Plan your next vino vacation around these must-sip spots.
Chardonnay, zinfandel and pinot, oh my! In a country brimming with vino delights from near and far, it’s a blessing and a curse when planning a destination wine country tour. Each place is host to different climates, specialties and approaches, so to get a glimpse of some to the top destinations on the West Coast, we connected with White Bear Lake resident and wine aficionado Tracie Pabst, owner of The Spirited Grape.
For the last 15 years, Pabst’s love of wine and travel has taken her across the country and world on adventures to sip and learn about winemaking. Following a breast cancer diagnosis, she traded her job in human resources for the world of blends, barrels and brut; what once was a hobby has grown to a full-bodied career. Her love of wine wasn’t new, but her lease on life was.
“Any time someone goes through an event like that, you look at life a lot differently,” Pabst says “Instead of the long days and weekends, you say, ‘Maybe there’s something I should be doing that brings more
joy during this transition.’”
Since starting The Spirited Grape in November 2021, Pabst has found a niche helping clients select the West Coast wineries and excursions that best suit their preferences and ensure each client gets the most out of their wine country experience. So it’s no surprise that we asked Pabst to share a few of her must-visit spots with us:
A major winegrowing region since the 1800s, Lodi is considered the zinfandel capital of the world and offers a diverse selection of international varietals. Lodi is located just 40 minutes south of Sacramento in California’s Central Valley, where it remains a hidden gem.
At Michael David Winery, find chardonnay, sparkling wine, cabernet sauvignon and much more. The family has farmed in Lodi since the mid-1860s and are firm believers in sustainable practices and leaving the world a better place. And they aren’t alone. In fact, Lodi is a major agricultural area with a focus on sustainability. California-based innovator Peltier Winery & Vineyards has created an energy efficient way to treat its water so it can be repurposed in the vineyard’s worm farm.
Lodi is also home to Susan Tipton, who was voted Best Woman Winemaker at the 2022 International Women’s Wine Competition. Tipton owns Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, which offers award-winning white and rosé wines in small batches.
“[Tipton] has been a mentor to me,” Pabst says. “Her support of my small business shows what a fine human she is.”
Wine isn’t the only draw to Lodi. The area has plenty of shopping, fine dining and opportunities for cycling and hiking. However, the temperatures can rise into the 90s and above in the summer, so Pabst recommends visiting in March and June for spring buds or harvest time from September to December.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Situated within three mountain ranges and just an hour outside of Portland, Willamette Valley goes by another name: Oregon Wine Country. Each of the area’s four regions boasts unique terrain and personality, and with more than 700 wineries, there’s something for everyone to love.
The valley is known for its pinot noir, a wine bursting with rich, complex flavors. If you enjoy red wine with notes of cherry, raspberry, mushroom and more, there are plenty of options including Willamette Valley Vineyards, a legacy, sustainability-focused operation that was recently named one of the country’s top pinot noir producers. You can also find award-winning pinot noir at Bethel Heights Vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon, a family-owned and certified organic operation. And if you prefer a balanced white over a bold red, its chardonnay has also received accolades.
Nearby, family-owned Brooks Wines is equipped with a garden filled with herbs and biodynamic veggies, which it utilizes in its tasting room. WillaKenzie Estate, in northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is another family-owned operation that has been an estate winery for over 25 years.
On a recent trip to Willamette Valley, Pabst discovered even more must-visit wineries. Soter Vineyards at Mineral Springs Ranch, where you’ll be treated with a glass of wine as you drive up a winding road to the tasting room; Sokol Blosser Winery, a pioneering winery in the area run by the Sokol Blosser family, who emphasize good to the earth policies; and Alexana Winery, where visitors can enjoy a variety of wines with a distinct sense of time and place from the proprietor, Madaiah Revana, M.D., who immigrated to the states from India in 1973.
Pabst notes that it is crucial to have a car during your trip to Willamette Valley. Many of the wineries are spread out and can be difficult to get to without a mode of transportation. But spectacular views can make the drive a highlight. “There is beautiful scenery as you drive from one winery to the next,” Pabst says.
The area’s mild climate and kindred latitude to place in Europe, like the Burgundy region in France, makes Willamette Valley ideal for winemaking. To Pabst, there’s not a bad time to visit. “I enjoyed visiting in July,” she says. “It was still fairly cool because you’re in the valley. The summer months are great, but so is fall!”
Walla Walla, Washington
Famous for its sweet onions, don’t overlook this burgeoning wine destination beneath the Blue Mountains along the southern border of Washington. With a laid-back, small-town feel, Walla Walla is a getaway made all the better by 120 wineries and 30 tasting rooms. Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and riesling are all popular wine types in Walla Walla, grown across 3,000 planted acres of vineyards.
The owners of Dusted Valley in Walla Walla have Midwest roots and focus on sustainable winegrowing practices. “Whenever you visit their tasting room, be ready for a fun time while enjoying their wines,” Pabst says.
Dusted Valley isn’t the only Walla Walla winery with a connection to the Midwest. Katherine Derby Raymond, the assistant winemaker at Spring Valley Vineyard, grew up in Minnesota. The menu at Spring Valley Vineyard includes merlot, cabernet Franc, syrah, petit verdot and more.
While one may anticipate temperate weather year-round, in fact not all of Washington is rainy! Due to its location in central Washington, Walla Walla can experience extreme heat during the summer months and has a low annual precipitation. “It’s going to be very hot in July and August,” Pabst says, adding that the best time to visit is from March to June or August to November.
Minnesota Staycation Wine Destinations
Acqua Restaurant and Bar, White Bear Lake
Enjoy a glass of wine close to home. Acqua Restaurant and Bar sits on White Bear Lake’s western shore. Their Italian-focused menu is paired with a hearty wine list.
Chateau Saint Croix Winery, St Croix Falls
Within an hour from White Bear Lake, Chateau Saint Croix makes for a perfect day trip. The vineyard grows six varieties of grapes, all of which are planted by hand.
Ingredients Cafe, White Bear Lake
Ingredients Cafe has a menu loaded with fresh ingredients and a hefty wine selection, including varieties from Europe, the West Coast and Australia.
Mousse Sparkling Wine Co., Jordan
Less than an hour from White Bear Lake, Mousse Sparkling Wine Co. specializes in sparkling wines and hard ciders. Grab a pint of cider or enjoy a glass of bubbly in historic downtown Jordan.
Rustic Roots Winery, Scandia
Drive 30 minutes from White Bear Lake to this winery and tasting room. This estate-style vineyard has a menu packed with flavor-forward wines.
Two Silo Winery & Vineyard, Grant
New on the scene, Two Silo is a family-owned and operated estate vineyard with a state-of-the-art tasting room. The 22-acre property also has a large farmhouse available for rent that sleeps 12, making for a perfect country getaway.
7 Vines Vineyard, Dellwood
Nestled in Dellwood, this destination full experience winery has 10 acres of rolling vines and a winery focused on hand-crafted wines with “Midwest charm.” Along with tastings, 7 Vines also features live music and pairing courses throughout the year.
About the Spirited Grape
The Spirited Grape creates bespoke wine country itineraries. Owner Tracie Pabst works directly with her clients and wineries to provide one-of-a-kind experiences and relieve clients of the task of selecting from the multitude of wineries on the West Coast. Other offerings include private tours and tastings, Twin Cities wine tours, winemaker dinners and more.