I step into the brambly twigs that entwine soft cotton tufts, covering the ground beneath my feet, and I stop for a moment to take in my surroundings. To my right, I see passing trucks rolling along the highway that leads through Lubbock, Texas, and in front of me, a sea of white cotton stretches toward the horizon. I look back at my travel mates, raise my glass of cabernet to cheers them from afar, and then I take a sip.
I’m standing amid acres of cotton, sampling wine from the plains of Western Texas, an unexpected and unusual spot to be sipping on some of the best wine in the country.
The Napa Valley may have garnered worldwide fame for its wine, but Llano Estacado – just outside Lubbock – has more to offer than your basic swirl-sniff-and-sip wine-tasting experience. At this under-the-radar winery, it’s not just about the elegance of the wine that you taste, but the experience that can be enjoyed during your wine-tasting tour.
Llano Estacado isn’t alone in focusing on more than just what goes into the bottle. Here are three destination wineries that offer unique experiences that transcend the wine itself:
Llano Estacado Winery | Lubbock, Texas
Stroll through cotton fields while sipping on Sangiovese from the Lone Star State, at Llano Estacado Winery, located just outside the small town of Lubbock in Western Texas. Once enjoyed by George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth, Llano Estacado has not only become an internationally recognized wine brand, but is the birthplace of the burgeoning wine scene that exists in Texas today.
In 1976, the area made its mark on the viticultural map, producing award-winning wines made from the grapes of the flat plains of Lubbock. Now the backbone of the Texas wine industry, Lubbock produces 80-90% of the state’s wine grapes, all within a 100-mile radius of the city.
A surprisingly thriving wine-growing region, Texas is one of the oldest wine-producing states in the U.S. The temperate weather of West Texas mimics that of Portugal or Spain, yielding similar grapes grown in the vineyards that line the limits of Lubbock. Enjoy a few glasses in the newly renovated tasting room, or take the tasting outdoors and stroll through the neighboring cotton fields while you sip the latest stock. The 2015 Cellar Reserve Merlot is a must-try – full and rich in flavor.
Ulupalakua Vineyards | Kula, Maui
Visit the Ulupalakua Vineyards (home to Maui Wine), where you can sample exclusive vintage vinos and pineapple wines in an old 1800s jailhouse that sits tucked against the slopes of the Haleakala volcano in Maui, Hawaii.
The Old Jail was once the main business office for a former whaling captain, who in the mid-1800s built a grand plantation estate called Rose Ranch where Maui Wine has planted its roots today. No expense was spared in the building of this extraordinary lava rock building, constructed with English imported tiles and 2-foot thick walls. Over the last 150 years, the building has served various functions, one of which was a jailhouse dwelling, used during the plantation era. Now this historic site is used at Maui Wine for special tastings and intimate events.
Schedule an “Old Jail tasting” and try exclusive back vintages and unreleased wines while learning about the history behind the vineyard, which dates back to 1841, when King Kamehameha III leased the land. And while you’re there, be sure to indulge in the Lokelani Sparkling Rosé (Traditional Method), a favorite among guests.
Coeur de Terre Vineyard | McMinnville, Oregon
Savor the flavors of award-winning pinots with “Mr. Passionate,” who will give you the dirt on how the unique soils in McMinnville, Oregon have created such distinctive notes in the wine grapes grown on the rolling foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range Mountains, that the region has taken the top prize in the International Pinot Noir Festival.
Founded in 1998 by a husband-wife duo, Coeur de Terre Vineyard is a family-run estate that plants, grows and produces some expressive pinots that reflect the unique land on which the grapes are grown. Nestled along the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley in McMinnville, Oregon, Coeur de Terre is a thriving vineyard, backed by a hands-on family that manages all viticultural activity, making wine from start to finish on site, in micro-sized lots.
Hailing from France, Jacques Rendu – AKA “Mr. Passionate” – is the Direct Sales Manager at Coeur de Terre Vineyard. Travel and family led him to Oregon, and the vineyards dotting the Willamette Valley hillsides made it impossible for him to leave. Reviving a deep connection to his family heritage rooted in the special wine growing region he calls ‘home’ in the Jura, Bugey and Savoie, Apremont region, Jacques is eager to educate his guests, and his enthusiasm is contagious. The 2016 Rosé Rustique is a deliciously dry rosé, featuring an alluring blend of cranberry, raspberry, cherry and grape notes – a highlight in the lineup of wines offered.