Temecula has its own Trader Joe's."
5. Andy Anderson, COO of Bottlenotes, an online wine community for wine lovers, where visitors can learn about, discuss and rate new wines
"I recently made my first trip to Bordeaux, France -- it's a wine-lover's paradise. Visiting wineries with centuries' worth of history juxtaposed with some of the most modern winemaking equipment is a great experience. If you're lucky, you may get to do some vertical tasting of older vintages still available at the chateau.
I stayed in a gite (rental villa) at a beautiful property to the southeast of Bordeaux called Chateau Biac, which had breathtaking views of the valley. St. Emilion was a highlight where we saw some incredible underground quarries that the wineries used as cellars. We capped that day off with some delectable two-Michelin-star dining at Hostellerie de Plaisance. Plan to budget some time for a workout, because the food is delicious, but not at all light on the stomach."
"When I lived in Washington, D.C., politics was in the air. Even though I didn't work in government and had no strong interest in the process, I found it seeped into my brain. Then I moved to wine country. Here, wine is in the air. Literally. During crush you can smell it everywhere. When I arrived here, I could recognize every shade of politician, but only knew two kinds of wine: red and white. Over time, I've forgotten all about politics, but learned the names of dozens of varieties of grape, every local AVA, and the subtle differences imparted by terroir. I gotta say, it's a lot more interesting than politics.
Even so, however, I don't tend to seek out more of the same when I travel. Now that I live in wine country, I feel a lack of interest in wineries. I tend to yawn and think "Been there, done that" when I'm in New Zealand or Italy or Virginia or pretty much anywhere grapes are grown.
But I made an exception in Madeira, Portugal. When you visit a place whose very name is a wine -- and a kind of wine that really doesn't exist anywhere else -- you have to at least stop by a tasting room (especially when one is within walking distance of your hotel). Which is how, on my last day there, I happened to wander into Artur de Barros e Sousa Lda, in Funchal, Madeira. The owner himself greeted us, offered us samples and taught us the difference between Malvasia (the sweetest) and Sercial (the driest), and introduced us to wines more than 50 years old, with indescribably complex and delicious flavors. We experienced the warmth of Portuguese hospitality, and some truly great wines that were nothing like anything that has seeped into my pores, or my mouth, back home. It was the highlight of a trip to a fascinating island.
I still have the (now empty) bottle of Malvasia I carted home in my suitcase, and I'm plotting how to get back to Madeira. The next time I'm there, I won't wait until the last day to visit a winery. In fact, I'll probably plan my visit around stopping into every one of them. The whole island is a monument to this unique product -- the kind of monument I prefer these days."
7. Wink Lorch, creator and editor of Wine Travel Guides, online, in-depth and independent travel guides for wine lovers. Based in London, Lorch has worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years and has traveled to many of the world's finest wine regions.
"The Jura wine region isn't the first wine region you might consider visiting in France, but this bijou area offers many rewards with a stunning mountain landscape complete with grassy knolls, rocky outcrops and rustically delicious food and wine. Arbois, the 'capital' of the wine region, is just a couple hours from Lyon or Geneva and is where the great scientist, Louis Pasteur grew up. After several visits, Arbois has become my favorite French wine town. I just love wandering around the streets, peering down at the pretty Cuisance River. I always wonder if I can manage to resist another expensive visit to Hirsinger, one of the finest chocolate shops in France.
Recently, the little town has sprouted several good places to stay and eat, as well as some tasty wine bars. But I mainly visit this region for its unusual wines and maverick winemakers. For its very small size, Jura has a greater number of organic wine producers than any other French region. Here you'll discover reds that look like rosés, whites that can be yellow, bubbly, bone-dry and lusciously sweet wines. All in all, there is much to challenge the conventional wine palate. The absolute best way to understand these wines made from Savagnin, Poulsard and Trousseau grape varieties (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, too) is to make an appointment to visit one of the better producers in Pupillin, close to Arbois. Or, to discover some of the secrets of the legendary vin jaune, head to the fabulous hilltop village of Château-Chalon, one of the most beautiful villages in France. If ever there was a unique wine region to visit, Jura is the one."
Read more: Savor a Green Wine Country Getaway